Propelling aeroplane history

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Wallace Turnbull.

Daniel Prinn

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Wallace Turnbull, an aeronautical engineer, was best known for his contribution to Canadian aviation by inventing the variable pitch propeller – a type of propeller that allows the blades to rotate around a long axis, thus changing the blade pitch. His variable-pitch propeller was successfully tested in flight in 1927 in Ontario. The device was designed to adjust the angle in which the propeller blades cut the air. It provided safety and efficiency at each engine speed, as well as enabling stronger flight control for take-offs and landings.

Turnbull, born in Saint John, New Brunswick, came from a well-off family. He graduated in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1893 and then studied physics in Germany. In 1902, he established his own research base in Rothesay, New Brunswick. At the time, flying machines hardly seemed like a reality. But Turnbull knew that aeroplanes would soon succeed, and he wanted to be involved.

While in Rothesay, Turnbull built the first wind tunnel in Canada. He then began working with internal combustion engines, turbines and hydroplanes. Aside from working on his own contributions, Turnbull also assisted Alexander Graham Bell with his aviation experiments in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

He died in his hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick in 1954. He was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976, and the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.

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