The First Real Plane Flight in the Okanagan
Prior to the Great War, human flight was just a rumour to those living in the Okanagan. Only those that read the out-of-date newspapers that came into the area by train, followed the exploits of the Wright Brothers, Canada's John McCurdy, or the Count de Lesseps.
In 1912, a small flimsy biplane was assembled at the Armstrong Exhibition and an attempt was made to fly it. The plane crashed, before reaching take-off speed. Then it was disassembled, re-crated and taken home.
The 1914 Kelowna Regatta was host to a Curtis-type float plane flown by Weldon Cook.
This craft was also assembled on site after shipment by train and barge, but it did fly, to the absolute amazement of the crowd on hand.
The Okanagan's first real aerial visitor was the legendary pioneer pilot, Ernie Hoy.
On a promotional dare from the publisher of the Vancouver World newspaper, the Aero League of Vancouver took on a flight over the Rockies to see if an airmail route could be established to Calgary.
Now, consider that the technology of the day only allowed a ceiling of 7000 feet, so crossing the Rocky Mountains was the impossible dream.
The best airplane available in 1919 was the Curtis Jenny JN4 Biplane, a plane with open cockpit and very primitive instruments. The Jenny was a favourite of barnstormers after the Great War, and a few were being used by the Aero League to take photos and search for schools of salmon. This airplane was chosen for the flight to Calgary.
The pilots drew lots to see who would take on this flight, and Captain Hoy drew the short straw. The other pilots began to wager how far Ernie would get before crashing. They even went so far as to suggest techniques for surviving crashes such as following the railway and landing on snow sheds, or trying to line up two trees so the wings would come off but cockpit would stay intact.
Just before 4 AM on August 7, 1919, Ernie Hoy took off east along the Fraser River, using a railway map for navigation.
He flew up the Fraser Canyon to Kamloops and then on to Vernon. At each stop he would drop off special postmarked mail and newspapers, and take on fuel. When he entered the Crowsnest Pass out of Cranbrook he was skimming the treeline at 6900 feet. He was in Calgary at 9 PM.
Ernie wasn't so lucky on his return trip. After he fueled up in Golden and was attempting take-off, a young native boy ran out on the airstrip, and Captain Hoy had to swerve to miss him. He clipped the trees and nosed in, destroying his prop. No one was hurt, but Hoy's trusty Jenny returned to Vancouver on the train.