Aviation pioneers Rae Churchill and Chris Falconer both had an early brush with aeronautical history.
Both men told their stories to our Blatchford Tales Oral History Project, which resumed in April after a break of about a year. The project has collected more than 20 stories of local pioneers who were involved with aviation in and around Edmonton. It’s part of the Alberta Aviation Museum’s efforts to preserve our rich aviation history and the stories of those who made it.
Rae Churchill was in the crowd when Wiley Post stopped in Edmonton during his daring 1931 round-the-world flight.
Churchill, who will be 97 this month, was not particularly interested in aviation during his childhood. When he was 11, he and a friend cycled from Strathcona to the airport to see the world-famous aviator “because it seemed like a good thing to do.”
He recalls seeing Post’s Lockheed Vega, the Winnie Mae, parked on Portage Avenue, (now Kingsway.)
“It had been raining and the airport was muddy, so they hauled the aircraft out onto the street. It was two-and-a-half miles long and Wiley Post [carrying 800 pounds of gas] took off heading for Cleveland.”
Ten years later, Churchill joined the RCAF after a war-time recruiter suggested he would be a good candidate. He spent January and February of 1941 at #16 Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) based at Blatchford Field, learning to fly in Tiger Moths. He went on serve a stint as an instructor, then found himself in Europe flying Whitworth Albemarles and Short Sterlings, towing gliders and dropping supplies behind enemy lines. After the war he re-enlisted and spent another 21 years flying with the RCAF.
Chris Falconar was only two when his father took him to the top of a hill in Montreal to see the R100 Airship during its 1931 visit.
“I couldn’t see it. I thought it would be big. But it was tiny. It was quite far away of course. That was my first introduction to aviation.”
Falconar, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, went on to study aeronautical engineering. He joined Spartan Aviation in Ottawa, but was shipped “temporarily” to Edmonton to replace a sick employee. He worked on the company’s Anson’s, which were being used for aerial survey and magnetometer surveys, based out of Blatchford Field.
Falconar made Edmonton his home and went on to be a fixture in Edmonton’s aviation community. He helped start the Edmonton Soaring Club and the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Falconer also ran his own aircraft repair business at the airport for many years, and is still a partner in a business that sells plans and supplies for home-builders.
The Blatchford Tales Oral History Project hopes to conduct about two interviews a month as it moves forward. If you have suggestions about people with important stories to preserve, you can email the team here. Shorter versions of some Blatchford Tales interviews can be found on our Youtube channel, and also on display in the theatre at the front of the museum.