It wasn't until 1917, 15 years after the Wright brothers, that many people in Alberta saw the "magic contraption" known as an airplane. And it came not at the hands of Canadian, but an American. And the pilot would turn out to be a woman.
Katherine Stinson, “The Flying Schoolgirl,” entertained people around the world with her aerobatic feats.
In 1912, at the age of 21, she became only the fourth American woman to get her pilot’s licence. Stinson immediately turned to stunt flying and established several aviation firsts: the first person to fly alone at night, the first woman to perform a loop-the-loop, the first person to perform night skywriting with magnesium flares attached to her aircraft.
As her aerial feats grew more complicated, she sought a more powerful aircraft and in 1917 commissioned the Curtiss Aircraft Company to build her a one-of-a-kind exhibition aircraft – the Curtiss Stinson Special. The Special merged a Curtiss S-3 Speed Scout fuselage with new two-bay biplane wings and a modified Curtiss JN-4 Jenny tail surface. The resulting aircraft was more maneuverable than either of the two planes on which it was modelled.
Katherine Stinson flew the Curtiss Stinson Special on tours across North America in 1917 and 1918, visiting Edmonton both times. During the 1918 tour, she used the Special to carry bags of mail between Calgary and Edmonton, the first airmail flight in western Canada.
Stinson operated an ambulance in France towards the end of the First World War and contracted tuberculosis, forcing her to give up her aviation career.
The Curtiss Stinson Special shown at the Alberta Aviation Museum is a replica constructed by museum volunteers. Over four years, fifteen volunteers invested 20,000 hours working from photographs and drawings to create a reproduction faithful in every detail to the original Special.