I ordered Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and the Race to Cross the Atlantic by Joe Jackson through my local library as research for a project I am working on. I was looking for one aviator that I did not know much about, but found this wonderful, detailed book of all of the aviators who were involved in the race for the Orteig Prize, ultimately won by Charles Lindbergh when he flew from New York to Paris in 1927.

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindberg on a wharf. Six men are on the wharf with them, and a seventh man is in a small boat. The view is mostly of water, but part of the image is scratched in the top left corner and black in the top right corner.
Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh at Bay Bulls Big Pond, prior to taking off for Botwood on 14 July 1933. PANL A 47-77

I found this text to be interesting, as I had not really thought much of the Orteig Prize, as most of my focus is on Newfoundland and Labrador specific aviation. That said, even in reading this, I did make note of anything related to Newfoundland. Funny enough, almost all of the aviators in the book do have a Newfoundland connection. Lindbergh used Signal Hill to check his instruments on his historic flight, the Columbia landed in Harbour Grace twice, once as part of the first Canadian transatlantic flight, and the Oiseau Blanc may have been lost near, or as some speculate, on the island of Newfoundland. In fact, Jackson talks about how the loss of the Oiseau Blanc delayed some of the other aviators on their attempts for the Orteig prize until Nugesser and Coli were found, and how the search for the Oiseau Blanc is still ongoing. While I have not focused on the French aircraft, I do make note of archival documents that mention it and stories that offer theories on where the aircraft might have crashed, and, in 1992, TIGAR were in Newfoundland searching, likely based on much of the same information.

The aircraft Columbia taking off from the Harbour Grace runway. The how of Harbour Grace is seen in the background.
The Columbia leaving Harbour Grace on June 20, 1928. From the collection of the Conception Bay Museum.

One theory Jackson puts forward is that the Oiseau Blanc was a casualty of American Prohibition, being shot down by the rum boat Amistad, off the coast of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. I had not heard that theory before, but, interestingly enough, had recently had a hand in the selection of stories for Flights From The Rock by Engen Books, and one of the stories is eerily similar. 

Teaser image for Engen Books' Flights From the Rock, featuring the title, in gold block letters in front of a few clouds and blue sky
Flights From The Rock, a collection of short stories about flight, some of which are historical fictions based on real events, and others are fictional stories of flight written by pilots. Available through Engen Books.

One thing I did find interesting about the book was how much more detail there was in Lindbergh’s preparation. When reading We a while back, the autobiographical book made it sound like Lindbergh, on a whim, picked up the Spirit of St. Louis on a whim and few across the Atlantic. In fact, Jackson details the financial wrangling, as well as some of the meetings that Lindbergh had, and the sometimes struggles he had to secure not just funding for the aircraft, but also to ensure that he, and he alone, would fly the aircraft. It wasn’t just hubris, but Lindbergh, unlike the other aviators in and around New York, believed that a smaller, lighter, aircraft would be best for the flight, while the others were experimenting with large, tri-motor aircraft and crews of at least two. It also detailed how the aviators, Lindbergh included, had to watch the weather around Newfoundland, worried about the fog and pressure systems known to cause problems around the Grand Banks. While these flights were to leave New York, Newfoundland would be the last point of land, and watching the weather was imperative for any flight.

Two aviators standing in the cockpit of an aircraft. The aircraft has an image of a black heart with a skull and crossbones and a coffin.
Book caption reads: The French airmen, Nungesser and Coli, in their plane L'Oiseau Blanc before attempting the first non-stop east-west Atlantic crossing by heavier-than-air machine.
From They Flew the Atlantic by Robert de la Croix.

Of course, while the book offers a lot of very interesting and very useful information, there are some problems. The big one, from my own perspective, is that it does not recognize that Newfoundland was not part of Canada, and it uses Newfoundland and Canada interchangeably. Certainly, Newfoundland and Labrador are now part of Canada, but to the aviators in question during their transatlantic bids, as well as later for their flights to Harbour Grace, they were in Newfoundland, not Canada. It might be a small thing, and it can sometimes be difficult to reconcile where Newfoundland and Labrador history fits within Canadian history, having joined the country only in 1949, but, as a researcher, it makes it easier when looking for specific things to acknowledge that distinction.

