Today In Aviation History – 1909 – The Flight of the Silver Dart

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February 23, 1909.  Pilot/co-designer J.A. John McCurdy lifts off frozen Lake Baddeck and flies into history at the controls of the AEA Silver Dart.  It is the first powered flight in Canada.

The Silver Dart (or Aerodrome #4) was a derivative of an early aircraft built by a Canadian/U.S. team, which after many successful flights in Hammondsport, New York, earlier in 1909, was dismantled and shipped to Baddeck, Nova Scotia. It was flown off the ice of Baddeck Bay, a sub-basin of Bras d’Or Lake, on 23 February 1909, making it the first controlled powered flight in Canada. The aircraft was piloted by one of its designers, John McCurdy. The originalSilver Dart was designed and built by the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), formed under the guidance of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.

From 1891, Bell had begun experiments at Baddeck and Hammondsport to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft. By 1908, the success of the AEA was seen in a series of ground-breaking designs, culminating in the Silver Dart. By the time the Silver Dart was constructed in late 1908, it was the Aerial Experiment Association’s fourth flying machine. One of its precursors, the June Bug, had already broken records. It won the Scientific American Trophy for making the first official one mile flight in North America. 

The frame and structure of the Silver Dart were made of steel tube, bamboo, friction tape, wire and wood. The wings were covered with rubberized, silvery balloon cloth provided by Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin of Hammondsport, NY; hence the name the “Silver Dart”. Its Kirkham engine, supplied by Glenn Curtiss, was a reliable V-8 that developed 35 horsepower (26 kW) at 1,000 rpm. The propeller was carved from a solid block of wood. The aircraft had what is now called a canard or an “elevator in front” design. Like most aircraft of its day the Silver Dart had poor control characteristics; likewise, it had no brakes.

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In 2009, this replica was built and flown by Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason on the same lake to celebrate the 100th anniversary.