Category Archives: Centennial of Flight

Two Fine Books Telling the Story of the Earliest Days of Aviation

Birdmen_coverBirdman: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss and the Battle to Control the Skies

by Lawrence Goldstone

This fantastic best seller is one that will satisfy any serious fan of aviation history. Beginning with such pioneers of flight as Otto Lilienthal in Germany and Octave Chanute in the US, Goldman quickly comes to the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio and Glenn Curtiss of Hammondsport, New York. Showing how Lilienthal and Chanute influenced these three innovators, he then details how each persevered in flying America’s first powered airplanes.

This book is downright exciting – a “page-turner”, as they say. The author delves deeply into each participant’s human side, warts and all. Often these heroic figures are at loggerheads – the Wrights clash with each other, let alone with Curtiss, whom they accuse of stealing their patents. They strive to virtually patent the airplane. Their battles rage for years in the courts.

Leading the way in powered airplane flight, the Wrights engender a whole new world of entertainment – exhibition flying. From 1909-14 they and Curtiss bring their performing troupes to city after city all the way west to Los Angeles and Seattle. This is a magnificent era, but it comes at a huge cost. The touring flyers introduce millions to the airplane and make piles of money. But by 1912 more than 100 have lost their lives, mainly at public appearances. Airplanes fall apart in flight, turbulence hurls pilots from their seats, planes crash into crowded bleachers, the first bird strike kills a famous pilot, etc. All along the crowds are loving it all. The great Lincoln Beachey, who performed some of the earliest airshows in Canada, grows disgusted at how the hordes come out mainly to see him die. And so they finally do in 1915, when his plane disintegrates during a show at the great San Francisco exposition.

Another major theme is the years-long lawsuits pursued almost insanely by the Wrights against all other aeronautical enterprizers. Obsessed by their patents and paranoid about these being infringed upon, the Wrights spent a fortune in the courts. While aeronautics was progressing at Hammondsport, in the UK and across Europe, the Wrights dithered and lost their chance. Their Wright Flyers, in the meantime, became known as death traps. Dozens of airmen and passengers died in Wright Flyer crashes, while Curtiss machines gained the opposite reputation. In the end, Goldman concludes that the Wrights held up America in its quest to advance in aviation. Curtiss on one hand and Europe on the other set the pace in advancing aviation’s cause. Ironically, in the end the two warring sides made peace through a 1929 corporate alignment creating the Curtiss-Wright Co., which survives to this day.

Don’t miss this exceptional book that brings to life the great years of powered flight!

Birdman: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss and the Battle to Control the Skies

230 pages, hardcover, photos, notes, index $34.00, CANAV price $21.00 + $12.00 Canada Post + $2.10 tax. Total for Canada $35.10 Mail your cheque or pay by PayPal to USA and overseas please enquire for a price:


Blog Pioneer Decades Jan. 2016Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades

By Larry Milberry

Complementing Birdmen is this detailed history of the early years of flight in Canada. Beginning with Canada’s first flight – a balloon ascent in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1840, The Pioneer Decades explains how aviation went decade by decade in America’s next-door neighbour. Ballooning alone was a huge public fascination that produced one Canadian “first” after another, whether the Saint John ascent, the “first” aerial crossing between Canada and the US, the first powered airship appearances or the first parachute jump.

The Pioneer Decades then introduces heavier–than-air flight with teenager Larry Lesh’s daring glider experiments in Montreal in 1907. While Birdmen does tell a bit about Alexander Graham Bell and the Aerial Experiment Association, The Pioneer Decades covers the AEA program in detail, ending with the dramatic first powered airplane flight by the “Silver Dart” at Baddeck in 1909. There also is much of Glenn Curtiss and Hammondsport, where the “Silver Dart” was built and first flew.

The Pioneer Decades continues with the great years in Canada of the exhibition flyers, nearly all of whom are also covered in Birdmen. For example, Toronto’s first airplane flight is made by Charles Willard – a Curtiss-trained pilot flying his Curtiss-made “Golden Flyer”. The great Montreal and Toronto air meets of 1910 and 1911 are also here, with tales of the famed Curtiss and Wright pilots, many of whom would give their lives in the cause from 1907 onward – Lincoln Beachey, Cromwell Dixon, Eugene Ely, Ralph Johnstone, Phil Parmalee, etc.

The Pioneer Decades tells how McCurdy and Baldwin of the AEA tried selling their designs to the Canadian military, how Canada’s first WWI airmen trained at Curtiss and Wright schools, then how they excelled “Over the Front” in the first great aerial conflict. Many would fly the great Curtiss JN-4 and Curtiss’ renowned long-range, anti-submarine flying boats, about which, a few years earlier, the Wright camp had been scoffing. You’re bound to enjoy this beautifully-produced CANAV title.

Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades

176 pages, large format, hardcover, photos, bibliography, index. $50.00 but with this offer $35.00 + $12.00 for Canada Post + $2.35 tax. Total for Canada $49.35 Mail your cheque or pay by PayPal to USA and overseas please enquire for a price (email me at

BOTH these leading titles: $56.00 + $15.00 for Canada Post + $3.55 tax. Total for Canada $74.55. Mail your cheque or pay by PayPal to USA and overseas please enquire for a price:

CANAV Books, 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4E 3B6


Tel: (416) 698-7559

Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman, Vol 2 at the printer!

ImageBig news from CANAV … Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman, Volume 2 is at the printer. It goes on press November 7 and will be shipping to you the following week. By now you know how this routine goes at CANAV, right. Download the order form for all the “gen” about “Norseman 2” and a reminder about Vol.1, which so many of you already are enjoying (click on any photo to see it full size).

Hello aviation businesses … give some thought to using some of CANAV’s great titles as gifts and incentives this season for your employees, retirees, suppliers and customers. More businesses now are using our world-class books this way. The reasons are simple and just make too much good sense: a book has a lot more impact and staying power than your traditional 26er or box of cigars (yesterday’s gift ideas). For a change, give something with some intellectual, cultural and simple common sense value (think saving money).

Besides “Norseman 2”, check out the  fabulous new books by Chris Hadfield, and the excellent $60 deal if you’re ordering both. You followed Chris during his recent tour as Commander of the International Space Station, so these are sure to have a special place in your library. Download the order form here.

Chris’ book launch for “Astronaut’s View”  on October 29 was highlighted by him seeming to be everywhere in the media. Treat yourself and track down some of these super Chis Hadfield interviews — they are inspiring! First off today, I heard Chris on CBC “Q”, while driving down the 404 from my warehouse in Aurora in my ’93 Towncar “Bookmobile” carrying 1000 pounds of CANAV books . Next, I caught him on CBC “Strombo”, finally, after supper, on Steve Paikin’s  fabulous TVO show “The Agenda”. Definitely mark these on your “to do” list — the sooner the better. They’ll be somewhere on the web. Do this, then order the books, right!


Finally, also attached is CANAV’s Fall 2013 Booklist. This is Canada’s best mail order aviation list. It’s loaded with top-notch titles and excellent deals — it even has a free book offer! This season you still can get $60 off Air Transport in Canada,  $45 of Fighter Squadron (441 Sqn) and $109 off a set of Canada’s Air Force at War and Peace. So … looking for a knock-out of a gift for any special aviation fan? Well, you won’t do better anywhere (believe it or not …  used copies on the web usually are pricier).

Any questions? Send me an email — Good reading to all from ye old scribe at CANAV … Larry

The Readers Are Getting into It … The Latest “Bombing and Coastal” Commentary

For any book publisher reviews are part of the business. On the whole, however, the book reviewing trade has been sliding for years. While the daily press used the revere its full-time and professional book editors, today many dailies have pitifully watered down this important arts feature.

Book editors/reviewers are more than ever inclined towards fiction, so that makes it harder than ever to get any Canadian history book noticed. Right off the top, Canadian dailies are almost guaranteed these days to ignore anything to do with an aviation book. Apparently, this is drab, démodé stuff. But give them something in the line of fiction — some easy reading, nothing to tax the brain — then you might catch their eye. Or maybe a nice shallow cook book or some Hollywood starlet’s latest sexercise book, or something really intellectual, maybe about ultimate fighting or hockey violence. Above all, give them something out of New York vs any hopeless Canadian effort, right! This said, there always will be serious reviewers seriously reading serious books. The smaller Canadian dailies and weeklies seem to attract this sharper type of book critics. These fine citizens  are rarely arrogant the way our “supporters” in the mainstream press tend to be.

CANAV has had a few hundred solid reviews over 30 years, and only the one dud, that from Aeroplane Monthly by some poor sod who does not appear to have done any serious history or arts studies.

Many fine comments have already reached CANAV about Aviation in Canada: Bombing and Coastal Operations Overs 1939-1945. On the whole people are getting the big picture — this is a good book. Roger Lindsay in the UK submits the comments below — his first impressions. Roger knows a bit about books, having toiled at serious research and writing for decades. His publications about such aircraft as the Javelin, Lightning and Venom are classics. His latest — Cold War Shield — is simply magnificent. Here is Roger’s take on Bombing and Coastal Operations:

Hi Larry … your new “Bombing and Coastal Operations Overseas” arrived today by post. I’ve spent the best part of a day drooling over the photos and absorbing the personal recollections covering so many of your courageous countrymen who served in the RCAF. The book is magnificent and already a total joy, a stellar production. As usual I’m in awe at the detail, the exceptionally high standards of layout, design and printing, and can only imagine the effort expended in putting it together.

