Category Archives: Silver Dart

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 larry@canavbooks.com. USA and overseas please enquire for a price: larry@canavbooks.com

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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 larry@canavbooks.com. USA and overseas please enquire for a price (email me at larry@canavbooks.com).

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 larry@canavbooks.com. USA and overseas please enquire for a price: larry@canavbooks.com

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

Email: larry@canavbooks.com

Tel: (416) 698-7559

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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.

Centennial Phoenix: The Canadair Sabre

Riverview Park in Peterborough on June 6 as 428 Wing unveiled its beautifully refurbished Sabre.

Riverview Park in Peterborough on June 6 as 428 Wing unveiled its beautifully refurbished Sabre.

One of CANAV’s landmark publications is The Canadair Sabre, praised internationally as the finest F-86 book ever published. No.8 of our 30 titles to date, the book appeared in August 1986 and chronicles Sabre history from first flight in the US in 1947, to the RCAF getting involved less than two years later. In these early postwar days Canada was under pressure to support the UK by equipping with Vampire jet fighters. RCAF HQ, however, knew that the West’s new threat, the mighty USSR, already had such fighters as the MiG-15 (no one at RCAF HQ wanted to send a Vampire out to tangle with a MiG-15).

The Vintage Wings Sabre taxies arrives at Hamilton on June 3. Then, pilot Tim Leslie steps from his cockpit. Even as he was unstrapping, Tim was taking questions from the crowd. Talk about interactive!

The Vintage Wings Sabre arrives at the CWH at Hamilton on June 3, 2009. Even as he was unstrapping, pilot Tim Leslie was taking questions from the crowd. Talk about interactive!

So it was that Ottawa committed to the Sabre as its postwar day fighter. The RCAF quickly began sending technical staff and pilots on course to the US, as Canadair began setting up for production. Canadair test pilot A.J. “Al” Lilly was the first Canadian to fly a Sabre (August 3, 1950 at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio), and the first Canadian to go supersonic (two days later). At Dorval on August 8 he flew the first Canadair Sabre. Meanwhile, F/L Omer Levesque became the first RCAF pilot to fly a Sabre (November 1950). In May 1951, 410 at St. Hubert became the first RCAF Sabre squadron.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage and Vintage Wings Sabres nose-to-nose at Hamilton on June 3. The CWH jet is 23651 and still wears its original Golden Hawks paint scheme circa 1960 .

The Canadian Warplane Heritage and Vintage Wings Sabres nose-to-nose at Hamilton on June 3. The CWH jet is 23651 and still wears its original Golden Hawks paint scheme circa 1960 .

As they say, “the rest is history”, much of which is covered in The Canadair Sabre. CANAV’s print run totalled 10,422 copies, the job being done by the Bryant Press in Toronto. The whole creative and production job was in the ancient style – roughing out design page-by-page, then getting everything laid out in cut-and-paste style by hand, making film and plates, then rolling Bryant’s huge, dinosauric Harris presses. Somehow it all came together and, 23 years later, only a few unopened boxes of gorgeous Sabre books remain.

The ex-RCAF Sabre pilots who attended the Peterborough event.

The ex-RCAF Sabre pilots who attended the Peterborough event.

Book selling “experts” always scoff at a publisher who won’t remainder books after so many years. But CANAV did not go into business to remainder its beautiful books. Other publishers would call my stock of Sabre books a  “toxic asset”. Shows you how little they know. Those very books sitting on pallets in the warehouse are far from toxic. For example, Sabre sales each year cover the storage costs for CANAV’s entire inventory. How toxic is that! No … instead of being dumped, a nice book needs a nice home and in the near future that’s where the 10,422nd copy of The Canadair Sabre will surely reside, making the publisher a happy boy indeed.
What’s that they say about “What goes around comes around?” Well … doesn’t it just! Canada’s Centennial of Flight has turned into not just the year of the AEA2005 Silver Dart replica, but it’s also a sort of Year of the Phoenix, which is to say, a year of resurrected Sabres. Under Michael Potter, Vintage Wings of Gatineau, Quebec has restored to flying condition Canadair Sabre 23314, which is wowing fans at airshows from coast to coast. I first saw it at Comox in April, then in June at Hamilton.

