From the ancient Greeks, who told stories of Icarus flying too close to the sun, to the Maori of New Zealand, who flew kites as part of religious ceremonies, humans have long dreamed of touching the heavens.
In the fifteenth century, inventor Leonardo da Vinci began studying the locomotion of birds and bats in an effort to divine the secret of flight. Applying his knowledge, he designed several flying contraptions. Some featured flapping wings, while others employed rotors similar to today’s helicopters. Da Vinci’s imagination was boundless, but he was limited by the materials of his era — he was unable to build a flying machine light enough to stay aloft.
Human flight remained elusive until two centuries later, when a pair of French brothers launched a hot-air balloon to the amazement of crowds in Paris. That 1783 flight fired the imaginations of would be aviators everywhere, and by the early 1800s, a British inventor, Sir George Cayley, had debuted the first working glider. Cayley also discovered the four aerodynamic forces that control flight — weight, lift, drag, and thrust — and is today considered the father of aeronautics.
Another century would pass before the first powered flight. In 1903, the Wright brothers successfully conducted the first powered flight of a heavier-thanair vehicle. Six years later, in February 1909, a team led by inventor Alexander Graham Bell conducted the first powered flight in Canada, piloting the Silver Dart a distance of eight hundred metres.
Since then, the pace of aeronautic advancement has been staggering. For instance, my grandfather Peter was born five months after the Silver Dart’s inaugural flight. By the time I was born, in 1971, humans had already walked on the moon.
The history of flight is filled with many milestones, as well as plenty of groundbreaking pilots. In this issue, we bring you the story of an Ontario teenager who defied social norms in the 1920s to become the first Canadian woman to earn a pilot’s licence. By earning her wings, Eileen Vollick inspired countless women pilots who followed in her draft.
Elsewhere in this issue, we explore the challenges faced by Romani emigrants to Canada, we recall the adventures of an Irish-Canadian hero of the Cuban Revolution, and we discover how the term “First Nations” came to prominence as part of the Indigenous sovereignty movement of the 1980s.