The aircraft Columbia looking down the stretch of the Harbour Grace runway with Lady Lake in the background. A group of people are milling around the aircraft which is tied down.
The Columbia looking down the Harbour Grace runway with a view of adjacent Lady Lake, June 1928. From the collection of the Conception Bay Museum.

The author also seemed to be sort of star-struck by the aviators. This is understandable, and easy to do when conducting this research. The attempts for the Orteig prize was highly publicised, and, whether they wanted to be or not, the aviators were taken up as media darlings. In fact, as Jackson points out, some conflicts arose when selecting crews, as sometimes the more “Holywood” or “attractive” potential crew member was sometimes selected over other, equally qualified aviators. Jackson’s language reflects this media frenzy with a lot of descriptions about the appearances of the aviators, and if they were thought of as attractive at the time. It is very much a product of that media frenzy that did often focus on looks, and not always the merits of the aviators. That said, Lindbergh, while being considered incredibly all-American attractive at the time, was an astounding aviator, and did quite a lot to use his fame to promote aviation.

Charles Lindbergh and Richard Bird, two of the competitors for the Orteig Prize. From The Cradle of Aviation Museum

It was also very nice that the book looks at the aftermath of the Orteig prize. Many histories (and I myself have done this) don’t bother to look beyond the big event, but Jackson followed the other aviators involved and told how the Columbia and the America continued their attempts, and crossed the Atlantic with varying degrees of success, as well as other aviators who made the attempt in the years that followed, especially the women who tried to be the first to cross the Atlantic.

A crumpled, crashed aircraft in a body of water. America is written on the side of the aircraft.
The America at the end of its transatlantic flight in 1927, near Ver-sur-Mer. From Wikipedia.

Overall, this is a very good and informative book that I would highly recommend for anyone interested in early aviation. It is large and long, but filled with a great deal of information that I have yet to disseminate for my own research. I will certainly be referring to the notes I made, and may likely pick up my own copy at some point, rather than the library copy I read this time around. Perhaps my favourite part of the book is seeing all of the names that I have seen before in the Harbour Grace Airfield Log Book, as many of them stopped in Harbour Grace on other flying adventures.

The first page of a book, The Official Register of The Harbour Grace Airport Trust in front of a window that overlooks the garden next to the Conception Bay Museum and the ocean.
The Official Register of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust, on display at the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace.

de la Croix, R.
1959 They Flew The Atlantic. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.: New York.
Jackson, J.
2012 Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and the Race to Cross the Atlantic. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York.

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I worked in Fredericton, New Brunswick, for a year and a half as an archaeologist with the province. After much consideration, I decided to leave my job, and return to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. It was not an easy choice, but an important one for my physical and mental health. While in Fredericton, I did not have much time to do any aviation research into the area, or much research at all for that matter, but did happen upon a little aviation history while writing a report on the area of Barkers (or Barker’s) Point, a community that has amalgamated into the greater Fredericton area. Unfortunately, there are holes in this research as I could not get to the provincial archive before I left, so am relying on what little I found in a couple of books about the Fredericton area in the Fredericton and Oromocto libraries and the internet.

Map of Fredericton including Barkers Point (GoogleEarth 2019).

Saint John and Moncton had airports in the 1930s, but Fredericton only had aviation use as being on a List of Airharbours Available for Use. A site in Embleton, west of the city, was considered between 1930 and 1932, as was an area in Nashwaaksis for a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan aerodome in 1936, and the R.H. Carten property on Maryland Hill, but neither project happened, mostly due to the anticipated costs.

The airfield was built in 1941 with the efforts of Frederick William Hartwick, and the small airfield was established for light aircraft and daytime use. The Hardwicks purchased a farmer’s field and some surrounding properties in Barkers Point, a community mostly known for farming and logging. Harwick was a pilot who worked in Saint John where he flew mail between there and Fredericton during the 1920s and 1930s. He did attempt to establish a mail and passenger route to his airfield, but the site was determined to not be suitable.

From a 1985 topographic map showing the location of a private airport in Barkers Point.

