Fred Little on the open pilot’s seat at the front of the glider he built with Frank Oliver in 1932. Photo courtesy of Warren Little.
A race to the skies
Eldon Seymour and Jim Duddle were not Vernon’s only dynamic duo of intrepid aviators; around the same time the two young teenagers were building their open cockpit airplane in the loft of the Kalamalka Lake Store, Fred Little and Frank Oliver were gliding through the sky in their own creation. Thank you to Fred’s son Warren for supplying the information and photos for this story.
The Work Begins
When Fred and Frank were in their early twenties, they began building a glider in the kitchen of Fred’s family home. At the time, Fred was a professional mechanic, and was employed by Watkin Motors in Vernon (he later went on to serve the City as Fire Chief and was named the 1969 Good Citizen of the Year). Frank, meanwhile, was a businessman, the owner of Specialty Cleaners.
Once complete, the glider was flown from Vernon’s first airfield, located in the Mission Hill area. This take-off location was ideal, because updraft winds from Kalamalka Lake allowed for long flights in the glider.
Successful first flight
Local flying instructor Lowell Dunsmore piloted the first flight of the 32-foot Northrop Standard on June 12, 1932. On the second of three attempts, the Ford Model A towing car reached about 65 km/h. The glider soared into the air and hovered a steady ten feet above the airstrip before Dunsmore released the tow cord and brought it to a gentle landing. The following Tuesday, Fred and Frank performed another five successful flights in their aircraft.
Not to be outdone, Eldon Seymour and Jim Duddle also saw their own homemade glider successfully piloted by Lowell Dunsmore a few weeks later, and launched the City of Vernon airplane the following year. While the latter may have been the first home-built aircraft in Vernon with an engine, Fred and Frank owned and constructed the first glider in the B.C. Interior.
The glider went on to have many successful flights but was unfortunately later wrecked by a winter snow storm that collapsed its top.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator