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September 21, 1914

Burgess-Dunne: The Canadian Military’s First Aeroplane

In the early stages of the First World War, as the battle was raging in Europe, The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) prepare to leave for England to participate in the war.  As the newly formed Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army prepared for the combat to come, the Canadian Air Force was not in existence. Ernest Loyd Janney, a mechanic who operated an automobile garage in Galt Ontario, had other plans.  Despite lacking expertise in aeronautics, Janney, who must have been very charismatic, managed to convince the Minister of Defense and Militia (Samuel Hughes) to purchase an aircraft (which was against National Defense Policy
at the time).(1)

 The Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC) was in the making, Canada’s first Air Force and Janney was made provisional commander and given the rank of captain. The other original member to the CAC was Lt. William
F. Sharpe, a pilot.  The Department of National Defense gave Cpt. Janney $5000 to purchase one aircraft and authorization to travel to the Untied States to make the purchase and Lt. Sharpe went to England to fly in the Royal Air Force (RAF).(1) Captain Janney visited all the major aircraft company factories and on September 12 he visited the Burgess plant in Marblehead Harbour, Massachusetts.  Cpt. Janney observed a demonstration of the aircraft and was very impressed.  He returned to Canada and on September 16, 1914 the Canadian Aviation Corps was officially commissioned.(2)  One September 17, Cpt. Janney returned to Marblehead Harbour and made an offer on the aircraft for $5000 on the spot, with one condition, the CAC must have the plan at once because the war could not wait.

The aircraft was originally under contract for the republican candidate and assistant sectary treasurer A. Pait Andrews who was in a race to purchase the plane with rival politician Congressman Gardner.  The aircraft was for pickup on the 19th so the Burgess Company delayed but not for long.  Needing money, they accepted Cpt. Janney’s offer, which came as a surprise to Andrews, who thought Gardner made off with his plane.

The plane as shipped to Lake Champlain and then flown to Quebec City On September 21, 1914 by Burgess test pilot, Clifford Lawrence Webster and his passenger Cpt. Janney.  This was the delivery of the first ever aircraft purchased by the Canadian Military history.(3)

However the Burgess-Dunne and the CAC did not have a glorious ending.  When the Burgess-Dunne landed in Quebec City it was disassembled and packed to go overseas on the SS Athena after delays on September 30, 1914(3) and when it arrived in England it was discovered that during the shipping process the aircraft was damaged beyond use and never saw the skies again.1  The Burgess-Dunne, Canada’s first military aeroplane ended up as a pile of scrap on Salisbury plain.(1)  As for the CAC, after a year of its creation, it slipped into obscurity.  Cpt. Janney was terminated from service after a return from England and disappeared into obscurity as well flaunting his Captain status, claiming to be a veteran flier, despite not having any pilot training and promoting a flight school that never graduated a single student.(2)

As for a disappointed Andrews and Congressman Gardner, the U.S. election was held September 23, 1914 and Gardner won but later died in office.  Andres ended up replacing him by winning the re-election to find a new congressman; he repeated and won again a year later.(1)

Despite the failure of Canada’s first attempt at an Air Force, Canadian pilots flew for the RAF and proved to
be very effective fliers.  Canada’s Billy Bishop, is credited for being the greatest fighter pilot of the war with
72 victories in aerial combat and although the Burgess-Dunne never flew again, it was a significant event in Canadian Air Force history as it was its first plane ever purchased on this day in 1914.

The NAFMC full scale replica of Canada’s first military aircraft, the Burgess Dunne.

(1) Barlett Gould, The CAS Journal Vol.10 No.1 (Canadian Aviation Historical Society, 1972), 59, 60
(2) G.A. Fuller, J.A. Griffin, K.M. Molson, 125 Years of Canadian Aeronaughtics: A Chronology 1840-1965,
      (Canadian Aviation Historical Society, 1983), 75
(3) Airforce Museum of Alberta, 2011 (
(4) Larry Milberry, Canada’s Air Force At War and At Peace Vol.1 (CANAV Books, 2000), 38,39