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Alberta's Aviation Heritage
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Katherine Stinson

Katherine StinsonAs World War I started, the federal government passed an Order-in-Council to stop all non-military flying except by permission. When Frank Ellis and Tom Blakely wanted to fly their tiny Curtiss biplane, they had to first get permission from the RCMP. There were no flying exhibitions until 1916, when the well-known American pilot, Katherine Stinson arrived in Alberta.

Stinson flew in Edmonton and Calgary in 1916, performing breathtaking stunts that no one had seen before. She demonstrated night flying, using smoke "bombs" so that visitors on the ground would be able to see her flight pattern. She flew loop-the-loop even under very windy conditions. In one case, she flew directly into a strong wind, appearing as if she was not moving forward.

The following year, 1917, Stinson returned to Calgary, but was dogged with engine problems that delayed all of her flights. Once she was finally up flying again, she tried to race her plane in the sky against a car on the ground but strong gales pushed her off course. In Edmonton later that year, her troubles continued. When she tried to take off, Stinson lost control of the airplane and it rushed perilously toward the grandstand. She shut off the engine and pushed the biplane to the ground, stopping a tragedy from occurring, but damaging her aircraft. Katherine Stinson's plane taking off

One evening a few days later, her biplane repaired, Stinson put on a show for the crowd burning smoke bombs again so that spectators could follow her flight. She also put on a demonstration of bombing trenches with paper bombs to show a sanitized version of what aircraft were being used for at the front as the First World War waged on.

Katherine Stinson Demonstrates World War 1 Flying Techniques
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While Stinson was demonstrating her flying skills, many knew that one man from Edmonton and another from Calgary had travelled to San Antonio, Texas, to train at the Stinson Flight School. The school, run by Katherine, her sister, and brother, had an excellent reputation and trained 60 Canadians for the First World War.

In 1918, Stinson unexpectedly returned to perform at the Calgary Exhibition to make up for her poor showing the year before. She had been able to keep her presence a secret by assembling and flying her biplane from a golf and country club in Calgary to the exhibition site. She did this every day of the exhibition. During this time, it was announced that she would deliver the mail in her airplane from Calgary to Edmonton, a first for Western Canada.

In addition to her skills as a pilot, this Alberta fair favourite drove a race car, setting a new one-mile record for women car racers.

Stinson went on to perform at summer exhibitions at Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Camrose.

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