Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 2: Aerial Experimental Association (AEA) Silver Dart, June Bug and Baddeck

Aerial Experimental Association (AEA)

Silver Dart, June Bug and Baddeck

Data Current to 28 Dec 2020.

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194128)

Aerial Experimental Association (AEA) Silver Dart flown by John A.D. McCurdy at Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia, on 23 Feb 1909.  This qualified as the first flight by a British subject in the British Empire.

The Silver Dart (or Aerodrome #4) was a derivative of an early aircraft built by a Canadian/American team, which after many successful flights at Hammondsport, New York, earlier in 1908, was dismantled and shipped to Baddeck, Nova Scotia.  It was flown from 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 original Silver Dart was designed and built by the Aerial Experimental Association (AEA), formed under the guidance of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.

 (Library of Congress Photo, ggbain.02334)

Silver Dart - Aeroplane at Hammondsport, Oct 1908.

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 (1609 m) 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 Captain Thomas Scott Baldwin of Hammondsport; hence the name the "Silver Dart".  Its Kirkham engine, supplied by Glenn Curtiss, was a reliable V-8 that developed 50 horsepower (37 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.

 (DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University Photo)

Aerial Experimental Association (AEA) Silver Dart flown by John A.D. McCurdy at Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia, on 2 Mar 1909. 

When the Silver Dart lifted off on 23 February 1909, it flew only half a mile (800 m) at an elevation from three to nine meters, and a speed of roughly 65 kilometres per hour (40 mph).  The aircraft was the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to fly in Canada.  Other records were soon to fall; on 10 March 1909, the Silver Dart flown again by McCurdy completed a circular course over a distance of more than 35 kilometres (22 mi).  The first passenger flight in Canada was made in the Silver Dart on 2 August 1909.

The Canadian Army was unimpressed at the headway made by the group.  The general impression of the time was that aircraft would never amount to much in actual warfare.  Despite official scepticism, the Association was finally invited to the military base at Camp Petawawa, Ontario, to demonstrate the aircraft.  The sandy terrain made a poor runway for an aircraft with landing wheels about 2 inches (50 mm) wide.  The Silver Dart had great difficulty taking off.  On its fifth flight on 2 August 1909, McCurdy wrecked the craft when one wheel struck a rise in the ground while landing.  The Silver Dart never flew again.

Although a significant aircraft in Canada, the location of the initial design and construction of the Silver Dart made it an American design.  Following the disbanding of the AEA, founding members, McCurdy and F.W. "Casey" Baldwin obtained the Canadian patent rights for Aerodrome No. 4 (The Silver Dart), for the express purpose of producing a Canadian-made version.  Subsequently, the Baddeck No. 1 and Baddeck No. 2  were built by theCanadian Aerodrome Company, the newly formed company that Baldwin and McCurdy established in 1909.  (Green, H. Gordon. The Silver Dart: The Authentic Story of the Hon. J.A.D. McCurdy, Canada's First Pilot. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Atlantic Advocate Book, 1959)

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194129)

AEA Silver Dart being towed by hand.

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3650308)

AEA Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa, Ontario, during the demonstration flights made before officials of the Department of Militia and Defence on 2 Aug 1909.

 (DND Photo)

AEA Silver Dart on the ice at Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia, 1909.

  (RCAF Photo courtesy of the Canadian Aviation Preservation Association)

Close up view of the Silver Dart engine. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3650309)

AEA Silver Dart propeller & engine detail, ca 1909.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN 3650305)

AEA June Bug, John A.D. McCurdy. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4732064)

Canadian Aerodrome Baddeck No. 1 with Frederick W. "Casey" Baldwin and John McCurdy, preparing for military trials at Camp Petawawa, ontario.  Its first demonstration flight was made on 11 Aug 1909.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3922995)

Stamp, Silver Dart, 1909-2009, Bras d'Or Lake, Baddeck, Nova Scotia, issued on 23 February 1959.