Article: First Seaplane in Western Canada

  • Hoffar Seaplane-640x250
    May, 1955, Canadian Aviation
    by Frank Ellis

    With pilot training going on apace at numerous Royal Flying Corps training centres in eastern Canada during 1917, there was plenty of military air activity, but private flying of a civilian nature was almost at a standstill. At the Pacific coast however, events took place which were destined to become important on several counts in connection with our flying history.

    Vancouver Seaplane

    The boat-building brothers Jimmie and Henry Hoffar of Vancouver had gradually become air minded until the urge to do something about it blossomed into action in the fall of 1916. After enlarging their boat works on the Coal Harbour section of the waterfront, they undertook the construction of a two-seater seaplane of biplane type.

    Completed by the late spring of 1917, it was an outstanding piece of workmanship. Powered with a 100 hp Roberts engine, the craft was fitted with a large single pontoon that bore the major weight of the machine when at rest on the water. Small floats attached to each of the lower wing tips completed the flotation gear.

    When the seaplane was built, Jimmie Hoffar taught himself to fly it. After much taxiing on the surface of Burrard Inlet, of which Vancouver’s harbour is a part, he became quite adept. Short hops in the air were then attempted, the distances increasing as he gained confidence. Finally, he mastered whole turns, thus becoming a pilot.

    The aircraft was frequently seen on the inlet and in the air during 1917, but public interest was not aroused as it should have been. This was probably because the Hoffars never publicized their efforts and of course war news overshadowed other events.

    High Flight

    The most outstanding flight Jimmie made in the machine was on July 16, 1919, when he took up as a passenger Mr. Bruce J. McKelvie, a local newspaper reporter. The airman went up to a height of 2,000 ft and then made a wide circular flight directly over the city to become the first airman ever to fly over Vancouver.

    An important item, which also brings the Hoffar seaplane into the historical limelight, is that it was the first successful Canadian-built waterborne aircraft fabricated west of Toronto. The machine eventually came to its end when a submerged log holed the pontoon. The waterlogged craft was soon towed back to the workshop and salvaged but never flew again.

    Years later, Jimmie Hoffar confided to me that when they built the machine their knowledge of aerodynamics was insignificant. So little did they know of stresses as applicable to airplanes, they more or less ignored the matter.

    No Strain, No Stress

    Plans they had procured clearly showed that cross-bracing wires should be incorporated into the wing structure, but they discarded the idea as unnecessary. Obviously the wings must have been exceedingly well constructed to withstand the rigors of flying strains without such bracing wires. There is little doubt that the boat-building abilities of the two men helped toward a sturdy job, without the help of the internal cross wires. Jimmie mentioned that in later years he shivers a bit when recalling the time he was high in the air on wings which he later came to realize might well have folded up at any moment. No matter, the machine did fly and they lived to tell the tale.

    The seaplane was the beginning, which later led the Hoffar Brothers into full-scale aircraft construction, to eventually become affiliated with Boeing Aircraft interests of Seattle, as their British Columbia representative. Many years later they built and operated a large plant and slipway on Coal Harbour, near the entrance to Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park. It became a very active plant during the years of World War II.

    This article originally appeared in the May, 1955 edition of Canadian Aviation.

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