ORIGINAL STORY BY LAIRD RANKIN

The West Wind was the only successful airplane built in Alberta prior to the outbreak of World War I. It was a pusher propeller bi-plane built by partners Frank Ellis and Tom Blakely in a Calgary shed over the winter of 1913/14, mostly out of parts and a motor Blakely had acquired for $200. They were the remnants of a barnstorming plane which cracked up against a wagon on its first flight.

In the spring of 1914, the pair used a horse-drawn dray to haul the completed plane to Bowness Park outside Calgary. Said Ellis: “… there we set it up and started to taxi around, and over a period of about a month we got confident enough to take it up. On June 25th, Tom made his first solo flight – about half a mile about 10 feet off the ground – and I made my first solo flight on July 2nd.”

After storing it over the winter in its original Calgary home, the pair hauled the plane to Shouldice Park for its second season. “We got permission from Mr. Shouldice to use a quarter section of land which lay fallow. It was just like an airfield – just beautiful – no rocks.” Rocks had been a particular problem the year before at Bowness: they caused a number of tires to burst. Rock-free Shouldice, however, was a short-lived advantage. In September, the pair had the plane anchored out in the field when a terrific wind came up – a west wind – that tore it from its moorings and carried it a half mile away where it collapsed in a heap, ending its career.

“We were two pretty sad young men, but we had a lot of fun. We were completely broke all the time, but we had learned to fly on it – at least we thought we had until we joined the Flying Corps in 1917 and found out that we knew very little about flying. But it was a good thing. It was enjoyable and it was a part of my life I will never regret anyway.”

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