“New” military aircraft for Alberta museums

News Article / January 22, 2019

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By John Chalmers

Three aircraft recently placed in Alberta museums figured prominently
in training Canadian and Allied pilots for two world wars.

Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck”

At the new location of the Royal Alberta Museum, in the centre of downtown Edmonton, Alberta, is a restored Canadian-built 1918 Curtiss JN-4 (Canadian). Known as a “Canuck” to distinguish it from the American version, the “Jenny”, it hangs suspended in the entrance of its new home. A notable feature that characterizes the Canuck is that it has ailerons on both wings. Its American counterpart, the JN-4D, has ailerons on only the upper wings.

The aircraft has an important place in both Canadian and Alberta aviation history; it is one of only two Canadian-built JN-4 types still in Canada, the other being at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

As visitors come into the museum, which opened on October 3, the Canuck is the first artifact they will see—“flying” above them in the entrance.

The 101-year old aircraft is now suspended in its third location; it was transferred from the Reynolds-Alberta Museum at Wetaskiwin, Alberta, where it had been hanging for 20 years.

Wilfrid “Wop” May and his brother, Court, rented the aircraft for $25 per month from the City of Edmonton and flew it commercially as the “Edmonton” with May Airplanes from 1919-1924. Captain May served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force’s 209 Squadron during the First World War and was inducted as an original Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.

Perhaps the aircraft’s most famous flight occurred on September 2, 1919, when Wop May flew it in the first aerial police chase of the British Empire. Flying with Wop was Edmonton police detective, James Campbell, as they were in pursuit of John Gunderson Larsen, accused of the fatal shooting of Edmonton policeman, Constable William Nixon on August 30. The air chase was part of search for the suspect who was believed to have fled Edmonton on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for the town of Edson, Alberta. Larsen was eventually captured and sentenced to life in prison.

The Canuck was acquired by the Reynolds family of Wetaskiwin 91 years ago, in 1928. The aircraft was restored by three generations of the family, starting with the late Ted Reynolds, his late son, Stan (for whom the Reynolds-Alberta Museum is named), and Stan’s nephew, Byron Reynolds. Restoration was completed in the early 1980s and the biplane was then placed in the Edmonton Convention Centre in 1984, the 75th anniversary of powered flight in Canada.

One of the notable flights made by the aircraft occurred in June, 1919, when pilot George Gorman, who also flew as a pilot during the First World War, and engineer Pete Derbyshire were contracted by the Edmonton Journal newspaper to fly copies to Wetaskiwin, some 45 miles south of Edmonton. When high winds prevented their landing to deliver the papers, they dropped the papers to the town’s fairground. It was the first commercial flight in western Canada and the first delivery of newspapers by air!

On another occasion, Wop May flew Edmonton mayor Joe Clarke in a low pass over the city’s Diamond Park baseball field to drop the first ball to open the 1919 baseball season. The game was won by the Calgary Hustlers who defeated the Edmonton Veterans.  

Byron Reynolds rightly states that, “This aircraft is truly a national treasure”.

In all, 2,320 JN-4 Canucks saw service in Canada with the Royal Flying Corps and the Canadian Air Force from 1917 to 1924.

De Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth

A DH-82 Tiger Moth from the Reynolds-Alberta Museum is also flying overhead at the Royal Alberta Museum. It was built by de Havilland Canada in 1942 and used as a pilot trainer. After the war, it was struck off in 1945 and made available for sale by War Assets.

Eventually, in 1984, the Tiger Moth was acquired by Stan Reynolds, C.M., who restored and flew it. He served as an RCAF pilot during the Second World War, flying Beaufighters and Mosquitos. When he returned after the war at age 23, Stan began his massive collection of aircraft, vehicles and farm equipment that became the basis of the museum’s collection. He was inducted as a Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009.

The RCAF adopted the DH-82 in 1938 and it became the standard ab initio trainer at Canadian elementary flying training schools under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The RCAF possessed 1,546 DH-82s before the aircraft was taken out of service in 1947.

Cessna T-50 Crane

A Cessna Crane has been added to the aircraft collection at the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta, The aircraft was built in 1942 and served with the American military in the Second World War. Two Jacobs seven-cylinder radial engines power the aircraft. It was acquired by Lloyd Drake of Lundbreck, Alberta, and restored in 2002 to flying condition by his son, Loren, who donated it to the museum.

On October 20, 2018, travelling on Highway 2 for 20 kilometres, the Crane was taken to the museum on a flatbed trailer from the airfield at High River, Alberta. Ben Schwartz, a museum volunteer and director, drove the rig that transported the aircraft. Its flying days are now over, but it will still be used in engine run-ups for events at the museum.

The RCAF employed Cranes as BCATP training aircraft for pilots and navigators and the museum plans to paint the aircraft in the BCATP’s yellow training livery. From 1941 to 1949, 826 Cessna Cranes were used by the RCAF.

The ongoing restoration of aircraft by Canadian museums to put them on display for the public continues to add the preservation of our aviation heritage for all to enjoy and appreciate.John Chalmers is the membership secretary for the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and historian for Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

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