Tag Archives: Colonel Fiset

Editors…Please check your facts and grammar!

airforce-magazineLast fall Air Force Magazine asked me to write a guest editorial in praise of Canada’s upcoming Centennial of Flight.

Any writer understands that such a piece will be edited. The editor has a tough job making sure that content meets standards, getting things to fit on the page, meeting the deadline, all sorts of things. When AFM hit the street, however, there were a few bugs in the guest editorial, as with the AEA being called the “Aeronautical Experiment Association”, which it was not – it’s the Aerial Experiment Association. Readers notice these thing. A few other glitches popped up, such as my word “airplanes” being changed to the odd form “aircrafts”. Such gaffs can be avoided if an editor gives the writer a chance to review an item before sending it to press.

We know that Air Force Magazine is short-staffed, but proof reading isn’t rocket science. Local volunteer proof readers easily could be found in the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, among Canadian War Museum retirees, folks at the Canada Aviation Museum, etc. With a bit of extra effort, a cleaner “product” would result.

For the record, here is what I originally submitted to AFM. You can read the published version in Vol.32 No.4.

Have fun! Larry Milberry

Editorial for Air Force Magazine 12-08

Any 100th anniversary calls for a celebration and that certainly goes for 2009—Canada’s Centennial of Flight. All through the year there will be opportunities to get involved and enjoy Canada’s coast-to-coast aviation heritage gala.

Although balloons had been flying in Canada since 1840, our first powered, heavier-than-air flight would have to await a particular “alignment” of such terms as AEA, J.A.D. McCurdy, Silver Dart and Baddeck. McCurdy belonged to the Aerial Experiment Association, established in Halifax in 1907. Heading the AEA was Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, whose other hand-picked associates were John “Casey” Baldwin and two important Americans — Glenn Hammond Curtiss and Thomas Selfridge.

In 1908 the AEA’s four unique airplanes made many flights at Curtiss’ Hammondsport, New York base. On March 12, 1908 Baldwin had become the first Canadian to fly any powered airplane, when he took up the Red Wing. McCurdy flew the Silver Dart on December 6. (We now appreciate how seminal Curtiss’ role was in all this — there would have been no Silver Dart without him.)

In February 1909 the Silver Dart was shipped to Beinn Bhreagh, Dr. Bell’s Cape Breton Island home on Bras d’Or Lake near Baddeck. Here, on February 23 McCurdy would make Canadian history. That frosty afternoon, he took his seat on the Silver Dart – his handsome but frail little biplane. Within minutes he had successfully completed a short flight off the ice before a crowd of onlookers. Dr. Bell immediately sent out a telegram: “McCurdy flew Silver Dart one mile and a half in great style.” As simple an event as this may have seemed, the following century in aviation would be Canada’s.

On April 29, 1909 Casey Baldwin spoke at the University of Toronto about the AEA, how flying really was no more dangerous than driving a motor car, and how aviation was sure to find its place. Soon he and McCurdy had the Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa to give the Canadian Militia its first airplane demonstration. After three successful flights on August 2, the pair decided to fly together. Unhappily, they cracked up on landing. One reporter explained how “The plucky aviators were not dangerously injured and are full of enthusiasm.” Baldwin added, “We are immensely pleased with our morning’s work, although we are sorry to lose the Silver Dart… It was our first machine and we had come to regard it in a personal light.” The ruins of the Silver Dart were picked over by souvenir hunters, Baldwin lamenting,  “Every Tommy in camp has a souvenir splinter.” What remained of the plane was burned.

The Baddeck team now assembled its back-up machine, Baddeck No.1. When Baldwin and McCurdy announced that they would fly it across the nearby Ottawa River, the press called this “perilous”. When the 42-hp engine recovered from the Silver Dart was tested on Baddeck No.1, the Toronto Daily Star demonstrated how everything is relative: “When the great engine commenced to work last night, it could be heard for miles… The strength of four men was required to hold the machine down while the propeller was working.”

On August 12 the Militia gathered at Petawawa to watch Baddeck No.1 perform. In his public comments, Colonel Fiset was skeptical, describing airplanes as  “too expensive a luxury”, adding that Canada would wait “to see what England will do … you cannot expect a young country like Canada to strike out and adopt an airship policy.” Fiset may have felt vindicated when, that same evening, McCurdy pranged Baddeck No.1. Soon McCurdy and company were back in Baddeck contemplating their futures. As it turned out, Baldwin would continue doing test and development in Dr. Bell’s laboratory and shops. McCurdy went into exhibition flying, racing and setting records. In January 1911, for instance, he made the first flight from Florida to Havana.

The AEA had put Canada on the aeronautical map. Come the First World War and its reputation grew further, 22,000 Canadians serving in the British air services. Many died in training and combat, and the nation’s first great air heroes became household names. Postwar, Canada adapted airplanes for many peaceful uses, then had to go to war again in 1939.

Over the decades Canada’s aircraft industry has introduced many renowned designs. Beginning in 1924 with the Vedette, it progressed to the Norseman, Beaver, CF-105, Argus and Challenger. Today, Canada is revelling in a “Golden Age” of aerospace with such incomparable products as the Bombardier Q400 and CRJ-1000, the Canadarm at work on the International Space Station, and Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines powering aircraft all around the world.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of their predecessors, Canadian aviators continue to stand out. At any moment they might be doing circuits in a “One Fifty” at the flying club, monitoring CRT displays on the flight deck of a long-haul “Triple Seven”, bucking crosswinds in a Twin Otter on final at some Arctic strip, going at each other in Hornets out of Bagotville, delivering a C-17 load of supplies to Kandahar, flying a Cormorant on a dangerous SAR mission, even training in Houston for an ISS mission. Simply put, the historic “Day One” that we return to in explaining all this good stuff is February 23, 1909. So … this year be sure to enjoy some of Canada’s Centennial of Flight events. If you get the chance, see the Silver Dart replica in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, and all the displays at the superb Curtiss Museum in Hammonsport. You won’t be disappointed.

Larry Milberry,
Member, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame

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