I feel that we Brits owe a huge debt to the thousands of Canadians who came across to our side in the last war, not least those who served in Bomber Command at such great sacrifice. Your book brings that terrific contribution into focus with more impact than many other publications.

I’m also greatly enjoying your Coastal Command coverage, which never receives the publicity it warrants. You’ve found some super photographs, almost entirely new to me, and I suspect most readers. 

Finally, I must congratulate CANAV Books on achieving 30 years of fabulous top quality publishing, in spite of all the problems. I hope the book sells in truck-loads and brings in a small fortune!

What great stuff, Roger. This worn-out old publisher is grateful.

Another note comes from Ron Butcher, who served his tour on Lancasters with 408 Squadron. I cover a bit about his crew on pp 133-34. Ron requests an amendment ref. p.133. In the centre column he has asked that I add how his crew completed two operations on D-Day. Then, he correctly raps my knuckles for saying that his crew completed their tour February 20, when the date should be June 11. Somehow the odd such gaff creeps into every such book, to say nothing of ordinary typos which always evade the proof readers. We spot them in the highest quality books and everyone understands how those nasty little cockroaches creep in. Ron notes some of these, which I’ll add to the errata list and send to my readers at the next mailing. I’ve asked Ron to join my cadre of intrepid proof readers. One can never have too many eyes checking manuscript and galleys.

CANAV Books 2010 Fall-Winter Newsletter and Booklist

Aviation in Canada … News from the CANAV Situation Room

After a short breather following our recent book launch, it’s back to normal in CANAV’s dungeon. The publisher is again putting the screws to his staff. He’s laying on the lash, cutting salaries, demanding more unpaid overtime, reducing benefits, etc. He says that he will continue with this until morale improves. Seriously, good readers … this is where CANAV’s new Centennial of Flight series stands: Vol.1 Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades, Vol.2 Aviation in Canada: The Formative Years and Vol.3 Aviation in Canada: Evolution of an Air Force are now in print (and available to purchase online – check out the sidebar to your right!). Reader comments about ACEAF would put a smile on any publisher’s face.

Terry Higgins, Aviaeology/SkyGrid publisher of Canadian Aircraft of WWII, writes: “Another stellar CANAV production… It is like a well put together documentary film in paper form. This is a consistent characteristic of your books that I enjoy so much. And the cover price is just astounding. Next please!”

At Passion Aviation, Pierre Gillard offers his own view: “Espéron que la saga Aviation in Canada continue encore longtemps car elle représente une mine incroyable d’informations qui devrait être “la” réference de quiconque s’intéresse ou voudrait s’intéresser à l’aviation au Canada depuis le ‘Jour 1’…”

Those who already have these three gorgeous books can easily relate; now I’m just waiting for the rest of you die hard aviation fans to get aboard the “CANAV Books Express”. “Aviation in Canada” is the first attempt to create an encyclopedic coverage of Canada’s aviation heritage. Vol.4 is now in the CANAV system: Aviation in Canada: The RCAF Overseas 1939-1945 will pick up from Vol.3, providing a solid look at a key era. Due by mid-2011, it will have major chapters about Bomber Command, Fighter Command, Coastal Command, Southeast Asia, etc. with an emphasis on bringing as much new material to the printed page as we can.

Check out CANAV’s new book list. Click on it, take a good, serious look and you’ll find some irresistible titles. This is where the real aviation reading starts this season — not on the internet. Forget about that, unless all you want is fluff or a quick history “fix”. When it comes to the solid goods, real aviation fans read books — the internet’s for kids. As you peruse our list, the “Aviation in Canada” series leaps out, so make that a shopping list priority. Next (and naturally so) comes Canada’s Air Force at War and Peace. If you don’t have this knockout of a trilogy, you can finally break down and order a set — CAFWP is on sale! Here are more than 1000 pages of RCAF heritage with 2000+ photos that no true RCAF supporter would be without. Reader Bernie Pregler, who once navigated on CF-100s, recently discovered CAFWP and was moved to comment:

“I started reading Vol.3 and was reminded of a W.B. Yeats poem — ‘When you are old and gray and nodding by the fire, take down this book and read, and dream…’ In fact, Yeats was writing it in regard to a girl he once loved, but since most of us are also in love with airplanes and flight, it’s fair to think of it as being applicable to ourselves, as well. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of information and photographs, and completely in awe of anyone who can produce such a work – and not just one volume, but three …”

I doubt that there’s a book editor at any major Canadian newspaper who could touch this commentary for intellectual and literary depth. Would they even know today who Yeats is, let alone what a CF-100 is? Gads, its depressing … whatever happened to the good old, well-versed, broadly-educated, fired-up daily press book editors, who knew what readers wanted (and that fiction mostly was for kids)? Check out the booklist for the special prices on CAFWP. Deal expires with our Spring 2011 list.