The Vintage Wings Sabre formates with the Centennial of Flight CF-18 and a Snowbird Tutor at Comox on April 25, 2009.

The Vintage Wings Sabre formates with the Centennial of Flight CF-18 and a Snowbird Tutor at Comox on April 25, 2009.

Having begun in 1954, the Vintage Wings Sabre served with illustrious 441 Squadron at Marville, France and later with such outfits as the Sabre Transition Unit at Chatham, New Brunswick. Following retirement of the Sabre from Canadian service in 1968, 23314 rusted at Mountainview (near Trenton, Ontario) until sold in the US, where it flew with various owners as N8687D, until coming home in 2007.
23314 isn’t Canada’s only 2009 “Phoenix” Sabre. For $4500 in 1970, 428 Wing, Royal Canadian Air Force Association of Peterborough, Ontario acquired 23245. This Sabre did not get to serve overseas on NATO duty, but flew at No.1 (Fighter) OTU at Chatham, then was a ground training aid. Mounted on a pylon at Peterborough’s Riverview Park and Zoo, it sat for decades until 428 decided to give it a Centennial of Flight makeover. Peterborough’s renowned Flying Colours aircraft refurbishing company undertook the job, along with many other contributors from crane to trucking experts.

On June 6, 2009 – the 65th anniversary of D-Day – 428 Wing re-dedicated its freshly-restored Sabre. Hundreds of keen supporters turned out at Riverview Park to marvel at one of aviation’s grandest sights – an F-86 “flying low and fast” over the trees, now in the NATO colours of 430 “Silver Falcon” Squadron. On hand for the historic event was the Wing in force, then 534 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Cadets, old-time Sabre pilots, Edmonton MP Laurie Hawn (former CF-104 and CF-18 pilot), Col Mike Hood (Wing Commander Trenton) and many others. This was one of Canada’s great Centennial of Flight events and I sure wasn’t surprised to learn that 428 has been named Canada’s top Air Force Association wing for 2009.
Canada has other Sabres – at the Canadian Warplane Heritage, Reynolds-Alberta Museum, Western Canada Aviation Museum, etc. But the special dedication shown by Vintage Wings and 428 Wing has helped put this classic fighter back in the limelight and has turned 2009 into a bit of a “Year of the Sabre”.

If you don’t yet have The Canadair Sabre in your library, get moving and let CANAV know, before the last copy flies into the sunset. While it goes for $114 on Ebay, you can order a shiny new, autographed copy from CANAV for only $32. Click here to order your copy today!

Cheers … Larry Milberry

Canada’s Centennial of Flight in the printed word

These CAHS "old timers" were honoured at the May 9 meeting with Toronto Chapter Centennial of Flight awards: George Topple, Sheldon Benner, Bill Wheeler, Larry Milberry and Fred Hotson. (Ken Swartz)

These CAHS "old timers" were honoured at the May 9 meeting with Toronto Chapter Centennial of Flight awards: George Topple, Sheldon Benner, Bill Wheeler, Larry Milberry and Fred Hotson. (Ken Swartz)

On May 9, 2009 Larry Milberry delivered this brief “Centennial of Aviation” talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society. The venue was the Canadian Air and Space Museum.

Considering how this is Canada’s Centennial of Flight, today I’ll be taking a wide look at our aviation heritage and what’s been done in the printed word, etc., to preserve and further it. So far this year there have been some decent efforts to generate serious Centennial interest. There’s the ace of a model display by the Aero Buffs right here in the lobby, a showing of aviation nose art at the WCAM, the CAHS Calgary chapter’s next speaker will be reviving a local story — the sad tale of Mosquito “F for Freddie” and lots more is upcoming across the country. Locally, Sheldon Benner and CAHS friends have visited the Buffalo Aero Club, having in mind to spruce up Toronto CAHS chapter operations. I’m assuming that the CAHS national conventionthis year will be focusing on Centennial topics.

