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Alberta's Aviation Heritage
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Alberta Aviation Museum Tour


Bob St. Henry comes to Western Alberta

Curtiss Golden Flyer-type named, the "West Wind" The new invention of powered, manned flight was barely off the ground before demands were made to demonstrate at summer fairs. Edmonton had its first air demonstration by paid pilots on 28 April 1911. The Edmonton exhibition was able to bring in the American actor-turned-pilot, Bob St. Henry, or "Lucky Bob." Appearing with St. Henry that year was the aviator Hugh Robinson. They completed some demonstrations before they packed up their Curtiss biplanes and shipped them onto their next destination. 

Howard Le Van in Alberta

In July of the same year, the pilot Howard Le Van flew a Curtiss Golden Flyer owned by J. Stobel during the Calgary summer fair. Because of the muddy airfield, the aircraft had difficulties taking off. It was able to get into the air once on the first day, but crashed into a fence causing damage to the landing gear and wings. After repairs, Le Van was able to fly for about five minutes the next day, but more damage occurred when he hit a gopher hole upon landing. On the final day, fairgoers could pay 10¢ to enter the tent where the Golden Flyer was parked and admire it.

Eugene Ely

Another flying exhibition occurred in Lethbridge in July, when the well-known American pilot Eugene Ely flew his biplane in front of a crowd of about 5,000 people. The large enthusiastic crowd wanted to see the pilot who they had been reading about in the newspapers. One story described a stunt where he landed his biplane on the battleship, Pennsylvania, which was docked in a San Francisco harbour.

[Courtesy City of Lethbridge Archive and Records Management, P19740030054]

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Didier Masson comes to Alberta

The most ambitious display of flight was to be performed by Didier Masson in Calgary in October 1911. The first flight by Masson demonstrated one of the main problems that would continue to be a setback—there was only common low-grade gasoline available for the motor. In his first flight, Masson was able to take off, but lost power in his motor, and started to descend, momentarily, until the power returned. Masson attempted to pull up, but he realized that he would not be able ascend high enough to clear some telephone wire, and he landed.

On his second attempt to take off, he hit some bailing wire that was in the grass, causing his propeller to shatter and sending splinters everywhere. The cloth-covered wings and tail section were torn, and the biplane could not fly again that day.

On 20 October, Masson flew his biplane over the city and noticed that the motor was not working well. The low-grade fuel was again the problem. To correct this, he ran the fuel line through the air chamber, which allowed the fuel to heat up before it went into the carburetor. This worked well when Masson flew to Victoria Park, but when he arrived, he could see that the horses pasturing there had not been removed. So he flew by several times to chase them off before landing.

When Masson did make his first exhibition flight at Victoria Park, he flew over, waving to the people below, and was able to come in for a perfect landing, much to the delight of the crowd.

A flight to Edmonton from Calgary was now planned. Masson wore a heavy arctic cap, sheepskin boots, leggings, and a heavy tweed and leather suit he stuffed with newspaper for insulation. He received substantial attention and support, including messages from New York and Los Angeles, since the flight would be a Canadian distance record. His plan was to follow the train tracks to Edmonton where below, a train would travel along watching his progress, with guests aboard who had paid $20 for the privilege.

The flight was delayed for several days as cold weather, high winds, and snow made flight in the open biplane impossible. After taking off, the wires that were holding the gas tank in place above the seat Masson was in broke, and the tank came down on his head. The loose wires got caught in the propeller and shattered it. Struggling to keep control, Masson was able to land safely. He was dazed and realized how dangerous the situation was as he walked away from the biplane.

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Alberta's Aviation Heritage

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