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Alberta's Aviation Heritage
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The Early Years (1903-1914)

Curtiss airplaneThe early years of flight were a time of extraordinary change as the invention of powered flight made its existence known to the world. The earliest aircraft resembled kites with motors. In order to fly, the inventors had to find out how to raise their craft off the ground and land again, effectively control the power to fly, and be able to turn. All these developments took effort and experimentation.

Canadian inventors like Alexander Graham Bell and Wallace Rupert Turnbull studied flight and brought many crucial improvements to the aircraft. The Wright brothers used some of their early work when they demonstrated the first power flight in 1903.

The Aerial Experiment Association was founded in 1907 in Canada to bring more important developments in the science of flight. The Association was responsible for demonstrating controlled power flight for the first time in 1907 in Canada.

Once the possibility of flight was demonstrated, many enthusiasts attained aircraft from the inventors, or built their own machines and taught themselves how to fly. They travelled across Canada demonstrating their abilities to amazed crowds at  summer fairs.

Throughout this period, flight was carried out by homemade aircraft or simple biplanes that would be considered ultra-light today. They were purchased from one of the few manufacturers of the time. These small aircraft remained unpredictable and dangerous.

Early Canadian Experiments

When the Wright Brothers completed their historic flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the achievement was a culmination of the experimental work of many aviation pioneers around the world. Canadians claimed many important developments in the science of flight that assisted the Wright Brothers. The work of Canadians continued to be central as flight evolved after 1903.

Alexander Graham Bell

A central figure in the development of flight was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. His research led to the publication of the paper, "Kites with Radial Wings" in the National Academy of Science magazine. The Wright Brothers used this publication in the development of their flying machine.

Wallace Rupert Turnbull

Once power flight demonstrated it was possible for an aircraft to carry a man into the sky, fly a distance and then land, developments were needed to control flight. Canadians played important roles in discovering how flight could be sustained for longer periods with stability, and in developing controls for flight angles, turning, and landing. One of the first Canadians to contribute to the science of flight was Wallace Rupert Turnbull. He built a wind tunnel at Rothesay near Saint John, New Brunswick, where he tested aerofoil and wing angles to develop theories on flight. The results of his observations were published in the Physical Review in March 1907, under the title "Research on the Forms and Stability of Aeroplanes."
 

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