There recently have been some significant Canadian aircraft restoration projects, especially that of the AEA2005 – construction to flight status of a fine Silver Dart replica. I went down to Baddeck to check out that action, at the end of which it was announced that the replica would be housed permanently in a wing to be added to the magnificent Bell Museum in Baddeck. Put the Bell museum on your list of great museums to visit and while you’re at it; also add the incomparable Curtiss museum found just across Lake Ontario from us. In Montreal next week the Canadian Aviation Heritage Centre at Ste. Anne de Bellevue will roll out a near-perfect replica of a Bleriot, very similar to the pair that flew during the Montreal and Toronto aviation meets of 1910. The museum is also restoring a Fairchild bushplane and a Bolingbroke, so that folks there sure have plenty of enthusiasm and it’s well directed.

In June the CWH will fly its Lysander for the first time, a project that has been underway for many years. Meanwhile, Michael Potter’s Vintage Wings of Gatineau continues its whirlwind schedule of activities, especially regarding its Canadair Sabre. Painted in Golden Hawks colours, the Sabre began its round of appearances at Baddeck. Two weeks ago at Comox I saw the Sabre in the air with the Snowbirds. Elsewhere, members of the Alberta Aviation Museum have conducted some commemorative re-enactments of famous flights.

Upcoming are several glitzy airshows, as at Trenton and Bagotville, so everyone should have a chance to get in on the fun. What I’d like to do for the next few minutes is give a brief overview of some of the lasting efforts made in former years to lay a foundation for Canada’s aviation heritage. The original material from which our knowledge today emanates include such resources as the records of the AEA itself. Alexander Graham Bell insisted on recording and preserving in print everything that the AEA accomplished — its goals, successes, failures. Meanwhile, the contemporary press back then usually was doing a decent job covering anything to do with flight, beginning with Canada’s first manned balloon ascent at Saint John, New Brunswick 169 years ago. Although copies of most 19th Century local newspapers have not survived, there are enough in our archives coast to coast, so that we know about pretty well all the pioneer balloon events and other flight developments that followed to 1909. Contrary to what some of our “PhD” aviation researchers would say, it’s my contention that such contemporary newspapers by now should be viewed as a primary source for any serious history researcher. More and more archival newspapers are coming available on line every day. Through the Toronto Public Library, for example, the Toronto Globe and Toronto Daily Star are freely available from Day 1. All one needs to access them is a library card, and using the search options available, it’s a fair breeze to find all the aviation coverage from any year and on whatever topic you might be researching.

Beyond the local press, even before WWI there were specialized international publications covering flight. The first such in Canada likely appeared during WWI – newsletters and magazines published by the RFC training stations in Ontario. Then, just at war’s end, Lt Alan Sullivan was commissioned to write an resumé of the RFC training plan. This resulted in Sullivan’s 1918 title, Aviation in Canada. This is Canada’s first aviation book and Sullivan certainly did an excellent job telling the story using mountains of source material and illustrating the book with a wide selection of top-drawer photos. Copies of Sullivan’s book usually are for sale any day of the week on such internet sites as abebooks.com. One day this week I noticed that there were 36 on offer on “abe” ranging from $20 to $90. Any serious aviation reader should have a copy.

Meanwhile, in post-WWI days Canadians were reading from a host of UK and US aviation monthlies, getting all the immediate gen — in-depth articles covering technology, flying clubs, air regulations, military developments, biographical information and so on. All this is exceedingly valuable material for us to tap today. Canadian Air Review, the voice of the Aerial League of Canada, and Canadian Aviation Magazine, the voice of the Canadian Flying Clubs Association, both were circulating by 1928. Also by this time our first serious aviation history delvings were under way, led by Frank H. Ellis, one of the few Canadian members of the “Early Birds” – someone who had piloted a plane before December 17, 1913 (the 13th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight). Frank Ellis seems to have been born with a love for history in his veins.

By the mid 1930s Canadian Aviation was publishing his articles. In due course, he turned these into an in-depth book manuscript. But book publishing was a costly undertaking, so how was an ordinary little working man like Ellis going to get his dream into print? The problem was solved when Imperial Oil agreed to fund the project. This was likely due to the special interest of pioneer bush and Arctic pilot T.M. “Pat” Reid, then in sales at Imperial Oil. At the same time an arrangement was made with the University of Toronto Press and Ellis’ book was published in 1954. Entitled Canada’s Flying Heritage, this amazingly fine work remains in print 55 years later. “CFH”, as we call it, is where anyone who really cares about the subject must begin to read. I see that there are many copies for sale any day of the week on the internet. CFH certainly is our aviation history bible, yet its great author Frank Ellis remains unrecognized by Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. There always seem to be such ironies.

