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Mr. Metcalf’s Fabulous Flying Machine

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By the early 1900s, amateur mechanics in North Dakota were building their own motor cars and whizzing down dirt roads at the mindboggling speed of eight miles an hour. The other rage of the time was aviation. North Dakotans were in on that, too. In 1910, Archie Hoxey was created a sensation with the first successful North Dakota flight at Grand Forks. And there was Frances Klingensmith, the first woman in the state to get a pilot’s license. She gained national fame as a stunt pilot and a racer. Even more famous, Carl Ben Eielson is known for flying over the arctic ice caps.

On this date in 1909, R.N. Metcalf, a farmer from Driscoll, revealed his plans for a fabulous flying machine. It was a combination of a land vehicle and airplane, and could even serve as a boat. Equipped with eight propellers, the plane was designed to carry ten passengers or the equivalent weight in freight. Metcalf said that within ten days his prototype, designed to carry two people, would be ready to fly.

Metcalf had been fascinated with flight since he was a boy. In 1908 he seriously began to explore plans to get an airplane into the skies. In 1909 he announced his plans. That October, he showed the plans to the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. The newspaper thought it looked like a “complicated mass of sails, propellers, and connecting rods.”

Metcalf asserted that it was not as complicated as it looked. The boat portion was lightweight canvas with a gasoline engine. That part of the machine would carry the passengers. Four wheels allowed it to be driven on the ground like an automobile. When on the ground, the sails folded like the wings of a bird. Metcalf said that, while the machine might need some tinkering, he was confident he was on the right track.

Unfortunately, Metcalf’s plans never got off the ground, and there is no further mention of his fabulous flying machine in the public record.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “Wrights Have a Rival in North Dakota.” Hope ND. 7/22/1909. Page 2.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Dakota Man Has Paper Airship.” Fargo ND. 10/29/1909. Page 6.

Minnesota DOT. “North Dakota Aviators.” http://www.dot.state.mn.us/aero/aviationeducation/museum/aviation_firsts/northdakota.html Accessed 6/10/2021.

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