by Paul Balcaen
There is an insignificant-looking grey wooden propeller on a hangar wall at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada in Winnipeg.
It came off a garbage load in 1937 and was stored in a barn until its donation to the museum circa 1977. This unusual propeller of uncertain origin has three 56-inch- [142-cm-] long grey wooden blades, set at reverse pitch to American-produced propellers. Thus, this counter-clockwise-rotating prop could only have been used on English-made engines.
Although the propeller is marked with a serial number and a company logo label on each of the three blades identifying the manufacturer as the Hartzell Propeller Company in Ohio, the company, when contacted, claims they have never manufactured this type of propeller.
Displayed on a hangar wall at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada for almost forty years, this enigmatic object was rediscovered one day in autumn, 2014, by museum co-founder Gordon Emberley and restoration department head Al Nelson. They noticed similarities between the bolt-hole patterns of the propeller hub and remnants from a propeller found with the recently recovered fuselage of a rare Royal Canadian Air Force Fairchild FC-2L “Razorback” bush plane (G-CYWU) which crashed at Cristal Island in Artillery Lake, east of Yellowknife, in 1930. Five R.C.A.F. “Razorbacks” had been fitted with English-made Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engines; currently under restoration by the museum, G-CYWU is one of the few original FC-2Ls in existence.
After lengthy research, both men agreed that the odd grey prop was likely made in the 1920s, was never used, and would fit the hub of the museum’s “Razorback.” Yet the original manufacturer and reason it was never used remain a mystery to this day.