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Chapter II -- The Canadian Aerodrome Company


On March 21, 1909 Alexander Graham Bell dictated a note explaining the future endeavors of the remaining members of the Aerial Experiment Association. In his note he explains that is was predetermined that the AEA would dissolve on March 31, 1909.

It was never the intention of the AEA to enter into the commercial field. These commercial ventures would be left for companies specially designed for that purpose.

Curtiss already had plans to enter into the commercial field in the United States. He had already secured the financial backing and started the Herring-Curtiss Company within the year.

Dr. Bell proposed that the remaining AEA members, F.W. (Casey) Baldwin and John Arthur Douglas McCurdy should form their own aerodrome company as soon as the AEA ceased operations. Further, he offered the two men sufficient money to start up and construct two aerodromes and this money would be returned upon the completion of their first sale. By April 5, 1909 Bell had embraced the name for this new company, the Canadian Aerodrome Company.

McCurdy and Baldwin also required the backing of the Canadian government to establish this new industry in Canada. This backing would come in the form of orders of two aerodromes, the first to cost $15,000 and the second costing $10,000. The aerodromes would be built in Baddeck and would emulate the Silver Dart.

This would be the first enterprise of this type in the British Empire. McCurdy and Baldwin were concerned with the complexion of their company, they wanted it to be strictly Canadian and therefore accessible to both Canadian and British markets. Dr. Bell cautioned them to proceed slowly and pay close attention to the litigation between Curtiss and the Wrights. In the event Curtiss did not obtain clear title to the AEA patents, Bell foresaw similar headaches and delays for McCurdy and Baldwin.

The headquarters for the Canadian Aerodrome Company were established at Beinn Bhreagh. They used the building formerly known as the 'Kite House' as well as the field near by for their testing grounds. Their staff was comprised of seven local men: Mr. Kenneth Ingraham (foreman), Murdock Ferguson, John MacLean, Malcolm Doherty, A.D. MacRae (Bentic Farm), A.D. MacRae, and W.C. MacRae (Big Farm). Each man developed his own special skills and as time went on they became experts in their field of work.

The next phase of operation was the actual construction of their aerodromes. Baldwin and McCurdy decided to adopt the general design of the Silver Dart as their model. Their plan included building a prototype to be used for marketing purposes.

One of the companies greatest departures was in the use of hollowed metal ribs (as seen above) which gave them three distinct advantages:

  1. Greater strength due to the depth of the rib. As well as the durability of metal.
  2. Two layers of cloth could completely enclose the ribs.
  3. They would provide a space wherein the horizontal diagonal wires could be placed and thus hidden from sight and reducing head resistance.
The company selected a No. 10 grade cloth used to make boat sails in racing crafts, instead of the specially prepared silk which they had used previously. This new material was very light and strong. It was impervious to wind and was much more durable. Another structural change came with the wing tips. They took the triangular shape of the Silver Dart's tips and curved the back edge. This innovation afforded for almost twice the area.

After searching through the motor factories in Canada and the United States, they decided upon a Kirkham motor which was manufactured at Bath, New York. Baldwin selected a 40 hp engine but requested that it be constructed with a chrome steel crank shaft and aluminum casings. They figured these alterations would reduce the total weight of the engine to 320 lbs. The motor cost $500. A few days before the motor was to be delivered, Baldwin travelled to Bath to test it. He was completely satisfied and had it shipped to Petawawa, Ontario where he and McCurdy on the invitation of the Canadian Militia, would exhibit their product.

In general the administration of the Canadian Armed Forces (Militia) were not far sighted enough to realize the potential of aerodromes. However, one young Major who was the Director of Engineering Services knew that Canada could not pass up the opportunity to jump into this new technologically advanced industry. Upon hearing of the Canadian Aerodrome Company, Major Maunsell immediately contacted McCurdy and Baldwin and extended to them his assistance. It was through Major Maunsell that the CAC received their invitation.

On the last weekend of July the Silver Dart was shipped from Cape Breton to the Petawawa Military Camp. Once there, it was unpacked and re-assembled with the new Kirkham engine as its power plant.

The Dart was ready for testing on the second day of August and made three successful flights over the field at the military base. They were each approximately one kilometre in duration. On the first flight McCurdy was the aviator and on the second flight Casey flew as a passenger. On the third flight McCurdy had Willie Macdonald of Baddeck as his passenger. When they attempted a fourth flight McCurdy and Baldwin hit a knoll in the field. It was quite evident that the terrain of the military base was unsuitable for testing aircraft but no one in the militia had any experience in this new field. The Silver Dart was damaged beyond repair but McCurdy and Baldwin escaped with only minor injuries.

The two decided to concentrate on the Baddeck No.I and let the Dart rest in peace. The Baddeck I had just arrived the Saturday before so they began the assembly procedure. The final step in getting the craft ready was installing the engine. They took the motor out of the Dart and installed it in their new aerodrome. Canada's first real successful airplane's career had ended rather unceremoniously and abruptly.

On August 11, 1909 the Baddeck I made a flight of 100 metres at Petawawa. They were experiencing engine failure so no more test flights were attempted that day. The next day the Baddeck I, after a short flight in front of a large crowd of officials and other spectators, made a very rough landing on the second flight. The Baddeck I was severely damaged and the military told McCurdy and Baldwin that they had seen enough and ended Canada's first military demonstration of aircraft. The officials present remained uncertain as to the potential of flying machines.

The Baddeck I and the remains of the Silver Dart were shipped back to Baddeck. The faithful engine of the Dart was later installed in a motor launch and ran the boat's dynamo. The vessel eventually sank but the motor was recovered and in time made its way to Ottawa, where today it holds an important place in the National Aviation Museum.

The next plane was the Baddeck II, here it is almost completed.

McCurdy and Baldwin were well aware of the importance of suitable testing grounds and had decided to move the operations of the CAC before they travelled to Petawawa. They had searched the country side around Baddeck and found what they believed was the best testing grounds for aerodromes in Canada. Along the Baddeck River on the Bentic Farm they arranged with the owner to rent a section of his property that contained a lush meadow. While the two men were still in Petawawa their workmen were busily engaged in building a new aerodrome shed on site and constructing the company's second aerodrome, the Baddeck No. II.

The Baddeck II was built in Beinn Bhreagh in the summer and followed along the same lines as the Baddeck I. It was taken to the new CAC headquarters at Bentic Farm on September 13, 1909. Both the Baddeck dromes made many successful flights and were the first aerodromes to use automobile engines successfully.

The 'Mike' monoplane was the third aerodrome built by the CAC. The company had been commissioned by Gardiner Hubbard of Boston so Mike was the first plane built for export in Canada. Mike successfully lifted off the ground several times during testing in Baddeck. Here it is on the ice.

Dr. Bell also used the services of the CAC, he ordered a tetrahedral triplane from the company. He had a small scale model of an aerodrome which he called the Oionos and wanted McCurdy and Baldwin to help him design and construct a craft large enough to carry a man. Although the CAC completed this craft it never got off the ground. Below is a picture of the Oionos on the ice of Baddeck Bay March 11, 1910.

The Cygnet III was yet another craft constructed by the members of the CAC. However, for all intense purposes the CAC no longer existed when McCurdy finished the construction of this craft and attempted to get it off the ground. Dr. Bell was again unsuccessful in seeing this craft produce any worthwhile results.

The Canadian Aerodrome Company closed its factory on April 4, 1910, Baldwin and McCurdy did not have any more orders on the books and the Canadian government were not giving them any indication on their intentions. Baldwin was also travelling around the world with Dr. Bell at this time and left McCurdy holding the fort. The CAC had outstanding bills and McCurdy was interested in following other pursuits so failing to get in contact with Baldwin, he shut the factory doors. All the while Major Maunsell worked diligently in support of the CAC but could not prevent the House of Commons from delaying and reducing the appropriation of funds for the CAC.

McCurdy decided to work as a pilot for Glenn Curtiss. In New York, he became the first man to send signals from an aeroplane to a wireless station on the ground. He eventually helped Curtiss establish an aircraft industry in Canada and was very influential in the overall development of aviation in Canada. McCurdy was also involved with the Curtiss Flying School in Toronto which helped prepare pilots for the armed forces. Later he became the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.

Baldwin stayed in Baddeck and continued working with Dr. Bell, they did a lot of pioneering work using hydrofoils. Bell and Baldwin's most successful hydrodrome was the HD-4 which set the world speed record on water, their craft reached a speed of 70.68 mph. No other craft was to go any faster for a decade. Baldwin eventually entered politics and was very influential in the development of the world famous Cabot Trial.

Next. . .