“Bird Man”

The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy ...
The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy at the controls, c. 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the anniversary of perhaps the biggest hoax in Canadian aviation.  J. A. D. McCurdy had flown the first airplane in Canada on February 23, 1909, at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.  Later in 1909, it was announced that Reginald Hunt of Edmonton had accomplished an even more remarkable feat.  Working alone, and without financial backing, he had built his own airplane and flown it over Edmonton for half an hour on September 7.  Newspapers published stories and pictures of Hunt’s exploit.

Actually, Hunt had made a balloon shaped like an airship, and not an airplane.  However, airplanes were so little known in 1909 that reporters called the airship an airplane, and the mistake was not discovered until years later when the National Research Council investigated.  There was also a picture of Hunt standing beside an airplane, but it turned out to be a French Farman, and not the balloon Hunt had flown.

McCurdy’s Silver Dart was built in the Curtiss bicycle workshop in Hammondsport, New York.  The honour of building the first airplane in Canada should go to William Wallace Gibson who was brought up on a farm near Regina.  He began building model airplanes in 1903 after reading that the Wright brothers had flown in the United States.  He devised a motor from the spring of a window-blind roller!

Gibson moved to Victoria, British Columbia, when he was twenty-seven and found a gold mine which he sold for $10,000.  He used this money to build a full-sized airplane, making every part by hand and using his own plans, although he had never had a lesson in drafting or engineering.  He even designed an unorthodox 50 horsepower engine and had it built by a Victoria machine shop.   It weighed 95 Kg (210 lbs.)  There were two propellers, one behind the other.  The pilot’s seat was an ordinary horse saddle!  Gibson’s plane took to the air on September 8, 1910, flew 60 Meters (200 feet) and crashed into an oak tree!  It was no mean feat.  The Wright brothers had flown only 64 Meters (210 feet) in their first try, and A. V. Roe in England flew less than one hundred.

If you would like to read about William Wallace Gibson, I highly suggest going to aumkleem’s blog for a comprehensive article.


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