Canadian Aviation History
On a cold morning in February 1909, the vision of flying a powered aircraft for the first time in Canada came to be when the Silver Dart took to the air above the frozen waters of Baddeck Bay in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
This inaugural Canadian aviation feat on February 23rd, 1909 was the result of innovative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, unrelenting determination and a talented team of experts.
When world-renowned and accomplished inventor Alexander Graham Bell decided to turn his gaze toward the skies and find a way for man to fly, it was based on a lifelong fascination with flight. His wife Mabel, knew if he were to realize his dream, he would have to enlist the help of like-minded men who were just as enthusiastic about flight but had other technological knowledge.
J.A.D. “Douglas” McCurdy, a friend of the Bell family and a mechanical engineer studying at the University of Toronto was the first to join Bell. He brought with him a fellow classmate, Frederick W. “Casey” Baldwin. Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, an artillery officer with the United States Army and motorcycle engine manufacturer Glenn Curtiss rounded out the team.
Together, this group of men formed the Aerial Experiment Association with the financial backing of Mabel Bell and began building aircrafts and conducting experimental flights. It started with the Cygnet, a man-carrying massive tetrahedral kite designed by Bell followed by the airplanes or “aerodromes” as Bell called them, the Red Wing, the White Wing, the June Bug and then, the most advanced of them all, the Silver Dart.
A year and four months after the AEA was formed, the Silver Dart, piloted by Douglas McCurdy and under the watchful eyes of Bell, Baldwin and Curtiss, was brought onto the ice at Baddeck Bay.
McCurdy started the engine and volunteers on skates pushed it into position. The Silver Dart glided along the ice and finally lifted off to the astonishment of onlookers. It rose 9 metres into the air and flew for almost a kilometer and a half at 65 kilometres per hour. The first flight of a flying machine in Canada and the entire British Empire was a huge success.