CANAV’s fine book selection should conjure great gifts ideas, if you’re wondering what your aviation-minded or Canadian history-loving friends, employees, customers or suppliers want for Christmas. Any sharp young person would be inspired by a book like Pioneer Decades, so buy him/her a copy, already. Meanwhile, what’s to stop anyone from donating a good Canadian aviation book to the local public or school library? What a great civic holiday gesture!

All the best … Larry Milberry, publisher

Aviation World: A great supporter of Canada’s aviation heritage

Part of Aviation World's impressive Canadiana bookshelf at its YYZ location. If you've got the least appreciation for Canada's great aviation heritage, you'll find a box-load of books here that you'll dearly want. So drop by with credit card hot in hand.

August 28 was a grand time to be at Aviation World in Toronto (YYZ) — the store’s annual customer appreciation day. Hundreds of devotees turned out to take advantage of good across-the-board discounts on books, models, flight simulator paraphernalia and all sorts of other products. Owner Len Neath and staff added to the fun by putting on a super BBQ.

If you live in the GTA or are passing through, you need to visit this amazing “aviation stuff” supermarket. The same goes for the company’s Richmond, BC (YVR) and Chicago (ORD) locations. Check it all out on the web.

Aviation World at YYZ is perfectly located for plane watchers. This was a typical sight on the 28th — a BA Triple Seven swooshing by to touch down seconds later on Runway 24L. So you can bring the whole family out to do the store, then enjoy a steady parade of spectacular planes landing right overhead. A field trip that will not disappoint … Larry

Aviation in Canada: Evolution of an Air Force: Launched and in Orbit!


After dozens of book launches, such events sure can be predicable but, in CANAV’s experience, every one has turned out to be a blast. I sometimes am asked about book launches of yore, and those days sure race back to mind. The first was with McGraw Hill-Ryerson’s Aviation in Canada back in 1979. That one I held in the back yard at 51 Balsam, which then became the venue for several similar excellent thrashes — Sixty Years and Austin Airways are memorable.

The first all-CANAV event was held at Pete Mossman’s great uptown domicile in the summer of ’81. There we launched The Avro CF-100, for which Pete had done the fabulous artwork. November 2, 1982 came next — my first $3000 hotel splash, held at the Cambridge Inn out by what we used to call Malton Airport (today’s YYZ). The idea was to kick off The Canadair North Star, but the weather closed in — IFR all the way and I could foresee disaster. Astoundingly, things panned out beautifully. Piles of North Star fans from Canadair, TCA and RCAF times suddenly materialized. Through the efforts of Canadair exec Dick Richmond, the company Lear flew to Malton with several senior Canadair retirees, Dick included; other folks turned up wearing old time TCA stewardess and pilot outfits and, miracle of miracles, a good few North Star books were sold.

John McQuarrie and old team mate Larry Milberry have just exchanged their new books at The Brogue. John got his start in publishing after a conversation with Larry back around 1990. That day he showed out of the blue with a series of questions starting with, "I think I'd like to get into publishing. Where does a fellow start?" He began by producing some world-class Canadian military titles, branched off into a series on ranching, then got into cities, canals, etc.

A 1986 Ottawa launch for The Canadair Sabre brought out a fabulous crowd of Sabre pilots and groundcrew. Included were several who had fought in Sabres in Korea — Ernie Glover (3 MiG-15 kills), Andy Mackenzie, Omer Levesque (1st RCAF MiG-15 kill), Claude LaFrance, Eric Smith, Bruce Fleming. Talk about the cream of the crop. There also were Golden Hawks milling around and Vic Johnson screened a fine team video. It was either here or at our Ottawa launch for Sixty Years that the Soviet air attaché showed up — some former MiG-21 pilot who pretended not to speak English. A CanForces general in the crowd explained that such fellows attend any such Ottawa event just to check on who’s in town, in this way getting some “intel” to pad their reports back to Moscow! Sadly, no one seemed to be taking photos that night in Ottawa — I don’t have a one.

The De Havilland Canada Story was launched at the roll-out of the Dash 8 in 1983, Power: The Pratt & Whitney Canada Story at Hart House at the University of Toronto, and Canadair: The First 50 Years took flight at a glitzy affair down in old Montreal. That was an amazing one with hundreds of Canadair retirees and VIPs, including three CanForces generals. At each of these affairs, books were given out by the hundreds, so what a way to spread the good word at your clients’ expense!

