On this day in 1907, Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel Bell founded the Aerial Experimental Association at Baddeck, Nova Scota, along with two young Canadian engineers, Casey Baldwin and John McCurdy , as well as US Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge and engine maker Glenn Curtiss.
According to Wikipedia, in 1891, Bell had begun experiments to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft. The AEA was first formed as Bell shared the vision to fly with his wife, who advised him to seek “young” help as Alexander was at the graceful age of 60.
In 1898, Bell experimented with tetrahedral box kites and wings constructed of multiple compound tetrahedral kites covered in maroon silk. The tetrahedral wings were named Cygnet I, II and III, and were flown both unmanned and manned (Cygnet I crashed during a flight carrying Selfridge) in the period from 1907–1912. Some of Bell’s kites are on display at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.
Bell was a supporter of aerospace engineering research through the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), officially formed at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in October 1907 at the suggestion of his wife Mabel and with her financial support after the sale of some of her real estate. The AEA was headed by Bell and the founding members were four young men: American Glenn H. Curtiss, a motorcycle manufacturer at the time and who held the title “world’s fastest man”, having ridden his self-constructed motor bicycle around in the shortest time, and who was later awarded the Scientific American Trophy for the first official one-kilometre flight in the Western hemisphere, and who later became a world-renowned airplane manufacturer; Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, an official observer from the U.S. Federal government and the only person in the army who believed aviation was the future; Frederick W. Baldwin, the first Canadian and first British subject to pilot a public flight in Hammondsport, New York, and J.A.D. McCurdy —Baldwin and McCurdy being new engineering graduates from the University of Toronto.
The AEA’s work progressed to heavier-than-air machines, applying their knowledge of kites to gliders. Moving to Hammondsport, the group then designed and built the Red Wing, framed in bamboo and covered in red silk and powered by a small air-cooled engine. On March 12, 1908, over Keuka Lake, the biplane lifted off on the first public flight in North America.[N 30] [N 31] The innovations that were incorporated into this design included a cockpit enclosure and tail rudder (later variations on the original design would add ailerons as a means of control). One of the AEA’s inventions, a practical wingtip form of the aileron, was to become a standard component on all aircraft. [N 32] The White Wing and June Bug were to follow and by the end of 1908, over 150 flights without mishap had been accomplished. However, the AEA had depleted its initial reserves and only a $15,000 grant from Mrs. Bellallowed it to continue with experiments.
Their final aircraft design, the Silver Dart embodied all of the advancements found in the earlier machines. On February 23, 1909, Bell was present as the Silver Dart flown by J.A.D. McCurdy from the frozen ice of Bras d’Or, made the first aircraft flight in Canada. Bell had worried that the flight was too dangerous and had arranged for a doctor to be on hand. With the successful flight, the AEA disbanded and the Silver Dart would revert to Baldwin and McCurdy who began the Canadian Aerodrome Company and would later demonstrate the aircraft to the Canadian Army.
In 1936 the US Patent Office declared Bell first on its list of the country’s greatest inventors,leading to the US Post Office issuing a commemorative stamp honoring Bell in 1940 as part of its ‘Famous Americans Series’. The First Day of Issue ceremony was held on October 28 in Boston, Massachusetts, the city where Bell spent considerable time on research and working with the deaf. The Bell stamp became very popular and sold out in little time. The stamp became, and remains to this day, the most valuable one of the series.
The 150th anniversary of Bell’s birth in 1997 was marked by a special issue of commemorative £1 banknotes from the Royal Bank of Scotland. The illustrations on the reverse of the note include Bell’s face in profile, his signature, and objects from Bell’s life and career: users of the telephone over the ages; an audio wave signal; a diagram of a telephone receiver; geometric shapes from engineering structures; representations of sign language and the phonetic alphabet; the geese which helped him to understand flight; and the sheep which he studied to understand genetics.
Additionally, the Government of Canada honored Bell in 1997 with a C$100 gold coin, in tribute also to the 150th anniversary of his birth, and with a silver dollar coin in 2009 in honor of the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada. That first flight was made by an airplane designed under Dr. Bell’s tutelage, named the Silver Dart. Bell’s image, and also those of his many inventions have graced paper money, coinage and postal stamps in numerous countries worldwide for many dozens of years.