Like many pilots of the time, he was also a flight instructor, an aircraft maintenance engineer, and could rebuild engines and airframes. In his move to Fredericton, he brought with him two DeHavilland Gypsy Moths and a Piper J-3 Cup. Once established, Hartwick, with his wife, Sarah, and his son from a previous marriage, Percy, lived in a farmhouse on the airfield property and used a hay barn as an airport hangar. During the winter, the Hartwicks would move to North Devon, and would offer flights off the frozen Saint John River for $2 a flight.

The marriage record of Frederick William Hartwick and Sarah Brown, married on 09 December 1937. Note the Hartwick’s occupation is listed as Flying Club Instructor (PANB 2019).

With the presence of the airfield, Paul Horncastle and Fred Butland, students at the Fredericton High School, organized a number of their fellow students to establish an air cadet squadron in the area. In January 1943, #333 was launched, and the students spent time at the Barkers Point Airfield under the instruction of Hartwick and working with the airfields Hawker Hurricane. In the summer, the Barker’s Point Flying Club was started, but its activity was limited due to wartime fuel restrictions.

Barkers Point Airfield in the late 1940s. From Jones and Jones 2007.

In 1944, several Lysanders few over Fredericton. One had engine issues, and used the Barker’s Point Airfield as an emergency landing. The soft, packed gravel and long grass airstrip caused the aircraft to roll and flip over. I tried to find more information about this incident, but without luck. The aircraft was dismantled and removed by the Air Force (I assume in this case the RCAF, but also could not find one that had been struck off or sent for repair after an incident in Fredericton). Jones and Jones 2007 also state there is a photograph of the incident, but it is not included in the book. Any further information would be appreciated.

Hartwick leased the airfield to James Sturgeon in 1945, who also purchased Hartwick’s three aircraft. Adding to his aviation business, Sturgeon had the dealership for the Fleet Canuck, the Seabee, and the Stinson planes. He used seven Fleet Canuck aircraft, including what was supposedly the first to come off the assembly line, as part of a training school. New hangars were added to Barkers Point, and his dealership sold aircraft throughout Quebec and the Maritimes. In 1946, Hartwick’s licence was transferred to Sturgeon. In that same year, Sturgeon offered chartered flights, demonstrations, and training for pilots and engineers. The airfield became a year-round operation, with three jeeps used to keep the runway clear in the winter.

In 1947, on January 24, a fire broke out in the main hanger. This destroyed three Fleet Canucks and two Cirrus Moths as well as four motors, some tools, and all of the office flying records. In the worst of luck, the fire destroyed the telephone line, making it impossible to call the fire department.

The University of New Brunswick Flying Club had a hangar at the airfield which they rented from Sturgeon. Most of the staff were former RCAF pilots who worked as instructors. The first official UNB flight took place on 29 January 1947. Luckily, their hangars were not touched by the fire a few days previous. The first flight was flown by Flight Club president and former RCAF bomber pilot, Thomas Prescott, and UNB President Milton F. Gregg. Faculty and students were present to witness the event. With the Flying Club, UNB became the first Canadian university to have its own aircraft.

From Jones and Jones 2007

In the spring of the year, Sturgeon’s part of the Barkers Point Airfield had recovered from the fire and had added Maritime Central Airways Limited, a mail and passenger service between Fredericton and the rest of Canada. Maritime Central Airways scheduled operations with the Lockheed 10 using Barkers Point in the fall of 1948.

In April 1949, Barkers Point Airfield was taken over by Gaetano Digiacinto, but he allowed the airfield licence to expire in the following year and never returned it. The airfield was left to become farmland. In 1947, the site for the current Fredericton Airport, in Lincoln, was chosen. In fact, Sturgeon was asked to assist with the surveying for the new airfield. Other potential airport sites were investigated in the 1940s, including a 1943 survey near Rusagonis and a 1945 survey in Lincoln. The land for the Lincoln site was expropriated in 1948 and work began that same year.

An aerial view of Barker’s Point from 1966, after the airfield closed (Jones and Jones 2007).

Jones, T. and A. Jones
2007 Historic Fredericton North. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Ltd.

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
2019. Vital Statistics from Government Records. Accessed 05 September 2019.

2019. History of the Airport. Aeroport international de Fredericton International Airport. Accessed 05 September 2019.

There is a facebook post with some interesting, but uncited, photos here. While they look to be from the New Brunswick Barkers Point, there was also an airfield in Toronto with a similar name.

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