Veteran’s Contribution To Preserve: Ornithopter

Photograph of Veteran Mel Hart





The following information was submitted by Veteran Ron Budd and outlined the contributions made by Veteran Mel Hart.





At the Saskatoon RCMP Veterans’ Association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), Veterans Ron Budd and Mel Hart were taking a tour of the Saskatoon Western Development Museum.

Photograph of the Ornithopter created by Ralph

Photograph of the Ornithopter created by Ralph

As they approached the Ornithopter display, Veteran Mel Hart outlined that he was responsible for it being in the museum.  The highly unusual exhibit is called the Ornithopter (a birdwing-shaped human powered flying machine).
As Mel Hart pointed out, he was responsible for the Museum acquiring this unique potential flying machine.  Mel outlined that he was stationed as I/C Elbow Detachment in Saskatchewan in the early 60’s & 70’s. Elbow acquired its name due to its location at the “elbow” of the South Saskatchewan River which is now dammed nearby to create the 140 mile long Diefenbaker Lake. It was at Elbow that Mel met Ralph Vallevand, a local carpenter.
Photograph of Ralph Vallevand of Elbow, Saskatchewan - creator of the

Photograph of Ralph Vallevand of Elbow, Saskatchewan – creator of the

About eight years ago, Mel visited his old Detachment & found Ralph working on his Ornithopter in the skating rink that was not used in the summer. He said he had spent months studying the movement of birds’ wings & decided to attempt to build this flying machine. Although he realized that actual flight was not likely, he hoped to be able to lift it just a few feet to prove he could free himself from the Earth’s gravity, albeit so slightly. Ralph allowed Mel to stand in the cage & work the hand & foot levers by which possible flight was hoped to be achieved.

Photograph of a close up view of the Ornithopter created by Ralph Vallvand

Photograph of a close up view of the Ornithopter created by Ralph Vallvand

On a later visit, Mel found Ralph in ill health & his machine dismantled & lying in an old trailer. Mel had compassion for this potential inventor as he had seen other contraptions of various designs that represented dreams of these inventors in Museums & he felt he could not let this effort disappear without it’s story being told & preserved.

Photograph of the side view of the

Photograph of the side view of the Ornithopter

Mel asked Ralph if he would permit him to donate it to the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw, but he would have none of that. In spite of this, Mel felt that with persuasion & perseverance that Ralph would relent, if he was the only one involved. Through a subsequent year of emails & photographs to the Museum in Moose Jaw, they expressed a definite interest & he was referred to the main museum administration in Saskatoon, but they were not told of its location as Ralph did not want them bothering him at that time.

Mel, being determined to see Ralph’s efforts come to fruition, returned the next year & received Ralph’s consent for the Museum in Saskatoon to take & display his invention. Sadly Ralph died before the unveiling of the exhibit in Saskatoon, where it it now hangs in the Antique Auto & Transportation Section of the Museum. The Museum acknowledged Mel’s effort in acquiring this exhibit & sent him a copy of the media coverage of the grand unveiling.

Mel told me that as he was standing there with me in the museum, looking up at the displayed exhibit, he swelled up with just a little pride & satisfaction to know that he was able to preserve something from one man’s dreams for all future generations to contemplate & marvel at. Eccentric or not, what an accomplishment! After all, did not Leonardo da Vinci dream the same dream how many hundred years ago?

While it is a chance meeting with Mel that precipitated this article, it is the advent of our Annual AGM that created this memorable scenario. All I can say is, how many more stories can be told while attending our annual event & all one has to do is participate.

Well done Mel, through much good communication & perseverance you have managed to get one man’s dreams to live on in perpetuity.