Others have since done great work getting our aviation heritage into print. Next to Ellis, I would name Kenneth M. Molson. His seminal works Canadian Aircraft since 1909 and Pioneering in Canadian Air Transport also should be in every self-respecting fan’s library. Like Ellis, Molson followed the aviation scene since he was a boy. He learned to fly pre-war, studied aeronautic science and worked at Victory Aircraft and Avro Canada before he became head the National Aeronautical Collection in Ottawa. There, Ken set the tone in establishing the world class museum that thousands visit annually. His special love was the bushplanes of the interwar years, so he set out to collect as many relevant examples as he could. Today you can enjoy the results of Ken’s efforts in such beautifully-restored types as the Bellanca, Fairchild, HS-2L and Junkers.

He also collaborated with such great history-minded men in Ottawa as W/C Ralph Manning in establishing a collection of WWI and WWII aircraft, especially those of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Ken later gave us another seminal book — Canada’s National Aeronautical Museum: Its History and Collections, then collaborated with another leading aviation history professional, Fred Shortt, to write the Curtiss HS Flying Boats. These are two further gems that eminently deserve to be on your library shelf. The “HS” book is exceptional and was supposed to be the first of a series. However, once Ken, then his successor, Bob Bradford, had retired from the museum, serious publishing there ceased and the tone changed, sad to say, from high enthusiasm for our aviation heritage, to the humdrum of a well-tuned Ottawa civil service operation. Nonetheless, the museum remains a monument of the finest order to its first great curators, Molson and Bradford.

Toronto Chapter member Neil McGavock showed up at the meeting to have his treasured Fred Hotson books The Bremen and De Havilland in Canada autographed by the renowned author himself. (Larry Milberry)

Toronto Chapter member Neil McGavock showed up at the meeting to have his treasured Fred Hotson books The Bremen and De Havilland in Canada autographed by the renowned author himself. (Larry Milberry)

Along the way other researchers and authors have produced some very solid and enduring books. The bibliography by now is vast, but I’ll mention some of the true highlights: the CAHS’s own 1983 125 Years of Canadian Aeronautics, the great John Griffin’s 1969 Canadian Military Aircraft Serials and Photographs, the incredibly useful 1977 Griffin-Kostenuk title RCAF Squadrons and Aircraft, Fred Hatch’s indispensable 1983 Aerodrome of Democracy, Fred Hotson’s 1983 De Havilland Canada Story, Donald Bain’s 1987 Canadian Pacific Air Lines: Its History and Aircraft, John Blatherwick’s 1989 A History of Airlines in Canada and Tom McGrath’s 1991 History of Canadian Airports. With these books on your shelf, you have the absolute core of a fine Canadian aviation library.

There also are by now hundreds of Canadian aviation biographies and autobiographies. Most are decent if not excellent contributions to the body of knowledge that interests us. I think here of such titles as Jack Lamb’s My Life in the North, Rex Terpening’s Bent Props and Blowpots, Wess McIntosh’s Permission Granted or Hap Kennedy’s Black Crosses of My Wingtips. The advent of “just in time” print technology has enabled many to economically produce small runs of their own aviation histories. While in Campbell River two weeks ago I met retired airline pilot Danny Bereza. He told me about his own book The Big Dipper Route. Luckily he had a copy to sell. Danny’s book turns out to be a top-notch story about a young pilot’s rights of passage in Arctic aviation. Well written and professionally edited, done in a readable type and so on, it’s a solid piece of work that begins to tell Danny’s story and that of Great Northern Airlines of Whitehorse.