Another zany book launch was for Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story held at 410 Wing RCAFA at Rockcliffe (Ottawa). As Hugh Halliday and I were setting up in mid-afternoon, a blizzard descended. By the time we had been hoping to see a crowd, only a few old 410 regulars were on hand. They’d been sitting all afternoon at the bar, so weren’t much interested in books. Never mind, however, for people gradually started to filter in, storm or not. About 8 o’clock there was a clatter outside. I looked but could only see snow streaking by horizontally. Then, out of this cloud entered 438 Sqn Hon. Colonel Andy Lord, a former 438 Typhoon pilot. Andy had commandeered a 438 Kiowa helicopter to fly up weather-be-damned from St. Hubert. Naturally, he looked ready to party or take on the Hun, but not so his young pilots — they were white as sheets!

Book launch show-and-tell: John Hymers, Dennis, Rick, Kelly and Andrew look over a photo album put together by John showing WWII PR photos taken by Goodyear Rubber in Toronto. No one had seen these since the war. Happily, John had rescued the negs from the trash one day ... such amazing scenes as a Bolingbroke on show at the CNE.

Tony (Aviation World), Rick and John looking to be in decent form.

So what happened on the book launch scene last week — August 19, 2010? It was as predicted — a super bunch of supporters, old friends, some of whom have been there for CANAV since Day 1. Renowned author Fred Hotson (age 95 or so) made it with  his chauffeur, Dave Clark, an old-time Canadair type. A few other vintage CAHS members turned up — Bill Wheeler, Shel Benner, Pete Mossman, Gord McNulty, etc. Rae Simpson, with whom I used to photograph planes in boyhood days, showed, fresh in on a King Air flight from The Soo. Photographer-publisher John McQuarrie blew in from an assignment in Kingston, showing off the glitziest book of the day — his magnificent new “Spirit of Place” title — Muskoka: Then and Now. Ace photographer Rick Radell and Aviation World stalwarts Tony Cassanova and Andy Cline showed with all their great support — lugging boxes and such. Two other fine party guys on the scene? AC 767 and CWH Canso driver John McClenaghan and geologist George Werniuk. John Timmins, of Timmins Aviation fame, was taking in his first CANAV event. Milberrys Matt and Simon/Amanda (plus wee ones) arrived as per usual.

Fred, Sheldon and Gord. Fred spent years as national president of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, was an early member of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. A former DHC employee, Sheldon became an early CAHS member. Gord followed his famous father, Jack, into the hobby aviation world and in recent years has been an indispensable member of the CAHS Toronto Chapter.

Larry makes a sale to Gord as ex-RCAF radar tech and military policemen Al Gay watches. Al and some friends have been developing a flight simulator series based on all 100+ aerodromes of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. (Tony Cassanova)

Rick wants a book but is having trouble letting go of his $50 bill. The aviation gang ... what a bunch, eh! This joke is no laughing matter to anyone publishing aviation books: "Question: Who invented the world's thinnest copper wire? Answer: Two airline pilots fighting over a penny!" Sad to say, but this seems to be true. As a group, airline pilots religiously avoid CANAV book launchings. (Tony Cassanova)

Wartime-wise? Well, due to time doing what it does so efficiently, there were few on hand from 39-45 times. John Coleman (Lancaster pilot 405 and 433) and Jack McCreight (Lancaster nav) were the sole RCAF reps, whereas in days gone by dozens of such super Canadians used to show. Fred Hotson of Ferry Command was the Methuselah of the wartime bunch on this day. Other friendly folks came and went as the afternoon passed — just A-1 all the way.

Lancaster pilot John Coleman chats with renowned aviation artist Pete Mossman at The Brogue. Pete's artwork helped CANAV's early books gain fame -- our CF-100, North Star, DHC and Austin Airways titles. In recent times Pete painted dozens of magnificent aircraft profiles for Dan Dempsey's incomparable book A Tradition of Excellence.

Rae Simpson and Jack McCreight had lots to talk over through the afternoon. Rae flew CF-104s during the RCAF's NATO heyday in the mid-1960s, then rose to be the CanForces chief test pilot. Jack's wartime training story is told in our new book.

The staff at The Brogue in Port Credit supplied the yummy food and whatever liquid refreshments we needed, so the whole effort came off as finely as a publisher could wish. Toronto’s summer nightmare traffic scenario sure tried to put the kibosh on things, but CANAV’s “solid citizens” toughed it out, battling off the worst that the QEW and 427 threw at them. Thanks to everyone for making it all another gem of a day — Book No.31, if my count is on. Cheers … Larry

CANAV fans at The Brogue: banking man Tony Hine, geologist George Werniuk, computer guy Matt Milberry and astronomer Andrew Yee.

