OTD: British Empire’s first flight takes place in Baddeck, N.S.

On today’s date in 1909, Canada took flight – the first controlled powered flight in the British Empire – when John McCurdy flew the Silver Dart from an icy bay in Baddeck, N.S.

In 1959, on the 50th anniversary of this first flight, Canada’s Post Office Department (known as Canada Post since 1981) issued a five-cent Silver Dart stamp (Scott #383). During the “Canadian Centenary of Flight” in 2009, Canada Post honoured the Canadian aeronautical achievement with another domestic-rate stamp (SC #2317).

Designed in Hammondsport, N.Y., by the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), a group of flight enthusiasts chosen by Alexander Graham Bell, the Silver Dart was the group’s fourth “aerodrome” (as Bell called the experimental aircraft). The Dart’s maiden Canadian flight took place on Feb. 23, 1909, and was piloted by McCurdy, then a young engineer and AEA member.

Flying for less than a kilometre at an elevation of no more than nine metres and a speed of 65 km/h, the Silver Dart was the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to take flight in Canada. The experiment marked the British Empire’s first controlled powered flight.

The 2009 stamp commemorates the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada by depicting the delicate open-air plane made from cloth, sticks and bamboo flying off the ice of Bras d’Or Lake in Baddeck with four people waving at the pilot.

In 2009, the Dart was featured on another Canadian stamp (official first-day cover shown) during the ‘Canadian Centenary of Flight.’

2009 OFDC

Oddly, the first-day cover for the 2009 stamp shows the pilot at the controls of a 1911 McCurdy Biplane—not the Silver Dart.

The Silver Dart flew more than 200 times before being retired during military trials in Petawawa later that year. The engine was eventually restored and is now on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

A full-scale model of the Silver Dart can be seen at the Canada Aviation and Museum in Ottawa.

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