Canada’s First Airmen
The dramatic story of Canada's pioneers of the air who designed and built the first successful flying machines constructed in the British Empire and made the first public aeroplane flight in North America
THE scene is laid in the beautiful country of lakes, hills and bays surrounding Baddeck, Cape Breton,
the time December 6, 1907. A powerful steamboat, belching forth black clouds
of smoke as she strives to increase her speed, races along the silvery waters of Bras d’Or Lake. High above floats a gigantic kite, carrying the first man ever to leave the ground in Canada. For some few minutes the astounded natives of the district watch the batlike figure float in the sky. then the speed of the boat slackens, the kite slowly glides lower and lower, until it finally comes to rest in a perfect landing on the surface of the lake—and history has been made.
That first kite flight of a few minutes, made almost twenty-four years ago. was only a forerunner of bigger things waiting to be accomplished by an obscure group working quietly in an out-of-the-way corner of the Dominion with but one single-minded purpose, that of “getting a man into the air” in a flying machine.
Four years before, the Wright brothers had made the first flight in an airplane of their own construction, but in the intervening years little progress in flight had been made. The part played by Canada and Canadians in the history of aviation has been more or less overlooked, possibly because the experiments made at Baddeck were not in any way a commercial project, but more likely because Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, leader of the group, gained so much fame through his other inventions, chief of which was the telephone, that his and his associates’ work for the advancement of aviation was overshadowed.
A few of the achievements of this group of brilliant men, each an expert in his own line, gives some idea of the place its members hold in both Canadian and world aviation history. One of the group, F. W. Baldwin, made the first
public flight of an airplane in North America. Baldwin was also the first Canadian and the seventh man in the world to fly. He was also the first citizen of the British Empire to fly. The first plane constructed by the Baddeck group took the air March 12. 1908, with Baldwin as pilot, whereas the first flight in Great Britain was that of A. V. Roe at Brooklands on June 8, 1908.
Another of the Baddeck group, J. A. D. McCurdy, made the first flight in Canada as well as the first flight over open sea in America, from Key West to Cuba.
Still another was the first man in the world to be killed in the crash of a flying machine. A fourth member, on his first attempt to fly, created a world’s distance record. Several of the group’s inventions, notably ailerons, are used as standard parts of present day airplanes.
How Bell Came To Baddeck
LOCATION of the experiments in Cape Breton was partly J the result of an accident. Several years before he became interested in aviation Dr. Bell was returning with his wife from a trip to Europe when the ship on which they were
sailing was driven ashore and wrecked off the rocky coast of Cape Breton. Both were brought to shore safely, and were returning overland through Nova Scotia to New York when by chance they stopped one day for lunch at Baddeck. Strolling through the pretty little village after lunch, Dr. Bell noticed a name over the general store, “McCurdy.” As his wife’s maiden name was McCurdy, Bell decided to enter and make the storekeeper’s acquaintance. Mr. McCurdy told about the incident afterward.
His telephone, the only one in Baddeck at that time, ran from his store to his house, about half a mile away. It was none too reliable in the early days, and on this particular day all he could hear was a buzzing sound. He did all he could to repair it, but had just about lost patience when he looked up and saw a big, bearded man peering in through
PERCY T. COLE
the front window. When the stranger saw that he was observed, he entered.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked.
“The telephone is out of order again,” McCurdy replied.
"Perhaps I can help you out of that difficulty,” the bearded stranger offered, and although the storekeeper had certain misgivings, he surrendered the instrument. Bell put the receiver to his ear, listened for a moment, and then unscrewed it. From its inner recesses he picked out a small fly, screwed the receiver together again, and the telephone was fixed.
“How is it that you know so much about these things?” asked McCurdy in amazement.
He was even more amazed when Bell answered: “If anyone should know anything about telephones, I should.
I’m the man who made them.”
From this casual encounter grew a strong friendship between Dr. Bell and McCurdy, Sr., which ripened through the years. This friendship, coupled with admiration for Cape Breton’s scenery and climate, ultimately resulted in Dr. Bell building a summer home near Baddeck which he called Beinn Bhreagh.
