Do you remember Joan Trefethen? I do, I do!, Part 2

Thomas R. Trefethen and his single seat flying boat. John Murray, “Trefethen’s Fantastic Machines.” Sport Aviation, March 1971, 33

Greetings, my reading friend. We are gathered here to day to dwell into the unforeseen second part of this article. We remain with the Trefethen family but focus upon another of its members, Thomas R. “Tom” Trefethen. What we see in the photo above is the single seat flying boat that this teenager put together in the very late 1960s or very early 1970s on the patio of the family home. The main element of this seemingly unnamed machine was one of the two floats his father had used to create the Trefethen Airboat, a fast 3-seat vehicle completed around 1968 for use on the Sacramento River. Incidentally, it looks as if Trefethen senior had divorced from his wife, Joan Trefethen, and remarried.

Following in the footsteps of his father, the young Trefethen included components from other aircraft, one or two sailplanes in this case, to create his own flying machine. He planned to install a small piston engine to test his creation. His ultimate goal, however, was to get his hands on the small jet engine of a target drone. Yours truly does not know if our young friend actually took to the sky.

A musician since his teenage years, the young Trefethen became a respected recording engineer. Three albums he worked on in 1975-76 were nominated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, today’s Recording Academy. None of them won a Grammy, the name commonly given to these awards. In 1980, Trefethen released an album containing songs he had written and recorded himself. Eager to help a young artist, British rock icon Alan Parsons made a guest appearance on Am I Stupid or Am I Great? It’s All Mom’s Fault. Sadly enough, the album was not a good seller. It is worth noting that the cover photo showed Trefethen and his young sister, Tina Trefethen, sitting atop a jet engine.

Gradually moving away from the music industry, Trefethen remained interested in aircraft design. In 1979, he began to develop a low cost, all composite single seat aircraft for the amateur constructor / homebuilder market. A prototype of the Vision POC (Proof Of Concept) was all but ready to fly by early 1986. It looks as if this intriguing machine did not proceed beyond the prototype stage. It may very well not have flown.

Trefethen gained some notoriety in the early 2000s when a letter written by his sister, a respected pilot, was published in the June / July 2003 issue of Air & Space Magazine, the very popular magazine published by the world famous National Air and Space Museum of Washington, District of Columbia. This feedback came as a result of an article on the North American Eagle project of an American (and Canadian?) team working on a supersonic land speed record vehicle, or LSRV, based on a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet fighter. Tina Trefethen pointed out that her brother had proposed a similar idea back in 1969. From 1992 onward, the brother and sister helped American professional race car driver Craig Breedlove develop a supersonic land speed record vehicle, the Spirit, later renamed Spirit of America – Formula Shell LSRV. This vehicle suffered two accidents in 1996 and 1997. It was never really a contender.

How about the North American Eagle project, you ask? Well, eager reader, this vehicle first ran in March 2006. One could argue that it was not a contender either.

And that’s it for today. And yes, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum has a Starfighter in its collection. This American-made machine was used, in December 1967, to set a Canadian altitude record (about 30 510 metres / about 100 110 feet) that has stood the test of time. And yes again, Canadair Limited of Cartierville, Québec, produced a number of CF-104 Starfighters during the 1960s. This being said (typed?), we are not going to talk about this now – and no amount of teeth gnashing or clothes tearing will change my mind. Sorry, but that is really it for today.

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Rénald Fortier