BADDECK, N.S. -
Hundreds of people watched from a frozen Baddeck Bay on Sunday as a former Canadian astronaut coaxed a replica of the Silver Dart into the air on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the original's historic flight.
Conditions were perfect as Bjarni Tryggvason climbed into the fragile bird-like biplane and made five separate flights over a 1,000-metre runway on the ice-covered lake.
"We're having a ball - this is an aviator's dream out here today," said an elated Don Peters, a member of the Flight of the Silver Dart Centennial Celebration.
"I'll think he'll keep going until he runs out of gas," he said as Tryggvason made his final pass of the day.
"He's having a lot of fun."
Organizers called it a test flight in preparation for today's anniversary celebrations but it quickly became more than that as Tryggvason kept going after a shaky start.
On his first attempt, the Silver Dart made it only a few metres into the air before setting down in a series of soft bounces.
"The back end lifted off but the nose struggled to get off," said Tryggvason, who flew the replica in a test flight on a runway in Hamilton earlier this month.
"We only had a few little hops, touching down along the way."
The nose wheel on the plane collapsed as it taxied along the ice following the initial run. The damaged wheel was replaced and Tryggvason took to the air again.
The plane lifted easily from the ice in the ensuing four flights and soared at a height of at least 15 metres down the length of the frozen runway.
Tryggvason said he feels "pretty lucky" to be a part of the recreation of the first powered flight in Canada.
"The guys who built it have done a tremendous job," he said as he waited in a tent for repairs.
"It's pretty good that we're able to try to replicate this and draw attention to its importance in Canadian history."
Leanne Beddow, a spokeswoman for the centennial celebration, said another flight will go ahead as planned on the actual anniversary today, weather permitting.
Environment Canada was forecasting snow, ice pellets, rain and high winds for the area, but Beddow said ceremonies would proceed as planned, including flypasses by military planes and another flight of the replica late in the morning.
Under the mentorship of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, John Alexander Douglas McCurdy, a 22-year-old mechanical engineer from Baddeck, climbed aboard the airplane he designed 100 years ago, determined to become the first man in Canada to pilot a powered, heavier-than-air machine in controlled flight.
Peters said he couldn't help but think of the original flight as he watched Tryggvason make another pass, the plane's engine buzzing like a chainsaw.
"You look at this thing, you can picture McCurdy flying the airplane," he said.
"It's just amazing to watch it. And for these guys from Welland to come here and do this in Baddeck Bay, the place where it all happened, is wonderful."
The group of volunteers in Welland, Ont., built the replica of the Silver Dart with the aim of flying it on the centenary. Hugh Bell Muller, Bell's great-grandson, was among those who huddled in the cold to watch Sunday's flights.
"It's pretty exciting, I tell you," he said.
"This is really quite something. These guys have really done a marvellous job putting this airplane together."