At this point I have to recognize what probably is the grandest published source of all Canadian aviation history – our own CAHS Journal. Begun in 1963 and published faithfully at the rate of four per year, there are nearly 200 Journals in print. Each one is rock solid as to excellence in format and in content. Responsible for each and every one of them has been our own amazing Bill Wheeler. Having put some 6000 – 7000 pages of Canadian aviation history onto the printed page, it’s fair to say that no individual has done more to advance our important cause. Knowledgeable historians all over the world have lauded the Journal, so we sure can all be proud of it and of our amiable, unflappable editor. Sad to say, but Bill recently announced that he was retiring as Journal editor.

Finally, I have few words about the aviation book publishing process, something that people are always asking about. Presently, I’m trying to get a series going as to the Centennial of Flight. Volume 1 came out last November – Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades. Volume 2 Aviation in Canada: The Formative Years should be in print by late June. What people usually ask most about is the history process as I pursue it. In gathering material, I follow a tried and true system that began while developing my first book, Aviation in Canada, published exactly 30 years ago. It was by interviewing face to face and corresponding voluminously with the likes of Russ Bannock, Jack Charleson, Bud Found, Bob Fowler, Tommy Fox, Lewie Leigh, Wess McIntosh, Al Soutar and Harry Whereatt that I became a proponent of the personal interview. The way that a productive interview goes is straight forward. I sit down with an aviator who has on the table before us his log book, scrap books, photos, official documents, correspondence and such like. By going through all this material, while asking a series of very direct questions, the researcher starts to get a good history going. Recently I interviewed Typhoon pilot John Porter in Parksville, BC, then drove up to Campbell River to put Bomber Command air gunner Ted Turner under the microscope. What resulted is two pieces of solid history that will get nicely refined over the next few months, starting by having John and Ted tear apart my initial drafts. Naturally, I also use all the official sources that I can get my hands on, from the ORBs to personnel files, accident reports, official photo files and the like. Eventually, several qualified people also will read the manuscript – maybe a former crewmate, employer or CO. Qualified proof readers also will have a go at the manuscript, then at the galley proofs. The final result is a historically reliable piece of work.

Another topic often queried is marketing – who really wants books badly enough to lay out the cash? That’s the great conundrum. Sales wise, CANAV long ago decided to specialize in mail order. This came about following my initial experiences with Canada’s book sellers, whom I refer to as “the people who pretend to buy books, then pretend to pay for them.” Sad to say, but nearly the entire retail book business is that way. So … CANAV survives by selling directly to those readers seriously interested in aviation books and, roughly speaking, that approach works. Other than that, I still have a handful of trade outlets — solid, well run operators such as Aviation World, and a few of our aviation museum giftshops (such as this very one) that appreciate the important role that book sales have in the museum fund-raising game.

Editors…Please check your facts and grammar!

airforce-magazineLast fall Air Force Magazine asked me to write a guest editorial in praise of Canada’s upcoming Centennial of Flight.

Any writer understands that such a piece will be edited. The editor has a tough job making sure that content meets standards, getting things to fit on the page, meeting the deadline, all sorts of things. When AFM hit the street, however, there were a few bugs in the guest editorial, as with the AEA being called the “Aeronautical Experiment Association”, which it was not – it’s the Aerial Experiment Association. Readers notice these thing. A few other glitches popped up, such as my word “airplanes” being changed to the odd form “aircrafts”. Such gaffs can be avoided if an editor gives the writer a chance to review an item before sending it to press.

We know that Air Force Magazine is short-staffed, but proof reading isn’t rocket science. Local volunteer proof readers easily could be found in the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, among Canadian War Museum retirees, folks at the Canada Aviation Museum, etc. With a bit of extra effort, a cleaner “product” would result.

For the record, here is what I originally submitted to AFM. You can read the published version in Vol.32 No.4.

Have fun! Larry Milberry

Editorial for Air Force Magazine 12-08

Any 100th anniversary calls for a celebration and that certainly goes for 2009—Canada’s Centennial of Flight. All through the year there will be opportunities to get involved and enjoy Canada’s coast-to-coast aviation heritage gala.

Although balloons had been flying in Canada since 1840, our first powered, heavier-than-air flight would have to await a particular “alignment” of such terms as AEA, J.A.D. McCurdy, Silver Dart and Baddeck. McCurdy belonged to the Aerial Experiment Association, established in Halifax in 1907. Heading the AEA was Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, whose other hand-picked associates were John “Casey” Baldwin and two important Americans — Glenn Hammond Curtiss and Thomas Selfridge.

