A bet started it all. Bud Pauls, then editor of the Sooke NewsMirror, wrote a headline entitled “Flying Filgate loses his bet – but still a winner.”
Sooke has never had a shortage of clever individuals who come up with ingenious ideas, and nearly 50 years ago, 23-year-old Jimmy Filgate, a Grant Road resident, was one of them.
Joshing around with his brother-in-law Richard Hughes, he bet he could build and fly his own airplane before midnight March 31.
Hughes and pal Mike Banner each bet he couldn’t, to the tune of $200 back in the day when $200 actually meant something.
Given a hand by his brother Benny, Filgate set to work on the biplane, which was built with a wingspan of Sitka spruce and measured about 16 feet, powered with a Volkswagen engine which generated about 40 horsepower. Rick Long gave a hand as well.
Word spread, excitement built, more bets floated around, and the test was to take place at the Arden Airstrip when the big day arrived. This was a grassy field alongside John Muir School, where the Butlers, Claude or Wally, used to land if they flew their Cessna 170 from Saanich to Sooke.
Came March 31,1975, a crowd of perhaps a couple of hundred gathered, everyone excitedly wondering what would happen. When Jimmy arrived to cheers, wearing a black leather jacket and a crash helmet, he joked: “When I get off the ground, just look out because I don’t know how to come in.”
Settling into the open cockpit, Jimmy gunned the engine, and the aircraft picked up speed as it ran down the runway.
Alas, a wheel met a low spot, the propellor hit the ground, the engine stalled, the airplane ended up on its nose and Jimmy was standing on his head. Gas gushed from the fuel tank, and while he struggled free, his buddies Bruce Butler and Glen Wilson rushed to help him.
“I’m okay,” he said, to the relief of all. If the police hadn’t shut him down, he would have been ready to start again.
Spectators wouldn’t have missed the once-in-a-lifetime event; one woman said, “I haven’t had so much fun in years.”
Amazing, the number of folks who had gathered to cheer the scene; I wasn’t among them, but folks I spoke with, Bruce Butler, Mike and Margaret Banner, Bill Pedneault, Hilly Lewis, Lynda Fisk, Elaine Murray, Marilyn and Toby Hird remembered it well.
The Sooke Region Museum is indebted to Jim Oke, who recorded the scene by video, and to Adele Lewis, who pulled these scenes from the video.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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