Dakota Datebook

Ralph Metcalf and his Metcalf Multiplane Flying Machine, 1910

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

 

One hundred years ago, Ralph Metcalf had a dream – to design an airplane that could take off and land from either land or water. Metcalf, a farmer and carpenter from Driscoll, which is located east of Bismarck in Burleigh County, built a small model aircraft with a radical design. The main body looked like a slender fishing boat with a curved prow, ready to take off or land on a lake, yet with attached wheels for alighting on land. With about twenty wings arrayed in five layers, the machine looked like a “huge bird with wings outstretched.” The multiple wings provided it with the Multiplane name.

Metcalf’s design called for a “double propeller system” with “two fans moving in opposite directions” powered by a six-cylinder engine. Metcalf believed he had discovered the “secret” that would give his aircraft “four times the lifting power of any other [flying] machine.”

On this date in 1910, the Grand Forks Herald reported that Mr. Metcalf had officially established the “Metcalf Multiplane Company,” with Metcalf himself as the company president. He had gathered investors, including several local bankers and businessmen, in a joint-stock corporation to make the model plane into a real airplane.

The corporation planned to open an aircraft factory in Minneapolis once the plane had proven its flying capabilities. But it was difficult to get this project off the ground. Much time passed from the incorporation of the company in 1910 until the full-sized aircraft was ready for a test flight in the summer of 1913. In the meantime, Ralph Metcalf had traded his farm in Driscoll for a property in Valley City, where the trial flight was to take place.

Great excitement was in the air for the first attempted flight of the aircraft. Aviator Metcalf steered his Multiplane out of his large Granger Hill workshop to the runway. Stockholders and townspeople gathered to witness the anticipated takeoff of Metcalf’s dream-ship. Alas, the Metcalf Multiplane “refused to leave the ground.”

Mr. Metcalf promised the disappointed multitude that he would revamp the aircraft for another trial. Unfortunately, Ralph Metcalf’s health failed him, and, after several operations, he died in 1918, his dreams of flight unrealized.

All that remains of the Metcalf Multiplane are several photos in Valley City of the most beautiful many-winged boat-like airplane ever built in North Dakota.

 

Dakota Dabook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

 

Sources:

“Metcalf Multiplane,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 5, 1910.

 

“The Metcalf Multiplane: North Dakota Inventor May Build a Factory in Minneapolis,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 17, 1910.

 

“Airship Factory Planned,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 17, 1910, p. 8.

 

“Valley City Has An Aviator,” Fargo Forum, July 26, 1913, p. 2.

 

“New Company At Driscoll,” Bismarck Tribune, January 14, 1910, p. 5.

 

“Pioneer Aircraft Builder,” Barnes County History (Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company, 1976), p. 314-315.

 

“Metcalf Multiplane Company at Driscoll,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 29, 1910.

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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