The Red Deer Regional Airport hosted its first air show in at least twenty years on July 29 and 30. Thousands of people turned out to watch all the flights and demonstrations, including the famous Canadian Snowbirds.
It is interesting to reflect back more than 90 years ago to May 1930 when Red Deer hosted its first air show, or as it was then known, “air circus”.
The beginnings of the event go back to September 1929 when Captain D.E.C. Campbell of the Calgary Herald flew up from Calgary to address a meeting organized by the local branch of the Alberta Military Institute. In a speech, entitled “Red Deer on the Skyway”, he compared the rapid development of the automobile to the recent rapid strides in aviation. He urged that Red Deer establish an airport as a civic enterprise to make sure that Red Deer was on the leading edge of transportation in the province.
As it currently was, Captain Campbell landed and took off from a farmer’s field on Red Deer’s East Hill.
His speech went over very well. Two individuals in particular, Dr. Percy Backus and Lt. Col. R.C. Lister, picked up the idea of getting a local aero club quickly organized and an airport established.
By the spring of 1930, the site of the airport was leased a short distance southwest of Red Deer. Coincidentally, this location was almost exactly on the site of the first homesteader’s field which had been brought into cultivation some 50 years previous in 1882.
Successful negotiations were also undertaken with the Federal Government to have the Red Deer Airport designated as an emergency landing field for the airmail service that was under development between Calgary and Edmonton. That designation facilitated the installation of boundary lights, runway lights and a revolving beacon.
Saturday, May 24 was designated as the official opening of the airport. A “monster air circus” was organized with exhibition flying, stunting, relay races, aerial “dog fights” bombing contests, altitude flying and passenger carrying.
The day was warm, but very windy and dusty. Of the 11 planes which had been expected, only 6 made it due to various causes including adverse weather conditions. Of those six, four were Moths, one was a Pitcairn Mailwing, and the sixth was an American Eagle.
The crowd of spectators was enormous. More than 5000 people, or nearly twice the population of the City of Red Deer, turned out for the show. The show started off with two demonstrations of stunt flying first by Captain Fred McCall of Calgary and then by Captain Alfred Koch of Edmonton.
That was followed by a mock “dog fight” between Captain R.K. Rose of the Department of National Defense and Captain McCall who was a famous “ace” from the First World War. Captain Rose also put on a display of exhibition flying with all kinds of looping, banking, crazy flying, barrel rolls, etc. to show off his skills as a flier.
The relay race consisted of planes flying from the airport to the water tower at the Provincial Training School (now Michener Centre) and back again and then dropping a baton inside of a circle on the field. An observer then picked up the baton and raced to get into another waiting plane. The winner (from Calgary) set a time of 15 minutes, 53 seconds.
The altitude judging contest went well with David Chapman of Kelowna correctly guessing that the plane overhead was 3450 feet in the air and was rewarded with a $10 prize. The bombing contest was a failure as the strong winds blew all but one of the target balloons away.
Overall, the event was a tremendous success. The Aero Club added several new members and a number of subsequent improvements were made to the airport. Soon, Red Deer’s first commercial aviation company, Central United Airways, started operations at the airport using a Kari-Keen cabin-type airplane from Dominion Air Industries of Calgary.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.