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Volunteers re-create plane that made historic 1912 flight

A legacy of America’s first licensed airplane pilot is slowly taking shape inside a Vancouver warehouse.

The project is a full-sized replica of a 1912 Curtiss Pusher biplane — an aircraft that made Northwest aviation history 105 years ago when Silas Christofferson flew from the roof of the Multnomah Hotel in Portland to Vancouver Barracks.

When finished, the replica under construction at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is scheduled to go on display in June 2018 at Pearson Air Museum.

It’s a fitting destination since the area around the museum grounds is pretty much where Christofferson ended his 12-minute flight on June 11, 1912.

“There are no original Pushers” they could duplicate, team leader Mike Daly said. So when team members started in the spring of 2016, they relied on plans that had been part of an earlier project, a scale model of the Pusher several team members helped build for the museum.

The aircraft was designed by Glenn Curtiss.

“We started with the original Curtiss Pusher design that we had scaled down for our model,” Daly, a Vancouver resident, said. “We found archive images of the Christofferson flight and found some differences in the tail surfaces. And it had 14 wing sections instead of 12.”

“I think Silas added 10 feet of the wing to get more lift off the hotel,” Dennis Darby said. Darby, a Portland resident, is a manufacturing engineer.

While archive photographs of Christofferson’s 1912 flight are on display at Pearson Air Museum, they don’t really illustrate the size of the Curtiss Pusher. The wings measure about 44 feet from tip to tip.


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