A flea making the news on both sides of the Atlantic, Part 1

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The Mignet HM-14 Pou du Ciel registered by Montrealer Oscar Demine and known as Spirit of Canada. The individual at the controls might be Frenchman René Salmon. Anon., « –. » Canadian Aviation, January 1938, 7.

Greetings, my reading friend. You may, or may not, recall that a September 2017 issue of this blog / bulletin / thingee pontificated a little bit about homebuilding, in other words the construction of aircraft using more or less ready to assemble plans or kits by people working at home during the interwar period that goes from November 1918 to September 1939. Yours truly also indicated that, as it were, almost all the aircraft available in North America, in the form of plans or kits, came from the United States.

The exception that confirmed the rule was the Mignet HM-14 Pou du Ciel, an airplane designed by an irreducible Gaul, apologies, Frenchman by the name of Henri Mignet. The monthly magazine Canadian Aviation magazine offers its readers two photos of one of these rather original machines in its January 1938 issue. Better still, the French weekly Les Ailes devoted a photo article to the same airplane, the first Canadian Pou du Ciel it was claimed, in the issue dated 27 January of that same year. While this great promoter of the Pou du Ciel if there was ever one was in error, it was not every day that two magazines of the interwar period situated on either side of the Atlantic talked about a homebuilt aircraft completed in Canada. Indeed, the author of these lines knows of no other example of this type for the period in question.

Oscar Demine and his son, Willy Demine, make the aforementioned Pou du Ciel in a garage in Westmount, west of Montréal, Québec. Completed in the middle of 1935, this airplane could not take the air, for lack of engine. This power plant arrived from France by ship in late 1935, early 1936. The two men installed it while awaiting the return of spring. At some point, Demine and his son found that the Pou du Ciel’s wings had warped during storage. They had to be strengthened. A faithful reader of Les Ailes, Demine senior consulted this publication to properly rig his airplane. He also contacted the designer of Pou du Ciel. Mignet’s research allowed Demine and his son, aided by Frenchman René Salmon, to include many improvements added to the Pou du Ciel over the past months.

Indeed, my reading friend, Mignet was having a tough time. A series of accidents, some of them fatal, which occurred between late 1935 and mid 1936, prompted a rapid reaction on the part of the French and British authorities. Every Pou du Ciel in these countries was grounded. Wind tunnel tests conducted in France and the United Kingdom showed that this airplane could be dangerous under certain circumstances. Mignet modified the Pou du Ciel but the damage was done. The passion of the flying enthusiasts had cooled. The vast majority of construction projects begun around the world in 1935-36, several hundreds it was said, remained incomplete.

Demine and his son were among the relatively few homebuilders who stayed the course. Their Pou du Ciel, christened Spirit of Canada at an undetermined date, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Confederation perhaps, was registered in October 1937. By then, Demine senior was 56 years old, which meant that he may well have been the oldest homebuilder in Canada. However, only his name was on the certificate of registration. The Pou du Ciel made some flights during the fall, including a return trip between the two airports in the Montréal area, Saint-Hubert and Cartierville. Its pilot, Benoît Gilson, was of Belgian origin. The airplane received a pair of home made floats during the winter of 1937-38. Weighed down by this new landing gear, the Pou du Ciel failed to take off. The Spirit of Canada was discarded in 1938, shortly after the tests.

What do you think of this story, my reading friend? Those of you who wish to know more about the very first Canadian Pou du Ciel have only to revisit this website as early as next week. Until then, stay warm.

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Rénald Fortier