In 1903, Dr. Bell went to Washington to see S. P. Langley, of the Smithsonian Institute, attempt his first flight. Langley’s plane was intended to be launched from a device somewhat similar to the catapults used for launching planes from warships, but the machine stuck on the launching quays and fell into the Potomac River. Langley was heartbroken. The newspapers of the day said harsh things in criticism of his flying machine, and no doubt the disappointment hastened his death a short time afterward. Dr. Bell returned home, and from that day became greatly interested in aviation. He believed that eventually he could build a machine somewhat similar to a kite but fitted with a motor, big enough and stable enough to carry a man. He already had a well equipped laboratory at Beinn Bhreagh, and it was here that most of his hundreds of experiments with kites and flying machines were carried out.
As the experiments proceeded. Dr. Bell found that he needed technical assistance. It so happened that storekeeper McCurdy’s son, John, was a student of engineering at Toronto. The fates having so conspired, the young engineering student was elected to fill the need, and thus it was that John Alexander Douglas McCurdy got the chance that enabled him to achieve a prominent place in the development of aviation.
Bell And His Assistants
YT’OUNG McCurdy graduated in engineering from the
_ University of Toronto in 1906, and at once returned to his home at Baddeck to participate in Dr. Bell’s work at his laboratory. One of McCurdy’s bosom chums at college had been F. W. “Casey” Baldwin, a Toronto boy whose football exploits are still recounted both among present-day students and those of his own college days.
“Casey,” whose father was not living, was a grandson of Hon. Robert Baldwin, Premier of Canada before Confederation and one of the founders of this Dominion. Even then young Baldwin displayed promise of pre-eminent ability in engineering lines.
McCurdy invited his friend to Baddeck on a summer visit, and while there he, too, became an associate and friend of Dr.
As Dr. Bell said at the time: ‘These young men afford the necessary technical engineering ability to decide whether my structures are built along sound engineering lines. I have found that my knowledge of these matters is not thoroughly sufficient for my purpose.”
The Canadian Government, at that time scepti-
cal of the practicability of flying, could not be interested in the experiments, but the United States War Department assigned Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, of the 1st U. S. Field Artillery, to observe Dr. Bell's tests and to assist in any way possible. Selfridge had made an exhaustive study of aeronautics and was well qualified to observe and report on the success or failure of the experiments.
In his search to find the right man to build the motor for his flying machine. Dr. Bell could hardly have failed to become well acquainted with Glen H. Curtiss. This man, a native of the prosperous and picturesque old town of Hammondsport, New York, near Buffalo and Niagara Falls on beautiful Keuka Lake, within a few years had turned a small bicycle shop into a thriving factory manufacturing motorcycles, in the three buildings of which ninety workmen were employed. With its ideal seclusion, Hammondsport proved itself an especially fertile ground for aeronautical
ideas, and the light and strong Curtiss motor was early valued as a motive power for airships. It is still used in many of the present-day airplanes.
In the summer of 1907 Dr. Bell summoned Mr. Curtiss to Beinn Bhreagh. Hardly had he reached the place and made the acquaintance of McCurdy and Baldwin than Selfridge arrived.
"There w'ere,” Dr. Bell said afterward, “living in my home; myself, an elderly man, surrounded by brilliant young men, each an expert in his own line. We became very friendly . . . My wife said, ‘Why don’t you form an association? I will put up the money to finance it.’ ”
So, with a working capital of $20,000 contributed by Mrs. Bell, who to the end took a keen interest in all the experiments, the Aerial Experiment Association was formed in October, 1907. Dr. Bell himself was well-to-do financially from his many other inventions, but the money Mrs. Bell put up was her own, obtained from the sale of a parcel of land which had been left her, so that credit for Canada playing such an important part in the history of early aviation must be given to a woman.
The object of the association was to “get a man into the air.” Dr. Bell was chairman, Glen H. Curtiss director of experiments, F. W. Baldwin chief engineer. J. A. D. McCurdy treasurer, and Lieutenant Selfridge carried out the duties of secretary.
