Very few airplanes ever landed in our district prior to 1930. One of the first to visit Elk Point was one flown by W. R. “ Wop” May in July 1920. "Wop" May was a Canadian War Ace, who fought many air battles with the enemy during World War I. On April 21, 1918 he was hotly pursued by Manfred Baron Von Richthofen, Germany's top war ace (he was credited with shooting down 80 Allied aircraft) and just as Von Richthofen was about to shoot down "Wop" May, he himself was killed by machine gun fire from an airplane flown by Captain Arthur Brown, a British war ace. Soon after, W. R. "Wop" May was proclaimed a Canadian war hero. After the war ended, "Wop" May returned to his home in Edmonton and purchased his own aircraft. For many years he barnstormed throughout western Canada, taking passengers up for rides. During his trip to Elk Point in 1920 some of our area residents flew with him - some even photographed Elk Point from the air. At that time Elk Point was centred at the crossroads of our main highway and consisted of about 25 buildings. During the 1930s. W. R. "Wop" May became a well known bush pilot in Canada's north country. He played a major role in the hunt for Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River, in 1932.
My earliest recollection of air flights goes back to the early 1930s, when a few airplanes were always spotted following the North Saskatchewan River. At that time, small airplanes did not have the instruments of flight known today, and many pilots used the river to guide them during their flights. The unusual drone of an airplane engine always made us aware that a plane was passing by. In later years, air flights to our district became more common, especially when we held our sports days. Usually an airplane landed and took up passengers for about $5 a ride. Some even performed parachute jumps for the many people who attended these celebrations. These small airplanes always landed on what was known as our sand plains, the area which is now our golf course. Later, others landed on Charles Hood's field which is now our Industrial Park.
One day in 1933, an airplane landed on this field and provided us with a little added excitement. Upon landing, the pilot left his airplane unattended and then spent most of the afternoon in our village. When he returned later in the day, he had a passenger with him, one who wanted a ride to nearby St. Paul. As soon as they were seated, the pilot revved his engine, taxied his airplane in a northerly direction and finally was airborne. Suddenly, without warning, the airplane went out of control and shot upward for about 60 feet, before plunging to the ground. Upon impact, the airplane broke up into a number of pieces but miraculously neither the pilot or his passenger sustained any serious injuries. Apparently, upon takeoff, the tail section of the plane snagged the top strand of a barbed wire fence which separated the Hood and the Babcock fields, causing the pilot to lose control of his plane. It was also rumored at the time that the pilot had a few extra beers during his stay in our village, and this may have also contributed to the air crash. The following day, the remains of this airplane were loaded into a three ton truck for an unknown destination.
I recall going for my first airplane ride during the summer of 1935. The plane was a First World War vintage plane which was called a Tiger Moth, a type used in combat duty during the latter part of the war. It had double wings which were crisscrossed with many wires and had two cockpits. The rear one was occupied by the pilot and the front one carried two passengers. My companion in fliglit was a lady called Reva. After we left the ground everything was normal till we reached an altitude of about 300 feet, and then Reva took her first peek out of the cockpit. Suddenly she panicked and started to scream at the top of her voice and never let up for a full three minutes. The pilot, not knowing what she might attempt next, decided to land the airplane. Needless to say, I got shortchanged on my flight time.
Most of these early airplanes were dual winged which were reinforced with wires, and whenever the pilot banked his plane, these wires would all sing a different tune. The top wing as well as both sides of the body had a series of large letters printed on them, this helped to ideptify the plane.