News / Canada

Alberta Aviation Museum recognizes Canadian WWI fighter pilots

The harrowing experiences of Canada's first fighter pilots in World War I will be on display at the Alberta Aviation Museum with their newest exhibit.

Launched Friday to commemorate the centenary of the Royal Flying Corps, the exhibit will give a glimpse into the life of Canadian and Edmonton men during their time in Britain's first aviation division of the military.

Started just 11 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, the pilots of the RFC were up for a dangerous task. Their small, very lightweight planes were covered in a thin fabric, which was then doused with highly flammable nitrate dope to keep it taut.

“In all honesty, during the First World War the aircraft killed as many pilots as combat did,” said the museum's executive director, Tom Hinderks.

The aircraft’s moving parts were also exposed, and the entire engine spun and sprayed oil on the pilots and their goggles. WWI pilots wore silk scarves because silk is the only fabric that can quickly clean oil from glass. Planes clocked out at 200 km/hr and didn’t have a throttle.

In all honesty, during the First World War the aircraft killed as many pilots as combat did.

The exhibit is designed to peak people’s interest in WWI aviation, a subject most Edmontonians know little about, Hinderks said.

“Most people don’t realize that the Canadians in the first World War were among the top pilots. If you look at a list of the top 10 aces of the First World War of all countries, five are Canadian,” he added.

Famous Albertan pilots in WWI:

Stanley Winther Caws, Lac St. Anne: The first pilot killed in combat in WWI.

Captain Arthur Roy Brown, Edmonton: The Royal Air Force officially credited Brown with shooting down German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron", although it wasn't  proven that Brown fired the bullet that killed him. Brown also never lost a pilot in his flight during combat, a very rare distinction for an air unit commander during WWI.

Lieutenant W.R. (WOP) May, Edmonton: During his service he was credited with shooting down 13 enemy aircrafts. In September 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

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