It was agreed that each member of the association should design a machine to fly, and that the group as a whole should construct the machines so designed. The work of construction was carried on alternately at Beinn Bhreagh and Hammondsport, as was convenient. At the outset activity centred around the building of man-kites and gliders, but this effort was but preliminary to the main task of the Aerial Experimental Association, the designing and construction of a motor-
Continued on page 46
Continued from page 7
driven machine that would support a man in the air.
The association was to dissolve one year after being formed unless it was continued by the unanimous vote of the members, and it actually did continue for one year and six months; after which time, as their avowed object of “getting a man into the air” had been accomplished and Dr. Bell refused to enter into any commercial proposition, the association was reluctantly dissolved.
Each week during the life of the association bulletins were issued telling of the work accomplished during the past week. Photographs were also taken of many of the experiments and incorporated in the bulletins. It was from the collection of these bulletins, now in the possession of J. A. D. McCurdy, that this article, with its accompanying photographs, was written. Mr. McCurdy’s set of the books is one of two now in existence, the other being kept in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
Experiments With Kites
WHAT the villagers of Baddeck and natives of the country must have thought of a group of full-grown men who spent most of their time building and flying kites can only be imagined. No doubt their thoughts were far from complimentary, for to the average person of those days anyone who declared openly that he thought man would soon conquer the air was looked at more or less askance. Dr. Bell’s experiments with kites had led him to the conclusion that flat-surfaced structures could not be made stable enough to carry a man. He accordingly turned his attention to a tetrahedral kite built up with a complicated arrangement of triangular cells. To describe it accurately would be a real problem, but at a distance of several yards it looked like an overgrown bank of country store post-office boxes with the triangular cells taking the place of the mail-holding pigeon holes.
The cells were made of light wood and silk, and a space was reserved in the exact centre where the pilot lay stretched out at full length. When a gust of wind struck the kite, he was supposed to shift his weight in such a manner that the whole thing would come back on an even keel. Similarly, if the nose pointed downward the operator shifted his weight backward, bringing the nose up level again. This method of operation seemed all right in theory, but in actual flight the cramped quarters and the fact that the operator’s vision was obscured in every direction except straight ahead by the yards and yards of silk cells made control almost impossible. The first flight on December 6, 1907, described at the outset of this article, ended fortunately, but the second resulted in the smashing of the structure beyond repair. The blame for the unfortunate failure of this last flight can be placed on the fact that the operator, Lieutenant Selfridge, could not see how close he was getting to the water.
The method evolved by Dr. Bell to get this kite into the air was unique in itself. First he placed the huge structure on a flatbottomed, scowlike boat known as a catamaran, and then Selfridge climbed into the narrow niche which was the operator’s place. A line was thrown from the catamaran— called the Ugly Duckling—to the steamer Blue Hill which was to do the towing. The line was attached firmly to a block on the steamer and to a point on the front of the kite which had been named the Cygnet. Away went the steamer, heading into the wind; while Selfridge, making his second attempt to leave Mother Earth, waited for the jerk which would tell him he had risen from the Ugly Duckling’s deck.
At a speed of little more than twelve miles an hour, the Cygnet took to the air like a bird, and in a few seconds had soared to a height of 168 feet. There it floated, while spectators both on shore and on the Blue Hill gasped with amazement to think
that a man, even as one of them, was riding in the queer looking contraption.
Selfridge, cooped up in his small compartment of silk, was to undergo in the next few minutes, however, a terrifying experience. Unable to see the water, he failed to observe that he was gradually floating lower. A sailor with an axe had been stationed beside the block to which was fastened the tow rope on the Blue Hill, with orders to cut the rope in an emergency, but so engrossed did he become in the flight that he forgot all about his orders. Finally the Cygnet reached the water, but now was entirely obscured from the view of those on the Blue Hill by the heavy smoke coming from the steamer. The ship raced on, dragging the fragile Cygnet through the choppy water, tearing it to pieces and leaving Selfridge struggling to extricate himself from the folds of silk which hampered his efforts to escape drowning.
