On September 2, 1922 Pilot Don Foss and mechanic Jack Caldwell set out on what was to become the last flight of La Vigilance, the Curtiss HS-2L plane which had been used by Stuart Graham on what is considered to be the first bush flight. They were based at Remi Lake in Northern Ontario when they set out in the morning with a load of gasoline which was to be delivered to Lac Pierre, a 90 minute distance by air. The gasoline was unloaded by 10:00 a.m. and the plane and crew headed back to Remi Lake.
Unexpectedly, the weather turned bad and the plane was pounded by heavy rains. With only enough fuel for one attempt at Remi Lake, Foss decided to set the H-boat down as soon as possible and wait out the storm. A successful landing was made on a small lake about one-half mile long and 500 yards wide.
While waiting for the weather to clear, Foss considered the situation. The lake was too short for a comfortable takeoff and the pilot was doubtful that La Vigilance would clear the trees which came to the water's edge.
Once the weather cleared, Foss cruised the lake for floating logs and prepared for takeoff. It was not a success. In maneuvering the plane to overcome the smallness of the lake, and in an attempt to clear the trees along the shore, the wingtip hit the water and the plane cartwheeled down the lake. Caldwell was thrown from the plane and landed on the wing. Foss was unconscious in the submerged cockpit. Caldwell was able to pull Foss out of the plane and ashore, where he soon regained consciousness.
The pilot and mechanic set out along the nearby Groundhog River in search of assistance. It was found in the form of a trapper and his family. They were taken to the trapper's cabin where they rested and dried out. The next day the trapper led Foss and Caldwell to Fauquier which was the nearest railway stop. A return trip was made two days later to the small lake which held the downed La Vigilance. The plane was determined to be a write-off. Laurentide, who owned the plane, salvaged the engine but found it to be beyond repair and it was scrapped.
La Vigilance remained in the small lake in Northern Ontario, slowly sinking below the water's surface and settling in the silt, until the late 1960s. At that time the plane was located by a Kapuskasing business man, Don Campbell. No one was aware of the plane's history. It was only known that the plane was a Curtiss HS-2L. The decision was made to retrieve the plane and if possible reconstruct it to be used as a representative of it's type since no other H-boats were in existence.
As the salvaging operation progressed, clues to the plane's true identity as La Vigilance began to surface. This made its recovery even more important, since it had been the first bush plane. What could be rescued from years of resting in what is now officially known as Foss Lake was used to reconstruct La Vigilance and in 1986 it was unveiled as an exhibit at the Canadian National Aviation Museum.
The HS-2L was Canada’s first bush aircraft and was the predominant Canadian bush plane until 1926 or 1927. Operators of the HS-2L established the traditions of Canadian bush flying.
HS-2L aircraft flew the first forestry patrols, made the first aerial timber survey in 1919, staked the first mining claim using an aircraft in 1920, and in 1924 was used to establish the first scheduled air service and the first regular air mail service in Canada.
The H-Boat Trick
Often H-boats were forced down by engine malfunctions or the weather into small lakes. Sea-planes often need more room to take off than is required for them to land.
There were several methods used by pilots to get out of these small lakes. One method was to attach a rope to the plane. When the engine had achieved full power, the rope was cut by the engineer, and the aircraft accelerated into the air in a shorter distance.
The early airmen also learned that the H-boats had a unique quality. Because of their wide boat hulls, the aircraft could remain in planing position even while making tight turns on the water. Pilots were able to get up to speed in a direction other than that of takeoff and then perform a sharp turn for takeoff.
W. Roy Maxwell, later to manage the Ontario Provincial Air Service, was able to get out of a small lake by using a combination of the above technique and also by having trees chopped down along the path of his departure.
Source: The Stuart Graham Papers, Canadian National Aviation Museum
Tue, Jan 17 2012 8:49 PM
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