Perth County’s Bud Blowes set world record 100 years ago
A hundred years ago this month – on Jan. 2, 1919 – Perth County’s lieutenant, Arthur “Bud” Blowes, was involved in setting a world record for flying altitude. Blowes was half of a two-man team flying an open two-seater DeHaviland
“bombing machine,” with a 450-horsepower Napier engine for 66 minutes and 15 seconds. During that time, the plane climbed 30,500 feet – nearly six miles – into the air. (Wilbur and Orville’s Wright Flyer first rose off the sands at Kitty Hawk for 12 seconds to travel 120 feet in December 1903!)
Blowes had been in the Royal Air Force for one-and-a-half years and was considered one of the most expert flyers at the RAF Martlesham Heath Station near Ipswich, England. Blowes was the observer on the flight, and the aviator was Capt. Andrew Lang from Sydney, Australia. The sun shone brightly, but it was cold up there. Blowes and Lang were each wearing two pairs of silk socks, three pairs of stockings, thigh boots lined with lambs’ wool, thick underclothing, three sweaters, an “Arctic suit” lined with fur, a balaclava and fur-lined cap, goggles lined with cotton wool and electrically lined gloves with gauntlets and a muffler round the neck. In spite of these precautions, Blowes suffered serious frost bite to both hands and his face. Lang removed his goggles at some point because they were frosting over and one of his eyes watered and froze “and was soon as big as a plum.”
At around 20,000 feet, Blowes’ oxygen supply was compromised, so he passed out. At 30,500 feet, the engine failed because the fuel pressure pumps stopped working. Lang reported that Blowes regained consciousness again when they dropped back to 20,000 feet. Presumably, the engine returned to life as well, as they were able to get back to the RAF station and “alighted amidst the cheers of their comrades.” The flight made international headlines, and Blowes and Lang were hounded by newspaper reporters and photographers for days. In a 1955 article about his flying adventure, Blowes said he hadn’t been higher than 20 feet off the ground since that day. He also reported that Lang, who he described as a “real gentleman in every sense of the word,” was killed in a motor crash in Australia in 1920.
Bud Blowes was born in Mitchell on June 5, 1899. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in April 1917 while still in high school. After training in Toronto, England and Scotland, he went to France in March 1918, where he flew with the No. 62 Bristol Fighter Squadron. After the war, and after the recordsetting flight, Blowes returned to Canada in April 1919. He took a business course in Stratford and joined the Bell Telephone company. He later worked for the Mitchell Bridge Works. There, he met Amy Madeline Hill, the owner’s daughter. They were married on April 19, 1922. Eventually, Blowes became deputy clerk-treasurer for the County of Perth and then clerktreasurer from 1953 to 1971. He was the first person from Perth County to be elected to the executive of the Ontario Municipal Association. A crowd of 400 people gathered at the Coliseum in Stratford to celebrate Blowes’ retirement. “Mr. Perth County” responded to the thanks and remarks with a series of poems he composed about all the county wardens that he had served under. Arthur W. Blowes died at his home in Mitchell in 1981. His flying adventures were noted in his obituary, along with his long service in local governments, the school board, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Lions Club and Mitchell Golf and Country Club.
A January 1919 newspaper clipping about Blowes from the R.T. Orr scrapbooks.