John, Bill Wheeler and Larry shooting the breeze about RCAF history, books and publishing. Bill edited and published the CAHS Journal for more than 40 years. (Tony Cassanova)

While we were partying at The Brogue, Andy Cline was sweating it out at Aviation World, but after work he joined us anyway. If you haven't yet visited Aviation World on Carlingview Dr. near YYZ, in Richmond, BC near YVR, or in Chicago near Midway MDW, make a point of it. (Tony Cassanova)

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.

Getting History Straight – It’s a Battle Royal

Reginald Hunt as illustrated by G. LaRue. Hunt's name is nowhere to be found in the list of the original 598 "Early Birds" of aviation ( Naturally, the list includes the names of Baldwin, McCurdy and all other bone fide Canadian aviation pioneers. (via City of Edmonton Archives)

Reginald Hunt as illustrated by G. LaRue. Hunt's name is nowhere to be found in the list of the original 598 "Early Birds" of aviation ( Naturally, the list includes the names of Baldwin, McCurdy and all other bona fide Canadian aviation pioneers. (via City of Edmonton Archives)

John Chalmers submits this piece of Edmonton aviation lore — the first flight of Reginald Hunt. Hunt’s supposed 1909 efforts have not been publicized since then. He wasn’t covered by either Frank Ellis (Canada’s Flying Heritage), or George Fuller, et al (125 Years of Canadian Aeronautics). Hunt’s story was known to these eminent historians, but the absence of believable facts, made it prudent to await solid evidence, before accepting Hunt as a true Canadian aviation pioneer. To this time, nothing new surfaced.

The Journal covered Hunt in its September 8, 1909 edition. The totally crazy headline reads “Edmonton Carpenter Flies in Airship of His Own Invention: Keeps Aloft for Half an Hour Flying at Will Over Roofs of Houses —  Manufactured Own Monoplane — Had Been at Work on Problem Three Years — Engine Made from Own Model”.

The usual reporter’s hyperbole (easily spotted by an experienced researcher) is used. The alarm bells quickly go off when reading any such item. Reporters of the day rarely checked their facts and liberally made up details to embellish a story, e.g. should the length of Hunt’s first flight been 35 minutes, this would be the world’s longest first flight of the Early Bird era. Longest by far more than a nose! Most such first flights lasted no more than two minutes.

What we now would love to see (besides a few documented facts) would be a photograph of Hunt’s aeroplane, especially in flight. Surely, many such would have been taken, if the events described actually occurred, for North America by 1909 was well into the age of everyday photography. With even one photo, some of the details so vividly described in the Journal could be verified. One wonders why, based on one implausible newspaper story, the Alberta Aviation Museum has leapt to the wildest of conclusion, declaring on its website, “Edmonton Marks One Hundred Years of Aviation”. Give us a break!

This is what the Journal wrote in 1909:

To this city must be given the honor of numbering among her residents the first successful inventor of an airship in the Canada West. On Labour Day residents of the west end were startled to see, flying high over their houses, an airship carrying a full grown man. The mechanical bird hovered about for a time floating hither and thither, then settled down near the home of Reginald Hunt. Mr. Hunt had been working for three years to perfect his airship and his Labour Day flight crowned his efforts with success.

Inventor Hunt, who is a carpenter by occupation, is of a mechanical turn of mind, and has already attained a reputation as an amateur inventor, having designed several useful labor saving devices. About three years ago he became deeply interested in the problem of aerial navigation and every spare moment he has applied himself arduously to the task of designing an aeroplane or aeroglider (of the monoplane type), as he calls it.

At first his attempts met with only indifferent success, but enthused with the soul of an inventor he did not consider failure and ever tried again. He first succeeded in constructing a winged device with two great bird-like wings on either side, which would soar from an elevation to the ground maintaining an equal balance. This much accomplished, he turned his attention to the motor problem, and being an expert carpenter it was comparatively east for him to divert his skill in woodwork into the manufacture of patterns for the engine. In time, the castings were made and finished, and all the rods, gears, wheels, cams, etc., were converted into a living, snorting moving gasoline engine, the vital force for the airship.

This much attained, next came the assembling of the huge gasoline Bird. The wings and artificial feathers would glide themselves, but would they carry an engine? Thus arose other and more serious problems, such as vehicles of propulsion. Were they to be wings, windmill wheels or what? At last he decided upon fan-like affairs similar to those used to keep flies from sleeping in restaurants. The whole was assembled, and on Labor Day the holiday afforded an opportunity for practical test. The morning was taken up in the finishing touches. In the afternoon about two o’clock Hunt, who was assisted by F. Doxsey, seated himself in the machine and set the motor in motion. The propellers commenced to rotate, at first slowly, and then at terrific speed. Hunt’s heart stood still. Would it fly? The exciting moments of suspense were not long. The machine rose slowly at first, barely cleared a few buildings, then gaining momentum, soared high.