In 1908 the AEA’s four unique airplanes made many flights at Curtiss’ Hammondsport, New York base. On March 12, 1908 Baldwin had become the first Canadian to fly any powered airplane, when he took up the Red Wing. McCurdy flew the Silver Dart on December 6. (We now appreciate how seminal Curtiss’ role was in all this — there would have been no Silver Dart without him.)

In February 1909 the Silver Dart was shipped to Beinn Bhreagh, Dr. Bell’s Cape Breton Island home on Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck. Here, on February 23 McCurdy would make Canadian history. That frosty afternoon, he took his seat on the Silver Dart – his handsome but frail little biplane. Within minutes he had successfully completed a short flight off the ice before a crowd of onlookers. Dr. Bell immediately sent out a telegram: “McCurdy flew Silver Dart one mile and a half in great style.” As simple an event as this may have seemed, the following century in aviation would be Canada’s.

On April 29, 1909 Casey Baldwin spoke at the University of Toronto about the AEA, how flying really was no more dangerous than driving a motor car, and how aviation was sure to find its place. Soon he and McCurdy had the Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa to give the Canadian Militia its first airplane demonstration. After three successful flights on August 2, the pair decided to fly together. Unhappily, they cracked up on landing. One reporter explained how “The plucky aviators were not dangerously injured and are full of enthusiasm.” Baldwin added, “We are immensely pleased with our morning’s work, although we are sorry to lose the Silver Dart… It was our first machine and we had come to regard it in a personal light.” The ruins of the Silver Dart were picked over by souvenir hunters, Baldwin lamenting,  “Every Tommy in camp has a souvenir splinter.” What remained of the plane was burned.

The Baddeck team now assembled its back-up machine, Baddeck No.1. When Baldwin and McCurdy announced that they would fly it across the nearby Ottawa River, the press called this “perilous”. When the 42-hp engine recovered from the Silver Dart was tested on Baddeck No.1, the Toronto Daily Star demonstrated how everything is relative: “When the great engine commenced to work last night, it could be heard for miles… The strength of four men was required to hold the machine down while the propeller was working.”

On August 12 the Militia gathered at Petawawa to watch Baddeck No.1 perform. In his public comments, Colonel Fiset was skeptical, describing airplanes as  “too expensive a luxury”, adding that Canada would wait “to see what England will do … you cannot expect a young country like Canada to strike out and adopt an airship policy.” Fiset may have felt vindicated when, that same evening, McCurdy pranged Baddeck No.1. Soon McCurdy and company were back in Baddeck contemplating their futures. As it turned out, Baldwin would continue doing test and development in Dr. Bell’s laboratory and shops. McCurdy went into exhibition flying, racing and setting records. In January 1911, for instance, he made the first flight from Florida to Havana.

The AEA had put Canada on the aeronautical map. Come the First World War and its reputation grew further, 22,000 Canadians serving in the British air services. Many died in training and combat, and the nation’s first great air heroes became household names. Postwar, Canada adapted airplanes for many peaceful uses, then had to go to war again in 1939.

Over the decades Canada’s aircraft industry has introduced many renowned designs. Beginning in 1924 with the Vedette, it progressed to the Norseman, Beaver, CF-105, Argus and Challenger. Today, Canada is revelling in a “Golden Age” of aerospace with such incomparable products as the Bombardier Q400 and CRJ-1000, the Canadarm at work on the International Space Station, and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines powering aircraft all around the world.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of their predecessors, Canadian aviators continue to stand out. At any moment they might be doing circuits in a “One Fifty” at the flying club, monitoring CRT displays on the flight deck of a long-haul “Triple Seven”, bucking crosswinds in a Twin Otter on final at some Arctic strip, going at each other in Hornets out of Bagotville, delivering a C-17 load of supplies to Kandahar, flying a Cormorant on a dangerous SAR mission, even training in Houston for an ISS mission. Simply put, the historic “Day One” that we return to in explaining all this good stuff is February 23, 1909. So … this year be sure to enjoy some of Canada’s Centennial of Flight events. If you get the chance, see the Silver Dart replica in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, and all the displays at the superb Curtiss Museum in Hammonsport. You won’t be disappointed.