Orders, shouts and exclamations of dismay rang out aboard the Blue Hill, but when finally the rope was cut and a small boat set out to rescue Selfridge, the plucky young air pioneer had worked himself away from the wreckage and was swimming around, waiting to be picked up. The water in the immediate vicinity was littered with the demolished fragments of what had been a soaring bird a few minutes before, and it was so badly demolished that no attempt to repair it was made. Selfridge was uninjured and his iron nerves were unshaken by his experience, the first of a long line of similar accidents which were the lot of the four younger members of the association in their efforts to conquer the air. No further attempts to fly this type of kite were made until late in the spring of 1909, and at that time little more success was achieved, possibly because interest was centred in the flying machines which had been successfully
Another peculiar structure which flew was a ring kite, although no model large enough to carry a man was made. Nothing more aptly describes this kite than its name, but in flight it looked like a huge automobile inner tube. It was twelve feet in diameter, and had a small rudder or tail. Several times the ring kite was sent up, and it flew fairly steadily and at high altitude. It finally came to grief when it crashed on its side, much the same as the ordinary boy’s kite has a habit of doing. This was only one of a large number of kites invented by Dr. Bell, and much of the information gleaned from their construction went into the building of the first airplanes.
The next shock of any importance to the villagers, who were now becoming immune to anything the experimenters did, was a real one, and for days the scene of activities was lined with appreciative observers. The subject of all this interest was that fascinating sport, gliding. A light, biplaned structure which fitted over the shoulders but permitted the operator’s feet to remain free so that he could run, had been made. This was taken to the top of one of the steep hills surrounding Baddeck where the trials began.
Down the steep slope would come the glider enthusiast, racing like mad to get up enough speed so that the apparatus would carry him instead of him carrying the apparatus. Finally, when a high enough speed was reached, the operator would leap into the air, draw up his knees and go whizzing down the slope, perhaps touching
his feet again thirty feet farther on, or, as he became more expert, negotiating the whole length of the hill before he ended his flight. If he was an expert and lucky, he usually landed right side up. If he happened to be just an expert but not lucky he was just as likely to end up in a heap and arise, carefully feeling himself for broken bones. All the members who tried the gliding experiments were fortunate, however, and no more serious injuries than bruised shins, scratched bodies and a certain amount of tom clothes were suffered.
America’s First Public Flight
ONE of the main difficulties encountered was the time lost and money spent in repairing breakages to practically all experimental equipment constructed. Everything that went into the building of the kites, airplanes and boats used by the association, with the exception of the motors, was made at the Bell laboratory at Baddeck. For this reason, the fact that they constructed reasonably safe craft seems all the more remarkable. They worked out their own designs for planes, then took them up in the air and, daily carrying their lives in their hands, observed what happened under certain conditions. Each man’s experiences in the air were carefully tabulated.
March 12, 1908, was a momentous day for “Casey” Baldwin, for the Aerial Experiment Association, and for several hundred spectators who, hearing the news that a flying machine was to take the air at Lake Keuka, near Hammondsport, had come out in full force. The flight in itself was unique in many ways. In the first place, it was the first public flight of a flying machine in North America, as the earlier flights of the Wright Brothers had been made privately. At Dayton, Ohio, even newspapermen had to be content to watch from a distance of two miles away from the field. In addition, it was the occasion of the first flight ever made by a Canadian, Baldwin being credited with being the first Canadian, the fourth man in America and the seventh in the world, to fly.
Keuka Lake was frozen solid, but there was no snow on the ice. Baldwin, as chief engineer of the association, had been given the honor of making the first flight. The plane, which had been designed by Selfridge, was named the Red Wing because of the color of the wing covering. Dr. Bell always gave fairly characteristic names to his apparatus, and he suggested this name. The Red Wing had been fitted with iron sleigh runners to facilitate its progress along the ice, while Bell, Curtiss, Selfridge and McCurdy, as well as several of the factory workers, were on ice skates. The first flight almost failed to materialize because, on starting the engine, the plane started off . over the ice with no one inside to control it. Fortunately the plane headed away from shore, and although it actually did leave the ice twice, it rose only a foot or two and then settled back again without doing any damage. The pursuers on skates finally caught up to the runaway, hauled it back to the original starting point, and after the motor was inspected and given a liberal dose of oil, the trial was resumed.
