Do you remember Joan Trefethen? I do, I do!, Part 1

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Alfred Trefethen and the Mace-Trefethen Seamaster. Charles Tracy, “Aeronews – Y-tail pusher racer.” Air Progress, November 1967, 12.

Yours truly would indeed like to know if you remember Joan Trefethen, a Californian female pilot we met in a September issue of this blog / bulletin / thingee. You do? Good. Now, do you remember her husband, Alfred “Al” Trefethen? Yes? Even better, for he is a main character of the story that is about to unfold right here. And yes, there will be some Canadian content.

Once upon a time, in 1948 to be more precise, three graduates from Parks College had a dream. This Missouri institution, the first federally approved school of aeronautics in the United States, by then associated with Saint Louis University, would be known in 2017 as Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology. These graduates, say I, worked for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, a small aircraft maker also based in St. Louis. They were George Allen Owl, Jr., Errol Painter and Robert Bruce “Bob” Short. Interested in designing an airplane of their own, these aviation enthusiasts formed the Parks Alumni Racebuilders Consortium, or PAR, in September 1948.

The Parks Alumni Racebuilders Consortium PAR Special. Anon., “Have you seen?” Flying, February 1951, 35.

The Parks Alumni Racebuilders Consortium PAR Special. Anon., “Have you seen?” Flying, February 1951, 35.

 

The single seat airplane that Owl designed, the PAR Special, was a Goodyear racer. In other words, it was a small, inexpensive but well designed racing airplane put together by a small team in order to take part in competitions initiated in 1946 by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, a giant in the American automobile industry. Such machines were commonly referred to as Formula 1 racers – an expression better known for its use in the world of automobile racing. Construction of the Special began in the spring of 1949. Test flown in January 1950, this very original, dare one say radical airplane took part in a number of races but did not prove very successful. It was broken up at some as yet undetermined date, possibly as early as 1952.

At some point in the 1960s, two homebuilders from California, in other words two individuals involved in the making of aircraft for their own personal use, acquired the wings, rear fuselage and tail of the Special. The aforementioned Trefethen and a friend, Harvey F. Mace, set out to design a single seat floatplane using these components. Thomas R. “Tom” Trefethen helped his father from time to time. The resulting machine was, you guessed it, the Mace-Trefethen Seamaster. The “Blue Bullet”, as it was also called, was completed in 1966. Floatation tests were carried out in the excavated tank visible in the photo at the start of this article – a photo found in the November 1967 issue of a visually very interesting American monthly magazine called Air Progress.

The as yet untested floatplane was briefly displayed in 1967, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, at the annual airshow held there since 1962. As you may know, this world class event was known in 2017 as the Abbotsford International Airshow. And yes, that’s the extent of the Canadian content for this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The Seamaster then returned to the United States, in Washington, the state not the city to be more precise, to perform its first flight. After some satisfactory taxiing trials, a gust of wind pushed a wing tip into the water. Trefethen rushed out of the cockpit but fell in the Columbia River. It is possible that the Seamaster never actually flew.

This being said, one should not conclude that Mace and Trefethen were poor homebuilders. Between the late 1950s and the early 1980s, this dynamic duo designed and built at least four other aircraft, small racers from the looks of it. The earliest and latest of these were the M-101 Macerschmitt, also known as Could Be, named after a famous Second World War fighter, Germany’s Messerschmitt Bf 109 / Me 109, and the M-102 Scorchy. The R-1 Mr. B and R-2 Shark came out around 1969-70. And yes, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, has a Bf 109 / Me 109 in its world class collection. And no, yours truly has no intention of pontificating about this machine at this particular point in the space time continuum. I will not even mention the change in name, in 1938, from Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Aktiengesellschaft to Messerschmitt Aktiengesellschaft, at the origin of one of the great quarrels in aviation history. Bf or not Bf, that is the question.

Yours truly initially thought that this article would end at this point. A chance discovery in the superb library of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum changed all that. We will therefore meet again very soon.

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Rénald Fortier