Larry Milberry,
Member, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame

Canada Post’s boo-boo: A tail-less Silver Dart!

2009_silver-dart-stamp

The Toronto Sun’s Peter Worthington had this piece last week about Canada Post‘s new commemorative stamp marking the 100th anniversary of the Silver Dart, which was the first heavier-than-air machine to fly in Canada.

These stamp stories have been circulating lately, mainly about how the artist totally left the tail off the Canada Post plane. Talk about a boo-boo! That’s the real topic and the one that Jack Minor, retired RCAF and Silver Dart aficionado, should be grousing about. It’s probably not a “mistake” that the image of Douglas McCurdy on the first-day cover was used. My guess is that it was used because it’s such a nice picture of McCurdy, probably the best of him in any airplane. The McCurdy Biplane was a basic Curtiss design, likely built in Curtiss’ workshop in Hammondsport, NY. It was a far better plane than the Silver Dart.

Well, I’d say this just makes the first-day cover more interesting, as the collectors always love something to gossip about. I like the looks of the new stamp regardless of it being non-airworthy without a tail, and bought 4000, which I’ve been using on a mini-mailout. I’ll use the rest for the spring mailing (keep your eyes peeled!). Supposedly, the print run was small, maybe three million, so collectors will be loving these stamps for the next few centuries. Collectors really got off on the Canada Post stamp years ago showing an Air Canada Boeing 767 without engines! Now that’s pushing artistic licence…

There’s a version of the 767 called the 767 ER (extended range). Air Canada pilots call the plane on the stamp a 767 ER for another reason, ER standing for “engines removed”! Once when Canada Post botched a commemorative, they corrected the art and re-issued the stamp. Guess what that did to the value of the originals? Well, the philatelic folks just thrive on this stuff. Let’s see if CP re-issues the Silver Dart stamp.

Also great fun is how I wrote a year ago to Canada Post asking if they were planning to do an aviation commemorative for 2009. I’m still waiting to hear back about that! Any of our knowledgeable aviation history people sure could have saved Canada Post from putting out the tail-less Silver Dart stamp, if only they’d ask or answer their mail! Ah well, I guess that’s the Ottawa way…

Whirlwind Trip to Baddeck: Canada’s Centennial of Flight 1909-2009

Canada's Chief of the Air Staff, LGen Angus Watt, chatting in the msueum with Canadian astronaut/Silver Dart test pilot Bjarni Tryggvason.

Canada’s Chief of the Air Staff, LGen Angus Watt, chatting in the museum with Canadian astronaut/Silver Dart test pilot Bjarni Tryggvason.

November 2011 Silver Dart update: Since we posted this item more than two years ago, much has happened or little has happened (depending on your point of view) regarding Canada’s Centennial of Flight, the Silver Dart flying replica and the Bell Museum. The Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto became the temporary home of the Silver Dart, but this fall the CASM was served notice to vacate its premises. Before long, the Silver Dart crew disassembled their lovely airplane and moved it away.

Meanwhile, there has not been a peep about the $3 million promised by Ottawa flunkies at Baddeck that day back in 2009. We were there and heard all the promises, but we sure knew enough not to hold our breath for cheques to be written. No big surprise there.

In some ways, sad to say, Canada’s Centennial of Flight turned out to be a bit of a bust. The best things were getting the Silver Dart flying, the Vintage Wings Golden Hawks Sabre whizzing around the country, and a coast-to-coast air rally. Otherwise, what you had was one huge amount of hot air that saw Ottawa manadrins with zero knowledge of or interest in Canada’s aviation heritage jetting all around the country to events, swooshing in, scarfing down all the free shrimp, cheese ‘n crackers and booze, then jetting their way back to Ottawa never to give another thought to the subject of aviation history. Big shock, eh!

