Air Power History Reviews Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades

Air Power History is the voice of the United States Air Force Historical Foundation. In its Summer 2010 issue, Dr. Robin Higham, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Kansas State University, reviews Pioneer Decades. Have a read:

Larry Milberry, the dean of Canadian aviation historians outside of the Directorate of History of the Department of National Defence, has spent a lifetime and a fortune pursuing many of the aspects of our northern neighbor’s flying history. This book, his newest offering, looks at the beginnings of Canadian aviation through 1918, when the Great War ended with aviation established as technically viable, but also as a mere military and civilian infant.


The U.S. connection to the story was through Glenn H. Curtiss. Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, had a summer place at Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and had founded the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) in 1907 at nearby Halifax. He was a serious aeronautical experimenter and a leading mental pillar of scientific developments in Canada from 1875 on. The AEA met and experimented both in Canada and Hammondsport, New York. Its members included Bell, Curtiss, and two University of Toronto graduates — Frederick Baldwin and J.A.D. McCurdy. Lt. Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army was on loan as an observer, per President “Teddy” Roosevelt.

Milberry well covers these pioneer years to 1914 in text and photos, and includes the military’s interest from 1909, when a Baddeck-built plane was demonstrated at Camp Petawawa. In 1910, a Canadian major made two flights at Baddeck. Finally, in 1912, the Chief of the General Staff in Ottawa agreed to buy two machines, but this was opposed by the new Minister of Militia and Defence. However, the outbreak of war in August 1914 changed all that, and the Canadian Aviation Corps was formed.

Canada began to train pilots for the Royal Flying Corps and had a school in Texas for the winter months. By the time the school closed, the Canadians had trained 3,135 pilots and 1,370 observers. Canadians also built aircraft, notably flying boats of Curtiss design. To accomplish this, Canada required an aircraft industry. Milberry covers this topic well, including the part performed by women in 1918 assembling the big Curtiss F-5L flying boat. Of special interest is the color photo section of aircraft and replicas of both Allied and German World War I types surviving in Canada today. The book concludes with a gallery of photos and biographies of Canadian airmen and a description of their lives on the Western Front. All in all, this is a pleasant and informative book.

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