This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
The Silver Dart made the first powered flight in Canada when it lifted off the frozen surface of Bras d’Or Lake on February 23, 1909. Piloted by J. A. D. McCurdy, the Silver Dart’s designer, the flight took place at Alexander Graham Bell’s retreat in Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. McCurdy was a member of the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), which Bell’s wife Mabel funded to support a team of aircraft researchers that also included engine designer Glenn Curtiss, engineer F. W. Baldwin, and designer-pilot Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge. The Silver Dart was the result: like other aircraft of its era, it was a pusher, and the pilot sat in front of the engine and the rear-facing propeller.
Constructed of wood, bamboo, steel tubes, and wire, the Silver Dart was difficult to control. It was subsequently destroyed in a crash later in 1909. In 1958, Leading Aircraftman Lionel McCaffrey of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) proposed to build and fly a Silver Dart replica to mark the 50th anniversary of the aircraft’s first flight. With RCAF support, McCaffrey and a team of volunteers built the replica in Trenton, Ontario, and shipped it to Baddeck in time for the anniversary. Wing Commander Paul A. Hartman flew the replica on the anniversary date, but high winds caused the aircraft to crash. The pilot was unhurt and the aircraft was repaired in time for the opening of the National Aviation Museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in 1960.
The Silver Dart’s name was inspired by the silvery balloon silk that covered the aircraft’s frame.