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The Gibson Twin-Plane

August 18th, 2010 · No Comments · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria

The Gibson Twin-Plane, 1910.

In the September of  1910, William Wallace Gibson made Canadian Aviation history in the fields of a small farm near Mount Tolmie in Victoria. Perched atop a horse saddle at the controls of a wood and fabric aircraft, Gibson became the first Canadian ever to pilot wholly Canadian built aircraft. Islander author Iain Lawrence describes the brief flight of the Gibson “Twin-Plane.”

After spending hours building and flying model airplanes, William Gibson took the ambitious second step of attempting to construct an engine that could be capable of powering a man sized aircraft. During the development of his first engine, he also tested designs for an aircraft by launching large models off of Beacon Hill, near Dallas Road in Victoria. Ignoring friends who ridiculed him when passing in the streets by flapping their arms and grinning foolishly, Gibson persevered and soon finished his first four cylinder engine. Unfortunately the first design was a bust, and vibrated violently while it was operated.

W.W. Gibson

Unfazed, Gibson went back to the drawing board and created a new six-cylinder engine with a 41/2-inch stroke and an electric ignition. Once it was completed in March 1910, the improved 40-60 horsepower engine was a lot better than the original design. In early September of 1910, the entire aircraft was finished at the beginning of September 1910.

Finally…Gibson put down his tools. The airplane was finished and he christened it the Gibson twin-Plane.

Fifty-four feet long, with a 20-foot wingspan, the Twin-Plane sat firmly on its four bicycle wheels. Tom Plimley, who was just then advancing from bicycles to automobiles, had built the flimsy looking under carriage which later proved to be the aircraft’s worst failing.

Two spruce framed wings were mounted one behind the other, secured to the fuselage with clamps, and covered with pale blue silk from Juene Brothers of Victoria. By loosening the clamps, the wings could be slid up and down the fuselage until the twin-Plane was properly balanced.

Among its innovative features, the Gibson Twin-Plane boasted gull wings, now often used for added stability, baffle plates inside the gas tanks to stop fuel from surging back and forth and now found in almost all aircraft, and contra-rotating propellers mounted one behind the other, driven directly from the engine, and still found in use today.

When all was ready, Gibson secretly conveyed the Twin-Plane in pieces to its launch site, a farm field that is now the grounds of Lansdowne Middle School. After reassembling the plane, Gibson was ready for a test flight.

Gibson and two helpers pushed the twin-Plane onto the grassy meadow. Gibson climbed into the horse saddle that served as a seat and started the engine.

He pulled the long lever in from of him and tested the huge triangular elevator at the aircraft’s nose. It tilted up and down at his command and he looked over his shoulder to check the rudders. Pulling on two ropes that lead over his shoulders, he watched the two small rudders wag back and forth. The engine reved up and W.W. Gibson signalled to his helpers.

It is now generally considered that Gibson not wanting the embarrassment of a failure, used that day, September 8 as a test flight. He did get off the ground, shutting off his engine as soon as he was airborne

Two weeks later after repairing his landing gear, which was damaged in a crash landing after his initial test flight, Gibson made another flight. This time, the press and public came out in full force to witness the spectacle.

With undue optimism, Gibson had mounted two 10-gallon gas tanks above the engine, intending to taxi down the field, take off, and land in Vancouver.

At Gibson’s signal, the helpers let go and the Twin-Plane bounced across the meadow. Fifty feet later, Gibson Pulled the lever, raised the elevator, and climed quickly into the air. He watched as the ground dropped awaybelow him and then started to slide sideways under his wings. In an attempt to over come the cross wind, Gibson shifted his body, turning the rudders.

The Twin-Plane swung around but Gibson, in his confusion, had turned the wings the wrong way. With the wind at its tail, the Twin-Plane picked up speed and its pilot watched helplessly as as a stand of oak trees rapidly approached across the field. Completely bewildered, Gibson shut off the engine and drifted to the ground.

Gibson was thrown clear as the Twin-Plane piled into the trees, escaping without serious injury, but his beloved Twin-Plane was a wreck. He had flown 200 feet, though, a tremendous feet in those days for an airplane of new design.

A replica of the Twin-Plane (top left) at the BC Aviation Museum.

Following the wreck of the Twin-Plane, Gibson moved to Vancouver and continued his experiments in aviation. He later built another aircraft dubbed the multi-plane, which flew several times in 1911.

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