The flight was fraught with no little danger. The slightest miscalculation might result in collapse and not unlikely death to the daring aviator. Fortunately, however, the steering device and warping contrivance worked to perfection, and Hunt’s control of his machine was marvelous. After remaining in the air for about 35 minutes, during which he flew over the neighborhood at a height ranging from 35 to 50 feet above the housetops, the inventor descended to earth triumphant, a conqueror of the air.

Further flights will not likely be attempted until a more efficient motor has been secured. The motor filled its office all right on Labor Day, but Mr. Hunt is not altogether inclined to trust it. When seen by a Journal representative yesterday Mr. Hunt said: “I’m delighted with the success I have attained, and I am confident that 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. My machine is constructed on altogether new lines. I have watched all the scientific magazines and I know that nothing like it has ever been invented before.”

Mr. Hunt is going to take a trip to the coast soon, and while there will solicit financial assistance, which he says is his only drawback. It is chiefly in the so-called warping device that Mr. Hunt believes his air school to be greatly different from any yet devised. He thinks he has the problem of warping the plane to maintain equilibrium, solved, and that he will realise a fortune from his attainments.

John Chalmers of the AAM adds to the Hunt story. His use of such phrases as “remarkable achievement”, “records indicate” and “several successful flights” will leave any serious aviation history aficionado seeing a few red flags: Little remains of documentation about Reginald Hunt’s remarkable achievement. Records indicate it was equipped with what was Canada’s first pair of ailerons, and the engine was mounted behind the cockpit, making the machine a “pusher” type of aircraft. The engine powered two chain-driven propellers.

However, after several successful flights, in 1910 he crashed the aircraft while preparing for flights at the Edmonton Exhibition. He was uninjured, but the flying machine was destroyed. The incident ended his Edmonton flying career. For a while he built boats for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and then eventually he made his way to Seattle and built more aircraft. But his career as an aviator was ended by the Hungry Thirties. He then permanently abandoned aviation, opened a massage parlour and worked as a naturopath. Born in England in 1884, Reginald Hunt died in 1978.

L’@erobibliotheque reviews Pioneer Decades

Pioneer Decades - cover Philippe Listemann of L@erobibliotheque wrote this review of Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades, Vol. 1 in CANAV Books’ Centennial of Flight series. See the original item here.

Alors que l’épopée de l’aviation a plus de cent ans, les articles ou ouvrages traitant des premiers vols ou premiers exploits sont publiés pour célébrer ce qui nous anime depuis longtemps ici – l’aviation. Cette fois c’est Larry Milberry qui nous propose de raconter les débuts de l’aviation au Canada jusqu’à la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale : l’histoire aéronautique de ce pays est bien plus riche que l’on pourrait se l’imaginer au premier abord.

Ce qui frappe en premier lieu dans ce livre de près de 180 pages, c’est le nombre de photographies et leur qualité. De ce fait, cette prise de contact nous invite à lire le texte. Divisé en sept chapitres, les trois premiers traitent respectivement des débuts de 1840 à 1914, de la base de Camp Borden qui est le berceau de l’aviation militaire canadienne, et de la création de l’industrie aéronautique canadienne. En parcourant ces chapitres, on s’aperçoit vite que les Canadiens se sont intéressés très tôt à l’aviation, entraînés par leur pays de tutelle de l’époque, la Grande-Bretagne, et encouragés par les débuts prometteurs enregistrés dans le puissant pays voisin, les États-Unis.

Suit le chapitre 4 avec 16 pages qui est à mettre un peu à part car il présente des photos de warbirds, qui à mon sens n’apportent pas grand chose à ce livre, même si les prises de vue sont réussies. Cela nous fait cependant quitter notre voyage dans l’histoire un temps sans véritable raison. On retourne alors dans le passé avec les chapitres 5, 6 et 7 qui sont consacrés à la Grande guerre, décrit l’implication des Canadiens dans ce conflit et intéressera même ceux qui n’ont qu’un faible intérêt pour la Première Guerre mondiale. Après avoir passé en revue les grandes figures incontournables canadiennes de la Grande guerre, Larry Milberry s’attarde sur les autres pilotes qui ont servi dans le RFC, unité après unité ; un résumé nous présente ces pilotes canadiens les plus marquants, lesquels ont contribué à écrire l’histoire de leurs unités respectives du No1 Squadron au No.218 Squadron, sans oublier la passionnante chasse aux Zeppelins. Tout le long du texte, des récits extraits de rapports de combat, de communiqués officiels ou autres, en font un texte vivant à lire.

