Category Archives: Aviation Pioneers

Aviation pioneers: the Hindenburg on its first flight by Québec on July 1st 1936

The Hindenburg airship over Quebec in 1936. The Quebec bridge is visible in the background.
The Hindenburg airship over Quebec in 1936. The Quebec bridge is visible in the background.

The particularly rare picture above shows the LZ129 Hindenburg airship just after it completed its flight over Québec, Canada on its fourth crossing of the Atlantic from Germany to Lakehurst, United States, on July 1st 1936. This fly-by had not been announced since the trip was normally done directly between Germany and United States.

The Hindenburg was the biggest airship in the world and it was destroyed in 1937 on the arrival to Lakehurst. The explosion of the hydrogen on board the airship caused the death of 34 passengers and crew members.

Far away, we can see the Quebec bridge, the longest cantilever bridge in the world, while it was the sole link between the two shores of the St-Lawrence seaway.

An excellent source of information (in French) can be found on the internet link included below. It recalls the citizen’s comments while the airship was approaching, the trajectory followed by the airship over Quebec City and how the citizens learned of the Hindenburg’s approach:

Le dirigeable Von Hindenburg au-dessus de Québec [1er juillet 1936]

Tales of a Dakota Pilot

Tales of a Dakota pilot

(The way it was 1929 – 1937)

Tales of a Dakota Pilot - The way it was 1929 - 1937
Tales of a Dakota Pilot – The way it was 1929 – 1937

This is a simple and charming little book retelling the life stories of the pilot Fred Max Roberts Jr when he was flying his airplanes in the Bismark region, North Dakota, between 1929 and 1937. The book was written by his son, Fred Marke Roberts, so that some of his father’s stories do not fall in oblivion. You will find here a good idea of how things were done in the early years of aviation.

An original and easy way of refueling

When came the time to refuel, the pilots would regularly land on a farmer’s field. They knew that somebody had noticed the landing and, most of the time, a fuel truck would be sent without any previous arrangements. The pilot had nonetheless the duty to make sure he landed close to an easy access for the fuel truck. Sometimes, to simplify the refueling process a bit, the pilot landed directly on the road, outside of the city.

This habit did not seem to have change fifty years later when I did a 2650 kilometers cross-country flight with a Cessna 170B, between St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and Edmonton, Alberta. During the trip, I had to land in a field near Lundar, Manitoba, a Canadian province which is bounded to the south by North Dakota and Minnesota. Soon after the landing, a pick-up truck carrying fuel approached the plane. I had not made any arrangements for fuel. In my case, a precautionary landing was needed as the fuel gauges had started to give false indications. Since fuel was readily available, the tanks were topped before the next takeoff.

Landing in a field with a Cessna C170B in Lundar, Manitoba in 1981.
Landing in a field with a Cessna C170B in Lundar, Manitoba in 1981.

Killing coyotes against the county bounty

Coyotes where frequently attacking farmer’s livestock. When the situation was getting out of control, the farmers would phone Fred Max. The latter would take off with his Curtiss Junior Pusher, accompanied by an experienced shooter and they would spot and kill coyotes. Winter was the best season for hunting from the air since the coyote’s dark colored fur contrasted  against the white snow.

The farmers, on their horses, were following the aircraft’s manoeuvers to spot where the coyotes had been shot. They then brought the dead animals back to their farm. Few minutes later, the aircraft would land as close to the farm as possible and the pilots picked up the coyotes, bringing them back to the county’s bureau in order to receive the published bounty for each killed coyote.

Super Cub and wolves shot from the air in Northern Ontario, Canada, on an aviation postcard dating from the sixties.
Super Cub and wolves shot from the air in Northern Ontario, Canada, on an aviation postcard dating from the sixties.

The American Midwest farmer’s hospitality

When a pilot landed in a farmer’s field, as a stopover on a long cross-country flight, he would often be offered a meal with the farmer’s family. If darkness was an obstacle for the continuation of the flight, the pilot was often offered a bed for the night. The next morning, after breakfast, and as a thank you gesture, the pilot would offer the farmer a courtesy flight.

A practical way to lower the costs associated with a long cross-country flight

An easy way to reduce the costs associated with a long cross-country flight was to offer airplane rides to villagers who had come to meet the pilot once at the destination. The pilot landed, waited a bit and knew that, soon, few people would come to him to ask for a ride.

The pilot Fred Max Roberts Jr hanging to the wing of his monoplane

A major concern for any pilot landing in a field was to find a fence to tie the plane as soon as possible to protect it from the strong winds blowing over the Midwest plains. But really strong gusts would sometimes break the ropes.

The pilot tells the reader that he was once immobilized in the middle of a field while a storm was quickly approaching. He got under the wing of his monoplane and hanged to it in order to add some weight. But that was not enough. A strong gust lifted the plane, broke the two tie-downs and sent pilot and plane flying at about ten feet in the air. Fearing that his plane would continue to climb without him at the controls, the pilot let go. The plane maintained a level flight while backing until it suddenly rolled and crashed.

Pilot and passengers are caught in flight by a tornado

Flying and meteorology manuals teach every pilot the necessity to avoid thunderstorms because, among other reasons, of the extreme ascending and descending air currents that are present in a well-developed cell. The pilot Fred Max Roberts Jr not only went through a thunderstorm but survived a tornado while he was in flight. His story was published in many newspapers at the time. Some of the articles are reproduced in the book.

As the pilot tells it, meteorological forecasts and weather observations were not as easily accessible as they are today. During a flight with passengers in his Waco 90 biplane, the sky suddenly darkened and the weather degraded rapidly. The pilot tried his best to fly between two important cloud formations. He could hardly see his instruments due to the lack of light, even if the flight was made during the day. He was fighting to avoid being disoriented.

Suddenly, the plane started to gain altitude rapidly by itself. The pilot nosed his ship downward and applied full power. This was useless. The aircraft was still rapidly climbing, tail first. Then the ascent abruptly stopped and a dive ensued. He pulled on the stick to bring his Waco to a level flight, but the rapid descent continued. Having no other choice, he applied full throttle and set his plane for a normal climb. Again, the descent continued until the Waco was at about 500 feet above ground level.

Eventually, they got out of the storm and landed at White Rock. Fred Max then realized that his passengers, sitting in the open cockpit Waco during the storm, had not fasten their seat belts and were hanging for dear life to a brace running across the front of the passenger cockpit.

Those are some of the tales a reader can find in “Tales of a Dakota Pilot”, an unpretentious book but nonetheless a publication that might very well surprise many young pilots, as the 1930’s way of flying so differed from what a young pilot lives when he integrates today’s world of aviation.

Author : Fred Marke Roberts
Published by : fmRoberts Enterprises
© 1991
ISBN : 0-912746-09-2