On this date, September 3, 1915, a Curtiss C-1 Canada prototype aircraft – the first twin-engine aeroplane in Canada – was tested at Long Branch near Toronto, or, if you will just south of Toronto, in the Lakeshore area of Etobicoke, about 10-kilometers south of where I sit writing this.
It was the very first twin-engine aeroplane to be designed, built and flown in Canada.
In 1915, Curtiss designed a twin-engined land plane bomber based on his Curtiss Model H flying boat that was designed top fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. It was also to go into production for Britain’s RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service).
Because the Model H was going to made for the RNAS, quite naturally it had some interest in what Curtiss was doing next – the Canada C-1 prototype.
As such, the RNAS put in an order for a single prototype.
As luck would have it, the Hammondsport, New York and and Buffalo, New York factories were both busy constructing the JN trainers (the JN was nicknamed the “Jenny” and as a training aeroplane for the U.S. Army and Navy, it continued its chores as a civil aircraft after WWI, becoming one of the most popular planes), as well as the H-4 flying boats, so Curtiss decided he would have his Canadian factory build it.
This sort-of Toronto-based (it wasn’t part of Toronto at that time) Canadian factory was called Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. would eventually be called Curtiss Canada.
Some of you might be wondering just WHY Glenn Curtiss, one of the United States most awesome young aircraft designers would be building things in Canada.
Well, Curtiss had actually come up to Canada to work with the AEA (Aerial Experiment Association), a group founded on September 30, 1907. This group was headed by Canadian inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the man who invented the telephone, whose wife Mabel (Ma Bell) was independently wealthy and gave US$35,000 to the AEA to try and create some aviation craft – not just aeroplanes.
That US$35,000, by the way, was in 1907 monies… in 2014, that would be about $920,000.
Along with Curtiss and Alexander Graham Bell, the other three members of the AEA were John Alexander Douglas McCurdy and his friend Frederick W. “Casey” Baldwin, two recent engineering graduates of the University of Toronto, and US Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, who was appointed by US President Theodore Roosevelt after Bell requested some aid. Selfride, by the way, would be the first ever airplane fatality, when he flew aboard a Wright Bros. plane in September of 1908.
I should note that Curtiss, who was a motorcycle fiend and engine genius, had actually asked the Wright Brothers if they wanted one of his 50 Hp engines when he went to discuss some aviation data, but they said no, unaware that Curtiss and the AEA would soon be a major competitor.
The AEA went on to design and construct some amazing aircraft – most of which I will detail here shortly. I’ve written a nice magazine article on The Silver Dart – Canada’s first aircraft for the 100th anniversary flight back 2009… and I have a lot of original photographs given to me from my father-in-law who got them from the widow of Casey Baldwin.
Anyhow… that’s why Curtiss has a Canadian connection.
So… even though the AEA had proved to be a highly successful venture, with the group’s planes winning more than a few races, Canada’s minister of Militia and Defence didn’t see that the aeroplane could be a useful took in warfare, aside from maybe reconnaissance.
But some did, with people eventually realizing that pilots were dying because they weren’t being trained properly – hence Canada’s role as a developer of training aircraft.
This led to the first military-backed, government-supported flight training program in Canada… and the need for aircraft in which to train these pilots prompted the first Canadian company to mass-produce training aircraft – the Canadian Aeroplanes Limited.
That’s the background of the company. What about the Curtiss Canada bomber?
Sadly, this was not a very good aircraft.
This twin-engined bomber aircraft had uneven span biplane wings, with the prototype Canada plane used two 90-hp (67 kW) Curtiss OX-5 motors.
The design originally called to use the same engines as the H-4 flying boat – a pair of 160-hp (119 kW) Curtiss V-X – but none were available for the Canada prototype at that time.
The fuselage was a long nacelle attached to the lower wing, with two gunners sitting side-by-side in an open cockpit in the nose of the nacelle, with the pilot sitting alone in a separate cockpit at the rear of the nacelle, behind the wings.
The tail surfaces, with had a single vertical fin, were carried on twin tail-booms extending from the rear of the engine nacelles, with a third, lower, tail-boom from the rear of the fuselage nacelle.
The Curtiss Canada used a conventional landing gear with twin, tandem main wheels and a tail-skid.
An early form of autopilot, known as the Sperry stabilizer, was fitted to improve stability for bombing.
After the test flight, an order for 100 of the Curtiss Canada bomber were placed by the RNAS, plus an additional prototype and 10 more aircraft for the Royal Flying Corp. of Great Britain’s Army.
Now… after the first Curtiss Canada was delivered by ship to Britain in late 1915, and flying first in January of 1916, it was damaged in a crash in February, being rebuilt with modified wings.
When tested again in April, 1916, its performance proved to be poor.
This caused the Royal Flying Corp. (Army) to cancel its order for 10 planes, while the RNAS (Navy) did the same.
Both knew that the Handley Page O/100 bomber was soon coming into service.
Specification of the Curtiss C-I Canada:
- Crew: 3;
- Length: 10.17-meters (33′-4″);
- Upper wingspan: 23.11-meters (75′-10″);
- Lower wingspan: 15-meters (48′);
- Height: 4.72-meters (15′-6″);
- Empty weight: 2,132-kilograms (4,700-lb);
- Gross weight: 2,858-kilograms (6,300-lb);
- Engine: 2 × Curtiss V-X inline, 160 hp (120 kW) each, the prototype used 2 x Curtiss OX-5, 90 hp (67 kW) each;
- Maximum speed: 145-kph (90 mph);
- Range: 966-kilometers (600-miles);
- Guns: 2x 7.7mm (.303″) Lewis guns;
- Bombs: available, but never actually used.