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The Silver Dart was the first powered aircraft to be flown in Canada. This historical event occurred on February 23, 1909 at Baddeck, Nova Scotia. In the summer of 2005, a group of aviation enthusiasts gathered to discuss the early history of aviation in Canada. We decided to build and fly a Silver Dart Replica to celebrate the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada.
We will attempt to follow the drawings as closely as possible; minor deviations will be incorporated into the replica where the drawings show more than one way of constructing the part, where original components are completely unavailable, or for safety reasons. Also, it must be realized that the original aircraft was experimental and underwent modification throughout its life.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were three major challenges one faced when deciding to build an aerodrome (as they called aircraft in those days). First one needed the time and money to design and build the machine. The second was to obtain an engine that was powerful enough, light enough, and dependable enough to keep the aerodrome aloft. Finally one had to learn how to fly without an instructor or even a book of instructions.
In 1902 Wallace Rupert Turnbull, a mechanical engineer trained at Cornell and the University of Berlin, had built a wind tunnel in Rothsay N.B. Turnbull was the first Canadian to tackle the theoretical aspects of aeronautics. He advocated dihedral, to increase lateral stability. He published "Research on the Forms and Stability of Aeroplanes" in The Physical Review of March 1907. His residence was not far from Dr. Bell's summer home near Baddeck.
In 1907 Casey Baldwin and John McCurdy graduated from the University of Toronto's Mechanical Engineering program. They were spending the summer with Dr. Bell, and were discussing the problems of flight. Mrs. Bell suggested that they should form a company to put their ideas into effect. She agreed to finance the cost of the undertaking. Thus the Aerial Experimental Association was born.
Glenn Curtiss was invited to become a member because of his expertise with engines. The US government requested that they be allowed to send an observer to assist the group. The request was granted, and lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was included as the fifth member. Thus the three basic challenges to flight were addressed.
By March 1908, their first machine, the Red Wing, so called from the color of its surface covering) was ready for testing. After a number of experiments had been conducted with differently designed tail assemblies mainly at taxiing speeds a suitable design was decided upon. All members of the A.E.A. worked diligently on each craft made, and the different members in turn were credited with the main design of a machine. The Red Wing was credited to Self-ridge.
Baldwin had the first whack at it. On March 12, 1908, the craft was pushed on its runners on to the frozen surface of Lake Kellka. Casey Baldwin took his place in the pilot's seat, an ordinary kitchen chair with the legs removed. He was partially protected from the wind by a canvas-covered framework, and, with the motor at full throttle, the Red Wing quickly moved ahead. After a brief run it lifted easily on the light breeze, and sailed through the air for a flight of 319 feet before Baldwin brought it down to a good landing on the ice. This was the first publicly announced flight in North America, and when Baldwin soared into the frosty air that March day, he rose to fame as the first Canadian subject ever to fly a heavier-than- air machine.
A second flight by Baldwin of 120 feet ended in a crack-up, and although the airman suffered no injury, the machine was quite badly damaged. It was therefore dismantled, and construction of the second aircraft of the AEA was begun.
The motor used in the Red Wing was the original airplane engine developed by Glenn Curtiss. It had eight air-cooled cylinders, designed to develop 40 h.p. at 1,800 r.p.m., but during the actual flight test only 25 h.p. was required to lift the Red Wing into the air.
As for the Red Wing, the wing span was 43 feet 4 inches, with a chord) which tapered from 6 feet 3 inches at the centre to 4 feet at the tips. The lifting area of the wings was 385 square feet, and the total weight of the craft, including 150-pound Baldwin, was 570 pounds. The Red Wing possessed no ailerons or lateral control of any kind, and it was this lack that helped to bring it to grief on the second flight it made, on March 17.
The second airplane built by the A.E.A. was credited to Baldwin; it was named the White Wing, and was fitted with wheels. It embodied the good points of its predecessor and proved remarkably airworthy.
Since the instability of the Red Wing was due to its lack of lateral control, the White Wing had a hinged, controllable arrangement of wing-tip flaps, which, when built into the White Wing, proved their worth from the start.
At the time of the White Wing flights, no airplane in the world had made lengthy controlled hops using flaps which could be freely operated upwards as well as downwards.
The original engine was a 202 lb, water cooled V-8 producing some where between 35 and 50 hp. We are unable to obtain or reproduce a replica of this engine. Therefore, we will be using a 3-cylinder Chevy Sprint engine with a chain gear reduction to turn an 8-foot diameter propeller at a 1,000 RPM as the original engine did. This particular engine was chosen because, it produces about 50 hp, can be converted to stay under the weight of the original and we happen to have one available.
Construction has started on the truck (fuselage) assembly and the wing rib jig has been built. Progress will be documented on this web site.