Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 1: Burgess-Dunne floatplane

Burgess-Dunne floatplane

Data current to 28 Dec 2020.

 (DND Archives Photo, PL-115112)

Burgess-Dunne floatplane, Canada's first military aircraft.

The Dunne D.8 of 1912 was a tailless swept wing biplane, designed by J.W. Dunne to have inherent stability.  One example was supplied to RAE Farnborough.  License-built Burgess-Dunne models were used by the US Signal Corps and the USN.  One was flown by the short-lived Canada Aviation Corps, its first and only warplane.

The Burgess Company and Curtiss, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, gained the US manufacturing rights and built a series of aircraft based on the D.8.  They became known as Burgess-Dunne machines and were mostly single-float planes.  The first flew in March 1914.  Apart from wingtip floats the wings were identical to those of the D8, but the fuselage was revised with a distinct nacelle containing a more enclosed cockpit.  The aircraft was a single-seater, with the heavier 100 hp (75 kW) Curtiss OXX2 water-cooled engine moved forwards, shortening the fuselage and with its radiator placed between the engine and the pilot.  The single float was 17 ft 8 in (5.38 m) long, shallow and flat bottomed viewed from in front, with a single step.  The prototype behaved well in the air and on the water.  The second machine was very similar to the first, but room was made for a second seat by replacing the single fuselage mounted radiator with a pair fixed to the rear float struts.  

The second machine a Burgess-Dunne BD, was bought by the Canadian government for the Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC) and was their first military aircraft.  It was shipped to Europe on the SS Athenia for service in the First World War, but was seriously damaged in transit and not used.

The CAC came into existence early in the First World War partly due to the enthusiasm of a Galt, Ontario automobile mechanic named Ernest Loyd Janney.  Despite lacking expertise in aeronautics, Janney, managed to convince Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Defense and Militia, to purchase an aircraft (which was against National Defense Policy at the time).  Janney was made the provisional commander, and given the rank of captain.  The other original member to the CAC was Lieutenant William, F. Sharpe, a pilot.  

The Department of National Defense gave Captain Janney $5,000 to purchase one aircraft and authorized him to travel to the USA to make the purchase.  Lieutenant Sharpe went to England to fly in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), later the RAF.  Captain Janney visited all the major aircraft company factories and on 12 Sep 1914, he visited the Burgess plant in Marblehead Harbour, Massachusetts.  Captain Janney observed a demonstration of the aircraft and was very impressed.  He returned to Canada and on 16 Sep 1914 the CAC was officially commissioned.  On 17 Sep, Captain Janney returned to Marblehead Harbour and made an offer on the aircraft for $5,000, with one condition, the CAC must have the aircraft immediately due to the Canadian Armys war requirements.

The aircraft had originally been built under contract for the republican candidate and Assistant Secretary Treasurer A. Pait Andrews who was in a race to purchase the plane with rival politician Congressman Gardner.  The aircraft was ready to be collected on 19 Sep, but the Burgess Company, needing money, accepted Captain Janney’s offer.  This came as a surprise to Andrews, who thought Gardner made off with his plane.  The aircraft was shipped to Lake Champlain and then flown to Quebec City on 21 Sep 1914 by Burgess test pilot, Clifford Lawrence Webster and his passenger, Captain Janney.  This was the delivery of the first military aircraft purchased by the Canadian government.

When the Burgess-Dunne landed in Quebec City it was disassembled and packed for shipment overseas on the SS Athena.  It was delayed on 30 Sep 1914and when it arrived in England it was discovered that during the shipping process the aircraft had been damaged beyond use and never saw the skies again.  The Burgess-Dunne, Canada’s first military aircraft was scrapped on Salisbury plain in the UK.  As for the CAC, a year after its creation, it slipped into obscurity.  Captain Janney's service was terminated when he returned from England.  No parts of the original aircraft survive, but a replica is now on display in the National Air Force Museum of Canada and CFB Trenton, Ontario.  (NAFMC)

(Bain News Service Photo)

Burgess-Dunne floatplane in flight in US service, 18 March 1914.  

(RCAF Photo)

Burgess-Dunne in flight, ca. 1913.

 (DND Archives Photo, AH260-1)

Burgess-Dunne floatplane, Canada's first military aircraft arrives at Deschaillons, Quebec, in 1914.

(Comox Air Force Museum Photo)

Burgess-Dunne floatplane, Canada's first military aircraft in Quebec City.

 (RCAF Photo)

One Burgess-Dunne seaplane was bought by the Canadian government for the Canadian Aviation Corps and was their first military aircraft.  When Canadian troops left for Europe on 30 Sep 1914, the aircraft was loaded onto the S.S. Athenia and shipped to England.  On the trip the aircraft was was seriously damaged in transit and not used. 

  (Author Photo)

Burgess-Dunne floatplane, replica, National Air Force Museum of Canada, CFB Trenton, Ontario.