Baldwin took his seat, while Curtiss, who had started the motor, hung around it, nursing it along until he was sure it was warm enough to develop all of its power. In the meantime, several men grasped the wings to hold it back till Baldwin signalled he was ready.
After testing all the controls, the men holding the wings heard the welcome signal, “Let go,” from Baldwin, the little Red Wing gathered speed, and in a few seconds was roaring over the ice. For 150 feet she raced, then Baldwin pulled her nose off the ice, she took to the air like a swooping sea gull and floated along at a general elevation of from tan to twenty feet for an actual measured distance of 319 feet. As far as control of the plane was concerned, Baldwin could have flown farther, but the motor had become overheated due to the intense strain and had stopped. Baldwin was luckier than some of his confrères on his first flight, as
there was no wind blowing. Otherwise, it is more than likely that this first flight would have ended in the machine being smashed, as at that time the “little wings,” or ailerons which give lateral control, had not been invented. Had a gust of wind struck the Red Wing sideways, as later happened, he could hardly have righted it in time to avert a crash.
Newspapers of the day for the most part gave credit to Captain Baldwin, the noted balloonist, for making this flight, but this was an error. Captain Baldwin was to some extent associated with Dr. Bell and was a frequent visitor both at Baddeck and Hammondsport. but he was not a member of the association. Captain Baldwin was the inventor of a special airtight rubberized cloth which was later used on the wings of McCurdy’s Silver Dart.
The Red Wing lasted as a flying machine for exactly five days. On March 17 Baldwin, attempting to fly it again while a quartering breeze was blowing, upset on the ice, completely demolishing the wings and damaging the motor. As Curtiss had been working on a new motor, however, this latter loss was not so keenly felt. Baldwin escaped with a few scratches, but the lesson learned from this crash was one which finally led to the invention of ailerons, giving really stable lateral control.
A World’s Record of 339 Yards
CLIGHTLY under two months was the ^ time taken for the building of the second plane, known as the While Wing. Into it went all the skill and care of the five members of the association, although the actual designs were drawn by Baldwin, and it was accordingly known as his plane. The actual work of construction was in charge of William F. Bedwin, superintendent of Dr. Bell's Baddeck plant, who had been brought to Hammondsport because of his experience in aeronautical construction gained by making kites for Dr. Bell. Curtiss's new engine, specially designed for the White Wing, was ready by May, and on the thirteenth day of that month, in 1908, the White Wing was ready to make her initial bid for supremacy over the air.
Hammondsport race track had been chosen as the smoothest piece of land from which to make the attempt, and the White Wing had been fitted with bicycle wheels to facilitate moving along the ground. The race track, however, proved hardly wide enough for the purpose, as the outside edge was raised and caught one wing.
What to do was the burning problem.
“Tear out the fence on the inside of the track and make the area large enough for the plane to escape contact with the raised edges,” was Baldwin’s and McCurdy’s suggestion.
"Try flying from the infield.” advised Selfridge and Curtiss, and finally the latter plan was adopted. Dr. Bell holding the “balance of power” which decided the question.
But the uneven, grassy plot of ground inside the track proved much too rough for the light undercarriage of the plane, which promptly gave way before Baldwin, -who was in the driver's seat, could make much headway. The plane was accordingly hauled back to the tent that served as a hangar, and workmen at once started to replace the light wheels with heavier ones and to attach them more firmly than before.
The White Wing can really be looked back upon as the means by which three of the four fledglings— Dr. Bell never made an attempt to fly—first fluttered their wings and left the ground. Baldwin previous to this time had made two flights. One ended successfully, but in the second the plane had crashed and he was fortunate to escape without injury. Selfridge. Curtiss and McCurdy knew how to work the controls of the plane, but as yet had never left the ground in a flying machine. Selfridge, because of his experience in flying the kite Cygnet the year before, was the next one to test his skill as an aviator.
