Another brick in the wall, Part 1

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The Saint-Germain Raz-Mut flown at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the 1977 edition of the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In. Howard Levy, “Oshkosh. 25e anniversaire du rassemblement de l’EAA.” Aviation magazine international, 1 to 14 October 1977, 45.

The mid 1970s were an important period in the history of private flying and light aviation. Indeed, a new type of aircraft was emerging at the time. Known as an ultralight, it owed its origin, to a large extent, to the enthusiasm of thousands of male North American hang glider pilots – and of many female ones. Around 1975-76, some of these passionate individuals mounted small engines on hang gliders with rigid or non rigid wings. These powered hang gliders did not go unnoticed. Several designers soon began to develop minimalist aircraft similar in appearance to the flying machines of the early days of aviation, at the beginning of the 20th century.

Moto-Plane test pilot Jean "Johnny" Tardif and a Moto-Plane during a demonstration tour, Saint-Honoré airport, near Chicoutimi, Québec, February 1974. Progrès-dimanche, Marc Quenneville, "Le Moto-Plane va-t-il révolutionner l'aéronautique." 10 February 1974, 113.

The mid 1970s were an important period in the history of private flying and light aviation. Indeed, a new type of aircraft was emerging at the time. Known as an ultralight, it owed its origin, to a large extent, to the enthusiasm of thousands of male North American hang glider pilots – and of many female ones. Around 1975-76, some of these passionate individuals mounted small engines on hang gliders with rigid or non rigid wings. These powered hang gliders did not go unnoticed. Several designers soon began to develop minimalist aircraft similar in appearance to the flying machines of the early days of aviation, at the beginning of the 20th century.

One of the first ultralights in Canada, if not North America, took to the sky in late 1973 or early 1974. If truth be told, it design may have begun in 1972. The designer of this single-engine and single-seat aircraft, the Moto-Plane, was a pilot, parachutist and prolific inventor from Québec. Apparently a bricklayer by trade, Jean Saint-Germain (1937-2016) founded Moto-Plane Aviation Incorporée in Saint-Jean, now Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec, to sell kits and sets of plans. The small company may have received four orders. Conflicts having broken out within management, Saint-Germain resigned. Moto-Plane Aviation seemingly disappeared soon after. This writer does not know if all the Moto-Planes ordered were completed.

Saint-Germain built a motorised hang glider around 1974-75. This more or less uncontrollable prototype was soon abandoned. This said, the inventor assembled a small team around 1975 and completed another ultralight in 1976. If one is to believe his autobiography, Lâche pas : Y’a toujours un moyen, Saint-Germain took off in the prototype of the Raz-Mut, an anglicised form of the French word “rase-mottes,” meaning hedgehop, in August or September. As the single-seat aircraft was not registered, this flight was thoroughly illegal. A Department of Transport inspector invited by Saint-Germain deemed the Raz-Mut unfit to fly. The outraged inventor went to Toronto, or Ottawa, with this prototype. Another Department of Transport inspector found the aircraft acceptable. The Centre de recherche Jean Saint-Germain Incorporé of Drummond­ville, Québec, began to sell series of plans before the end of 1976.

You will remember, or not, my reading friend, that it was with a photo of a Raz-Mut, extracted from the 1 to 14 October 1977 of the French bimonthly Aviation magazine international, that this article began. Do you remember where this photo was taken, my attentive reading friend? O I C. (Oh, I see.). No gold star for you today, but back to our story.

In 1977, a small team headed to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to present the Raz-Mut to aviation enthusiasts who attended the EAA Annual Convention and fly-In, today’s EAA Airventure Oshkosh, the world’s largest airshow, organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the largest light aviation organization in the world. The new aircraft caught the eye of many people. In fact, as weeks went by, the Centre de recherche Jean Saint-Germain sold about 115 sets of Raz-Mut plans. Encouraged by this success, it began manufacturing kits – in all likelihood a first for a Canadian ultralight. About 30 of these kits left the workshop.

Unwilling to turn his small research centre into an aircraft factory, Saint-Germain tried to sell production licenses to some foreign companies. He claimed to have sent Raz-Muts to various countries in the Americas (Mexico and United States), Europe (Belgium, Czechoslovakia and France) and Oceania (Australia) to perform demonstrations, in 1977. His hopes were seemingly not fulfilled. In the spring of 1978, 40 or so aviation enthusiasts from around Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Québec, bought the franchise of the Centre de recherche Jean Saint-Germain in order to distribute and sell the Raz-Mut in Canada. Neither this association nor the aircraft made the news afterward.

A great inventor if there ever was one, Saint-Germain developed more than 100 different concepts from 1953 onward, from the anti-colic baby bottle to the recreational vertical wind tunnel. Yours truly will offer you a brief overview of his other aeronautical activities in the second part of this article. See ya later.

A comment before I let you go. I think it could be interesting for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, to check the viability of a recreational vertical wind tunnel – if a wealthy benefactor who wished to remain anonymous showed up with suitcases full of dough.

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Rénald Fortier