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Reg Hunt (1884-1978)

Reg Hunt missed soaring into Canada’s history books by a mere six months. A carpenter and flying buff, it was Hunt who made the first powered flight in Alberta on 7 September 1909, piloting a craft he built in his own back yard.

Taking flight from a hillside launching area near the current Alberta legislature, Hunt soared above the neighbourhood at an altitude of about 12 to 15 metres before "the inventor descended to earth triumphantly, a conqueror of the air," according to an Edmonton Journal account of the flight.

It was a remarkable achievement that occurred a mere six years after the Wright brothers’ historic flight and six months after James McCurdy piloted the Silver Dart over the frozen expanse of Bras D’Or Lake in Nova Scotia marking the first Canadian flight.

Hunt shared traits similar to many of aviation’s pioneers; he was largely self-taught, he experimented with gliders, and he wasn’t afraid to adapt everyday items for aviation uses.

Born on 26 December 1884, on the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands, Hunt followed the lead of many young Englishmen and came to Canada in 1905. After brief stays in Montreal and Toronto, he arrived in Edmonton, and soon established himself as a carpenter. In a short time Hunt began to experiment with airplane design, studying designs of French and American airplanes.

He employed his carpentry skills to build a small biplane glider, and successfully launched it from a ramp. This glider became the basis for his airplane, which was assembled in the rear yard of his home.

Hunt’s successful flight prompted him to make this optimistic prediction to the Edmonton Journal: "I am confident with a good motor I can stay up as long as the gasoline lasts, go as high as I like and carry two other passengers." He announced his immediate intention to travel to the coast and seek more funding, and described this as "his only drawback."

Hunt continued to refine his aircraft, and made several more flights around Edmonton before an unfortunate crash at the 1910 exhibition wrecked his plane.

Hunt’s interest in aviation was ultimately curtailed by a lack of funds, and he went north to Athabasca Landing, where he found work building wooden river boats.

In 1911, he moved to Wapella, Saskatchewan, married, and moved to Seattle in 1912.

Hunt revived his airplane experiments in Seattle, and reportedly built an early version of a seaplane in the 1920s. He established a company called Pacific Coast Airways, but when the company did not thrive, Hunt’s aviation career ended. Hunt later established the Broadmoor Health Centre and College of Massage in Seattle.

He died in Seattle in 1978.

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