For his first trial. Selfridge made no attempt to get off the ground, being content to steer around the field. He had trouble
in making the plane go where he desired, however, so a third wheel was attached at the front, by means of which it could be steered on the ground. Baldwin was the first one to take the White Wing off the ground, which he did on May 18. five days after the first unsuccessful trial. He covered a distance of about ninety-three yards at a height of some ten feet, the controls responded to his slightest touch, and had it not been for a slight accident he might have made a record for the time.
“I’m sure she would have flown for several minutes,” Baldwin declared on landing, “only the elastic rear edge of the lower wing was fouling the propeller, so I came down.” The pressure of the air on the wdng was given as the reason for the fouling, but the little damage done was easily repaired.
A little thing like fouling the propeller seemed to be regarded lightly in those days, for next day Selfridge took the White Wing up for the first time, and the flight ended when “loose wires fouled the propeller," as the bulletin of the week’s activities points out. No further details are given.
Glen Curtiss, on his first flight in the White Wing, established a world’s distance record for that time of 339 yards. It took him nineteen seconds, so he flew at the rate of thirty-seven miles per hour. He described the flight as follows:
“As usual, half a dozen workmen held on the wings until the motor was developing her full power. Then they let go, and the plane shot down the field for a distance of about one hundred and fifty feet. I pulled back on the elevator control and she sailed into the air. She seemed to me to be climbing too steeply, however, so I pushed her nose down sharply. As is usually the case with an inexperienced operator, I overdid it and had to again pull back sharply to keep from smashing into the ground. I found out afterward that the wheels touched the ground in the middle of the flight. However, she climbed to a height of about ten feet and ran beautifully for another 134 yards. In the first stage of the flight the plane travelled 205 yards.
“At all times the controls worked perfectly and the plane answered without a hitch, and in my opinion all that holds us back from much longer flights now is the inexperience of the operator. That will, of course, come in time; and when it does we will be making flights of an hour or more.”
It is interesting to note the reactions of these pioneer airmen to flying. Baldwin's and Selfridge’s interest for the most part was in the actual plane itself; to them the engine was only a necessary incidental. Curtiss, a manufacturer of engines primarily, was just the opposite. McCurdy, who now was the only member not to have flown, was keenly interested in all phases of the craft; so much so. in fact, that he made airplanes and their manufacture his lifework.
"V/T c CURDY’S first flight was almost his -*-Y-L last. He flew for a distance of 183 yards at a height of about twenty feet and crashed on landing. Observers on the ground stated that the cause of the crash was that “he failed to correct with his lateral controls the effect of the quartering wind which was blowing.” He, therefore, tilted over on the side and struck with the right wing first. There was a terrific sound of rending fabric and framework, a column of dust arose, and those on the ground rushed to the spot, expecting to find the youthful flyer badly hurt. Instead, he was sitting on the ground, a little removed from the plane, calmly feeling himself all over to see whether any bones were broken. He was unhurt, but the plane was demolished. So badly was it wrecked that no attempt was made to repair it. The motor stayed in its bed, and was removed intact. After a little adjusting, it ran as well as ever.
McCurdy explains and describes his first flight in one of the association bulletins, and is quick to defend himself from any criticism as to his failure to right the plane with the lateral controls.
“It was a comparatively calm day, the wind only coming in puffs, but it was
through one of these puffs that the machine met its Waterloo. Curtiss started the engine, and, as in previous trials, the plane was held by half a dozen men till the engine was developing its full power. She then ran along the ground and left it so smoothly that I didn’t realize we were in the air.
“The machine took a slight turn to the left and then curved round to the right. The wind blew about on the left quarter, and as she turned to the right another puff elevated the left wing, depressing the right so much that it caught in the grass. I leaned to the high side with the idea of adjusting the tips so that a righting could be produced, but as I was sitting too far forward, my back failed to engage the lever which operates the tips and so no righting result was produced.
"As the right wing struck the ground, the machine pivoted, and the nose swung round and dug into the ground. I was deposited gently and without much of a jar on the ground. The machine turned a complete somersault almost over me, but left me free of the debris.’’
Another near accident which occurred at the start of the same flight was observed by only a few though it might have had serious results. Lieutenant Selfridge, who had already been in several tight comers, was the principal, but again by his quick thinking and daring he cheated the death which finally caught up to him when he was killed while flying as a passenger with one of the Wright brothers.