L’intérêt ne diminue pas avec le dernier chapitre consacré à la tentative de mise sur pied d’une force aérienne canadienne mais aussi à la participation des aviateurs canadiens dans la très peu connue aventure des Alliés en Russie, regroupant des forces britanniques, françaises et américaines, dans le but de soutenir les Russes blancs qui les opposaient aux Rouges en 1918 à 1921. Sans aucun doute un bon livre pour toute personne intéressée aux premiers pas de l’aviation et aussi à la Première Guerre mondiale.

Philippe Listemann

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Apollo 11 40th Anniversary

The set-up at the Apollo 11 celebration at the CASM. The museum's full-scale CF-105 Arrow mock-up looms majestically to the side. (Andrew Yee)

The set-up at the Apollo 11 celebration at the CASM. The museum's full-scale CF-105 Arrow mock-up looms majestically to the side. (Andrew Yee)

July 20, 2009 was a red letter day at the Canadian Air and Space Museum at Toronto’s Downsview airport. Hundreds of history-minded fans gathered at the museum to reminisce about that unforgettable day 40 years ago when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped from their lunar excursion module onto the moon’s surface — the first “men on the moon”.

Astronauts Bondar and Tryggvason, who did so much to make Toronto's Apollo 11 event such a success. (Andrew Yee)

Astronauts Bondar and Tryggvason, who did so much to make Toronto's Apollo 11 event such a success. (Andrew Yee)

The crowd at the CASM included Canadian astronauts Roberta Bondar (STS-42 1992) and Bjarni Tryggvason (STS-85 1997). Veterans of Avro Canada who attended included the great James C. Floyd, chief design engineer of the Avro Canada Jetliner and CF-105 Arrow.

The renowned James C. "Jim" Floyd answers questions and signs autographs. Then, Jim with Roberta Bondar. His aviation career began in the pre-war and wartime UK doing engineering on the Anson, Lancaster, etc. Then he emigrated to Canada, where he led the design teams on the Avro Canada C.102 Jetliner and CF-105 Arrow. When the Arrow was cancelled, he returned to the UK to a new challenge as a pioneer designer on what would evolve into the Concord. At age 95 Jim continues to be enthusiastic about aerospace, especially regarding Canada's future role. (Larry Milberry)

The renowned James C. "Jim" Floyd with Roberta Bondar. His aviation career began in the pre-war and wartime UK doing engineering on the Anson, Lancaster, etc. Then he emigrated to Canada, where he led the design teams on the Avro Canada C.102 Jetliner and CF-105 Arrow. When the Arrow was canceled, he returned to the UK to a new challenge as a pioneer designer on what would evolve into the Concord. At age 95 Jim continues to be enthusiastic about aerospace, especially regarding Canada's future role. (Larry Milberry)

From aboard the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk sent his own message via video downlink; and former Avro Arrow team member John Hodge, later a top NASA mission controller, spoke to us live via Skype connection. Representatives of the aerospace community reflected on Canada’s illustrious aviation and space heritage, then mused about what the future might hold. Apogee Books publisher, Robert Godwin, em-cee’d the whole thing.

The overall scene at the CASM -- July 20, 2009. (Larry Milberry)

The overall scene at the CASM -- July 20, 2009. (Larry Milberry)

Along with spaceflight historian Chris Gainor and Ross Maynard (son of Owen Maynard, an Avroite who excelled at NASA after cancellation of the Arrow), Bondar, Tryggvason and Floyd fielded questions from many enthusiastic fans. Their podium was flanked on one side by the CASM’s magnificent Avro Arrow mock-up, on the other by the airworthy replica of the Silver Dart, which Tryggvason had flown at Baddeck in February.

The Silver Dart replica, the same machine that Bjarni Tryggvason flew at Baddeck on February 22, 2009. Created by the AEA2005 association under Doug Jermyn, this world-class replica has been touring Canada. Soon it will settle in at the CASM for a stay of about two years, then will find a permanent home in the Alexander Graham Bell Museum at Baddeck. (Larry Milberry)

The Silver Dart replica, the same machine that Bjarni Tryggvason flew at Baddeck on February 22, 2009. Created by the AEA2005 association under Doug Jermyn, this world-class replica has been touring Canada. Soon it will settle in at the CASM for a stay of about two years, then will find a permanent home in the Alexander Graham Bell Museum at Baddeck. (Larry Milberry)

A few hours after everyone had dispersed from Downsview, came some nifty “icing on the Apollo 11 cake”. At 2207 hours the ISS, with the Shuttle Endeavor docked to it, appeared high over Toronto in one of the best such fly-overs ever enjoyed in these parts. Among the crowd of 13 astronauts aboard the ISS were Canadians Bob Thirsk (TMA-15 and on a 6-month ISS mission) and ISS visitor Julie Payette (STS-127). Thanks to the CASM, July 20, 2009 certainly goes down as one of the top dates on Canada’s Centennial of Flight calendar.