In December 1908 the Aerial Experiment Association completed the construction of Aerodrome 4 - the Silver Dart, in Hammondsport NY at the factory of Glenn H. Curtiss. The Silver Dart, the final airplane produced by the AEA, was test flown in Hammondsport in late December 1908 by chief designer Douglas McCurdy and by engine manufacturer Glenn Curtiss.
Curtiss had designed and built the earlier June Bug (Aerodrome 3) and flown it successfully for over one kilometre on July 4, 1908 to win the Scientific American Trophy for the first publicly witnessed flight of one kilometre in length.
Building on the highly publicized success of the June Bug, the Silver Dart incorporated all of the accumulated knowledge and best thinking of its designers.
Silver Dart being towed onto the ice for flight - Feb. 23, 1909.
After the successful trial flights of the Silver Dart in Hammondsport, the aerodrome was dismantled and shipped to Baddeck Nova Scotia where it flew off the ice on Bras d'or Lake on February 23, 1909. That flight was the first flight in Canada and the first in the British empire. It was truly an amazing accomplishment in the history of Canadian aviation.
Silver Dart Replica at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum prior to test flights, Feb. 6, 2009
In January of 2009, just one month over 100 years later, the modern aviation group AEA 2005, Inc., comprised of twenty-five historic flight volunteers from Welland, Ontario, completed a full scale replica of the original machine in a hangar of the Russell Aviation Group in Niagara Falls. Working from a set of original plans, the dedicated AEA 2005 crew worked for over five years to bring their dream to reality. It is a story of tremendous love for aviation and Canada's history.
Essentially the only difference between the replica and the original Silver Dart is the inclusion of foot controls, disc brakes, some basic instruments and the use of a 1947 aircraft engine of similar horsepower to the original Curtiss engine.
After completion in Niagara Falls, the plane was disassembled and shipped to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario to be close to test runways at the Hamilton International Airport.
Silver Dart, with Bjarni Tryggvason as pilot, taxis for test flight, Feb. 6, 2009
On February 6, 2009 beginning at approximately 1:30 p.m. the Silver Dart replica, Canadian airplane C-IIGY, flew six brief but highly successful flights to demonstrate its airworthiness.
Former Canadian Astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason was at the controls and lifted the Silver Dart off with ease. His landings on each occasion were feather light. The first flight, on Runway 24 heading South-West, was over 3000 feet in length at a maximum altitude of three metres and lasted 50 seconds. Final touchdown occurred at 2:40 EST (19:40 Zulu). On the sixth and final flight of the afteroon the Silver Dart flew over 5,000 feet covering much of the 6,000 foot runway.
Silver Dart nears take off speed on main runway at Hamilton Airport, Feb. 6, 2009
Silver Dart airborne on first flight of the day, Feb. 6, 2009. Six flights were completed.
Refueling the Silver Dart between flights. Pilot Bjarni Tryggvason smiles,
pleased with the handling of the aerodrome, as he confers with the flight support crew.
The Silver Dart at peak altitude on sixth and longest flight, Feb. 6, 2009.
The Silver Dart will now be disassembled and shipped to Baddeck Nova Scotia for the Centennary Celebrations of the flight of the original Silver Dart. On February 23, 2009, exactly one hundred years after Douglas McCurdy flew the Dart over Bras d'or Lake in a flight witnessed by Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel, the other members of the AEA (Curtiss and Casey Baldwin) and hundreds of townsfolk from Baddeck, the Silver Dart replica will re-create history.
I was honoured to be a witness to this historic event by being present at the test flights of the Silver Dart replica on February 6, 2009. The hangar images of the Silver Dart and the Dart taxiing were taken at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. The three still images of the flight record the Silver Dart at high speed taxi and in flight on Runway 24 of the adjoining Hamilton International Airport. I took these images though the windshield of the official Hamilton International Airport escort vehicle following about 30 metres behind the Silver Dart travelling at 32 kilometres per hour . The image of Bjarni Tryggvasson conferencing with the flight support crew was taken during a refueling break on Runway 24.
Two videos showing the flight from dramatic points of view were taken by my close kiting friends Jim Anes and Carlos Simoes who also had special access to the flight.
The Jim Anes video shows the Silver Dart as it flies from right to left down the main runway. It is an amazing visual record of the fifth flight.
The Carlos Simoes video shows the Silver Dart from inside the other escort vehicle on the runway. This vehicle was driven by Doug Jermyn, head of the AEA 2005 Group that built the replica. On this video you hear the voice of Doug Jermyn calling the fifth flight as it happens. Background radio dialogue is from the Hamilton tower to the escort vehicles and an airplane that is circling waiting to land after the Dart's test flight. This is a dramatic video of the flight from just behind the aircraft.
Slide Show of the Flight Trials and Events of the Day:
Carlos Simoes has posted a complete slide show of the events of the day. Starting with the Silver Dart in the hangar early in the morning of Feb 6, 2009, the show takes you through the day with both slides and videos of each of the six flights. The slide show ends with the news media scrum and hangar celebration following the flights.
Links to News Media Coverage of the Event:
- Toronto Star: One Small Step for Aviation Buffs
- CBC.ca: Silver Dart Replica Flies at Hamilton Airport
- CTV.ca: Ex-astronaut flies replica Silver Dart
- CKCO-TV: Aviation history soars over Hamilton
- Hamilton Spectator: Magnificent Flying Machine
- Hamilton Spectator: Video - Silver Dart Makes Historic Flight Again
- Hamilton Spectator:
- Toronto Sun: Winging Into History
- Globe and Mail: Modern Silver Dart replicates history - for a few metres
- Canadian Press: Modern day version Silver Dart makes successful test run; next stop Baddeck, N.S.
- London Free Press: UWO prof achieves flight of a lifetime a full century later
- Welland Tribune: Wellander on Cloud 9 After Silver Dart Flight
- Brantford Expositor: Bell's dream taking flight again
- Aviation.ca: The Silver Dart Soars in Ontario
- AVweb.com: Silver Dart Replica Flies in Canada
The events that will take place in Baddeck Nova Scotia around the February 23, 2009 flight to mark the 100th Anniversary of the original Silver Dart flight can be found on the site of the Flight of the Silver Dart Centennial Celebration.
Details of the amazing group of builders, known as the AEA 2005 Inc., who recreated the Silver Dart are found on their web site dedicated to the Silver Dart project. This site is a detailed and very interesting account of their labour of love.
Finally, special thanks for our coverage of this event must go to Doug Jermyn and his wife Carol Harding who accorded Best-Breezes and the Historic Kiters Group incredible access to the Silver Dart during construction and on test flight day. Thank you Doug, Carol, Jack Minor, Ray Larsen, Don Feduck, James Griffith, Bjarni Tryggvason and Gerry Bettridge (Russell Aviation Group) for all you did to accommodate our coverage of this event.
Other related reference sites:
- Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. Located in Hammondsport NY this museum is an outstanding site to visit for information on Glenn Curtiss, the Aerial Experiment Association and early flight.
- Parks Canada - Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Located in Baddeck NS this museum is operated by Parks Canada and is dedicated to communicating the story of Alexander Graham Bell's wide ranging interests and inventive work, much of it undertaken right in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
Story and photos by Bob White (Member Historical Research Writers Association).