Pioneer Aircraft Builder

The name of Ralph M. Metcalf is not listed among those early pioneers of flight but not because he did not try to build the first airplane nor because he did not have visions of powered flight.

As early as 1909, farming near Driscoll, North Dakota, he built and patented a model airplane.  A skilled carpenter and mason, building homes and stores in the community when not farming.  Metcalf dreamed of the possibility of building a flying machine.  Poorly educated formally, he had acquired knowledge of the principles of flight as they were then known, through the reading of every scrap of information he could find on the subject.

In 1912, the family farm was traded for property located on what is now known as Granger Hill in Valley City.  A large workshop was built in the location of the Morton building Company.  A company was formed, stock was sold and the Metcalf Multiplane Company was launched.  Its purpose was to manufacture and sale of the Metcalf Multiplane.

The plane was huge with many wings, some of them moveable, much as the modern “swept-wing idea of today.  The body was roughly in the shape of a boat and it cradled the six horsepower motor which drove the large three bladed propellor in the rear.

The Company had constructed a runway running north and south for the launching of the plane on its maiden flight.  The northern end of the runway was located near where the Thrill Lund House.

Much to the disappointment of all concerned, stockholders and citizens alike, the plane refused to leave the ground on its test flight.  In the crowd were well known people as Judge Englert, Fred Heidel, Peter Davidson and Ward Fritch.

While the test flight was a disappointment, plans went ahead for the re-vamp of the plans to include a larger, more powerful motor and the elimination of some of the excess weight.  However, before these plans could be put into effect, Ralph Metcalf became sick and after several operations, passed away.  Thus passed from the scene certainly Barnes County’s pioneer aircraft builder, remembered only by the pictures of his handicraft.

Advertisements