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1909: Silver Dart makes aviation history

The Story


On Feb. 23, 1909, engineer J.A.D. McCurdy piloted the first powered airplane flight by a British subject in the British Empire - and made Canadian history. The plane was called the Silver Dart, and had been built by the Aerial Experiment Association, a group of like-minded aviation enthusiasts dedicated to creating a "practical aerodrome." In this CBC radio clip, McCurdy - by then Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia - looks back at the event on its 40th anniversary. The flight took place on the frozen Bras d'Or Lake at Baddeck on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, near the home of AEA member Alexander Graham Bell. Before a crowd of astonished onlookers, McCurdy took off and piloted the plane for about half a kilometre along the shoreline before making a smooth landing.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: Feb. 23, 1949
Guest(s): J.A.D. McCurdy
Reporter: Robert Brazil
Duration: 2:49
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-061741

Did You know?


• The Silver Dart was powered by a 40-horsepower Curtiss engine, and was built using steel tubing, bamboo, friction tape, wire, wood, and rubberized silk balloon cloth.

• Besides McCurdy and Bell, the members of the AEA were engineer Casey Baldwin, motorcycle maker Glenn H. Curtiss, and Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army. In 1908, Selfridge died after crashing in a plane piloted by U.S. flight pioneer Orville Wright. He was the world's first aviation fatality.

• After 46 successful flights, the Silver Dart met its end during a demonstration in Petawawa, Ont. for the Canadian military in August 1909. The plane landed awkwardly, flipped over, and was destroyed beyond repair.

• To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that first flight, volunteers from the Royal Canadian Air Force built a replica which was flown at Baddeck on Feb. 23, 1959. The replica is on display at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa.


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