Before the flight started Selfridge and his dog were standing directly in the path the machine would take in its race along the race track, so that Selfridge could note the exact time the machine left the ground and also mark the spot for further reference. So swiftly did the machine gather speed coming down the track, however, that Selfridge did not have time to get out of the way, and his presence of mind warned him that his only chance to escape was to lie flat on the ground. McCurdy stated later that he saw the dog scurry off through the grass, but did not realize he had flown directly over Selfridge at a height certainly not over three feet from the ground.
Winning The First Trophy
■pOLLOWING the destruction of the L White Wing, the attention of the experimenters centred on the next plane, Curtiss’s June Bug. So successful was this machine that after preliminary tests, during which Curtiss, its designer, became extremely adept at handling it, the members decided to challenge for the Scientific American Cup at that time the only official contest for airplanes in the world. Conditions of the test were that the flying machine must fly a distance of one mile in a straight line. The enthusiasm of the members can be seen in the following wire, sent to Dr. Bell who had been in Toronto on a visit and was returning to Baddeck.
To Alexander Graham Bell,
Prescott, Ont., or Kingston, care of steamboat Toronto of B.-O. Steamboat Line, which left Toronto today at 2 p.m. for Montreal, and if too late to catch boat repeat to Windsor Hotel, Montreal, Que.
“Hammondsport, New York, June
25, 1908. Curtiss flew 1140 yards in sixty seconds this evening about 7.30. We have telegraphed and telephoned secretary Aero Club of America that we are now ready to try for the Scientific American Cup. Hurrah! —Selfridge.’’
On July 4, 1908, in view of several hundred spectators at Hammondsport, the June Bug earned the right to have its name inscribed first on the Scientific American Trophy. Glen Curtiss, designer of the plane, piloted it, and, as he said, “could have continued the flight after the measured mile had I wanted to, but to do this would have meant flying over the trees which surrounded the field, and I did not deem it wise to do this at the present stage of my flying development.”
This flight was of the utmost importance, as it was the first official test of an airplane ever made in America, and there were only two other machines which had flown farther in public, Farman’s and Delagrange’s. The Wrights, though, had undoubtedly far outflown it in private.
In addition to the residents of Hammondsport, many experimenters from other places were present to watch the trials, some hoping the machine would prove successful, and others rather openly sneering at it. Some of the comments of the spectators are interesting, especially a letter from Mrs. David Fairchild, Dr. Bell’s daughter, to her
“. . .In spite of all I had read and heard, and all the photographs I had seen, the actual sight of a man flying through the air was thrilling to a degree that I can’t express.
“We all lost our heads and shouted, and 1 cried and everybody cheered and clapped, and engines tooted. Mr. Post was there, and Mr. Hawley, vice-president of the Aero Club, Mr. Herring, Captain Baldwin, the balloonist, Mr. Lake of submarine interests, and Mr. — (a rival experimenter) a very nasty, grumpy individual who, however, was not able to interfere with anyone’s enthusiasm. All sorts of pictures were taken, and the air was full of the click-click of shutters. There were moving picture cameras and kodaks of all sizes.
“At the first flight I was at the comer of the road nearest the vineyard with Douglas (McCurdy) and David (Mrs. Fairchild’s husband) was at the starting line. The machine rose beautifully and flew by us but didn’t quite make the mile. It was flying pretty high and Mr. Curtiss wanted to bring her down a little, but she didn't answer her controls quickly, and when he got her down he could not get her up again. Nothing was hurt, however, and all hands towed her back to the starting point for the second attempt. Mrs. Curtiss and I chose our stand on an old log at the far side of the potato patch. The first flight had raised excitement to the boiling point, and as Mr. Curtiss flew over the red flag which marked the finish and went on his way toward the trees, I don’t think any of us knew quite what we were doing. One lady was so absorbed as not to hear a train coming, and was struck by the engine and had two ribs broken.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles by Mr. Cole on Canada’s first airmen. The second will appear in an early issue.