From what I can see, there have been very few lasting results. I hope at least that there were some aeronautical scholarships created in 2009. CANAV produced the only permanent record in book form celebrating the Centennial of Flight — “Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades”. Needless to say, the Centennial of Flight noise makers, everyone at 101 Colonel By Drive and all my other great supporters in Ottawa showed no interest in it, zilch. I know of only one member of the top-heavy Centennial of Flight Committee who ordered a copy — just as I had predicted. So … interesting food for thought for bone fide history fans — not the jetsetting phonies. Here’s what I originally blogged …

Canada’s Centennial of Flight commenced royally in February with several days of celebrating in the fabulous community of Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. Events came one after another, culminating on February 22, when Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason made several short flights in a magnificent replica of the Silver Dart.

Why would the Silver Dart replica fly the day before the precise 100th anniversary – February 23? It was a nature thing – Atlantic Canada weather was iffy, and predicted to be absolutely rotten on the 23rd. So … when the 22nd looked good, the Silver Dart was rolled out of its hangar on the ice of Brad d’Or Lake, and soon was airborne before a crowd of enthusiastic locals and out-of-towners.

The replica is the result of years of dedicated volunteer effort headed by Doug Jermyn, a retired engineer from Pratt & Whitney Canada. His group is called “AEA 2005”, in honour the Aerial Experiment Association, the original group formed in 1907 in Halifax to conduct powered airplane experiments. Headed by Alexander Graham Bell and funded by his wife, Mabel, the AEA also included Canadians F.W. Baldwin, J.A.D. McCurdy, and Americans Glenn H. Curtiss and Thomas Selfridge. The group conducted nearly all its work at Curtiss’ facilities in Hammondsport, New York. There they designed and flew several airplanes, the last being the Silver Dart, designed by McCurdy.

Once most of the work had been done at Hammondsport, Bell, wishing to put a Canadian spin on the AEA flight experiments, shipped the Silver Dart to Baddeck. There on February 23, 1909 McCurdy made his famous Canadian first flight (all the details of the AEA are best covered in J.H. Parkin’s seminal 1964 book, Bell and Baldwin).

The gorgeous little Bell Museum in winter, when hardly normally shows up. This year was different, as hundreds arrived to take part in the Centennial of Flight fun. No one was worrying about the weather.

The gorgeous little Bell Museum in winter, when hardly anybody shows up. This year was different, as hundreds arrived to take part in the Centennial of Flight fun. No one was worrying about the weather.

Baddeck this February was in full flight in more ways than one. A banquet on the evening of the 22nd was a highlight, with tables of people related to the Bells, McCurdys and Baldwins; all sorts of top-notch Maritimers; and such others as the Vintage Wings contingent — in Baddeck to show off their magnificent F-86 Sabre in Golden Hawks colours. Astronaut Chris Hadfield flew the Sabre over Bras d’Or Lake on the 22nd, then Paul Kissman took it home to Gatineau on the 24th. VW Sabre pilots Tim Leslie and Dan Dempsey also were present, as were other history fans from the Chief of the Air Staff to contingents from the Atlantic Canada and Greenwood aviation museums, Carl and Sonia Mills (Carl did a Silver Dart PowerPoint lecture) and a group of Air Canada Pilots Association enthusiasts. It was great meeting everyone, and renewing acquaintances with people whom I had met decades ago. The latter included an ACPA pilot whom I had first met when he was a sprog flying a Norseman in Red Lake, another who was a junior C-130 pilot struggling through CF Staff College about 20 years back.

Good news was announced on the 23rd — the AEA 2005 was donating the Silver Dart to the Bell Museum at Baddeck, and $3 million would be provided for an addition to house the plane. Canada Post at the same time unveiled its Silver Dart postage stamp. This is a dramatic-looking collectors’ item, so be sure to get some while they last. This in spite of the fact that the artist seems to have missed the rear empennage altogether — his Silver Dart soars minus a rudder! (This reminds one of the great Canada Post stamp featuring an Air Canada 767 that has no engines! People chuckle about this. At Air Canada they told us “No sweat … that’s one of our extended-range 767 ERs.” Except that for Canada Post reasons it’s a 767 ER as in “engines removed”. Maybe Canada Post should consider checking with the experts before they do their next aviation commemorative.)

If you ever get the chance, there are two spectacular museums to which you should detour … the Bell Museum in Baddeck and the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York. They’ll knock you out!

Larry Milberry, publisher