Curtiss HS-2L – First Bush Plane

1926Curtiss-HS2L-overRedLakeOn this date on August 28, 1920, the first ambulance flight in Northern Canada took place, when W.R. Maxwell in a Curtiss HS-2L flew J.W. Thompson from Moose Factory to Remi Lake (near Cochrane), Ontario for hospitalization, suffering from mastitis – an infection of the breast tissue that can affect breathing.

The HS-2L Flying Boat was a big, slow biplane, designed in 1917 with the express purpose of sinking German U-boats during WWI for the U.S. Navy… it certainly was designed to be a hard-working, abused bush plane.

The reason Canada became so familiar with the HS-2L, occurred after Canada allowed the U.S. in 1918 to place an anti-sub base near Dartmouth Nova Scotia… and when the war concluded… and so many aircraft available for sale… the U.S. simply said ‘screw the sale’ and gave 12 of the HS-2L aircraft at the base to Canada. I guess Canada owes the U.S. a Coke.

Hearing of this sale, Ellwood Wilson asked the Canadian government if he could have two of the planes to be used to spot forest fires and to map the forests–for timber use–in the Canadian north.

The first pilot hired was Stuart Graham, a WWI vet who flew with the Royal Naval Air Service , and on June 8, 1919, he made the first ever bush flight, flying his HS-2L from Dartmouth to fishing Lac-à-la-Tortue, Quebec – about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) – then the record for the longest cross-country flight.

It also the first airplane in Canada to:

  • be used in making a mining claim;
  • complete the first aerial timber survey;
  • perform the first forest patrols;
  • fly the first scheduled air service;
  • provide the first regular airmail service.

USCG_HS-2L_flying_boatThe HS-2L was an interesting looking craft, with wings mounted above the canoe-shaped fuselage that were so long that it was very difficult to taxi in close to the shore for the pilot to tie up!

Needless to say, often not being able to be so close to the shore did make the loading and unloading of people and cargo a little bit more difficult.

Still… because of its water capabilities, people thought it would be a great bush plane.

Between 1919 to the late 1920s, the HS-2L was THE bush plane… finally being retired in 1932.

Wingspan: 22.6 meters (74-feet);
Length: 11.9 meters (39-feet);
Weight: 1,950 kilograms (4,300 pounds);
Speed: 137 kilometers per hour (85 mph);
Ceiling: 2,800 meters (9,200 feet);
Capacity: 4 people (including crew).

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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2 Responses to Curtiss HS-2L – First Bush Plane

  1. I have recently completed the biography of the pilot Capt. Wm. Roy Maxwell, that flew that flight of August 28,1920 from Remi Lake to Moose Factory and then after picking up Mr. J.W.Thompson, a trader for Revellon Freres, he flew him to Cochrane. Thompson was then transported by rail to Montreal for treatment of a suspect brain abscess due to mastoiditis (an inner ear infection – not mastitis!)

    Maxwell at that time, was associated with the Canadian Aero Film Company of Burlington owned by Irwin Proctor from Hamilton. They were engaged by the Ontario Gov. to fly a film project in the James Bay Lowlands. The Minister of Lands & Forests insisted that a Ontario Land Surveyor, be attached to the project. That aircraft was G-CAAZ

    The Report of T.E. Ireson can be found as an appendix to the Minister of Lands & Forests Report of 1920 (Beniah Bowman) in the Archives of Ontario. It contains an image of that H-boat.

    The Toronto Star also seconded a reporter, Fred Griffin to that project. He became a close personal friend of Wm. R. Maxwell both dying within 6 weeks of eeach other in 1946.

    Roy Maxwell, after succeeding Stuart Graham at Laurentide Co., later became the first Director and Chief Pilot of the Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS) which he served between 1924-1934.

    He joined the RCAF in 1939 and rose to the rank of Wing Commander (19420 in the WAC posted to Vancouver Island.

    The first image is of an OPAS HS-2L that was one of five loaned to the mining promoter Jack Hammell to fly equipment and supplies into the Howey Gold mine claims in Red Lake duriong October 1925 from Minaki airbase, near Kenora. The last flight before the waters froze up was on October 25th. Two of the more notable pilots on that project were Romeo Vachon and “Doc” Oaks.

    Robert Galway BA, MD, FRCS(C).


    • mreman47 says:

      YOU… you… are awesome. Thank-you for providing such wonderful information, Doc.
      When I read your comment initially, I thought you had just READ a biography on Captain Maxwell… and then I see that you have written one.
      I’m shaking my head in happy shock.
      Good luck with the book… let me know if I can help promote it even a little with my tiny blog.


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