By Jeff Holubitsky
(With files from the Alberta Aviation Museum)
Edmonton historian and writer Tony Cashman’s couldn’t have a better memory of his first ride in an airplane. And not because the flight itself was so special. It didn’t set records, and there weren’t any spectacular close calls.
That day is a special memory for the 99-year-old because two legends of Canadian aviation were at the controls that day and one of them happened to be his uncle, George Gorman. The other was no other than Gorman’s pal, Wop May, perhaps the best known of all Canada’s bush pilots.
“It was great,” Cashman remembers of that flight in the late 1930s. “We went for quite a long ride in the Avro Anson.”
Visitors to Edmonton’s Alberta Aviation Museum can learn about both men.
Cashman says his uncle was an American who signed up with the Royal Air Force in 1916, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
Gorman fought in the Battle of Amiens in France in August 1918, where the combined allied force of infantry, artillery, tanks, and air power struck a decisive victory against an increasingly demoralized Germany military.
But on Aug. 8, Gorman was flying his Sopwith Camel during a mission to destroy the bridge at Voyennes, which the German army was using to transport reinforcements.
“He flew into the clouds and when he came out, he was looking at a machine gun belonging to a German bomber called a Rumpler,” Cashman says. “And the next thing he knew he was on the ground surrounded by Germans and became a prisoner of war.”
Following the war, like many military pilots of the era, Gorman became a barnstormer travelling to small communities on the Prairies entertaining the rural population.
In 1921, he flew one of the first missions into the Northwest Territories, following the Mackenzie River to Fort Norman for Imperial Oil’s new oil discovery.
The oil company wanted to know if its remote locations in the north could be serviced by air.
Two Junkers named the Vic, and the Rene were selected. Gorman flew one and a pilot named Elmer Garfield Fullerton the other.
The mission was a success, but during this time Gorman was also involved in three crashes, Cashman says.
“He was married, and he realized he wasn’t going to get much older and he better do something else.”
With that in mind he returned to Oregon and California and went into the lumber business. Gorman had certainly played a major part in opening the North to air travel like many of the other brave pilots who flew out of Edmonton.