The world’s first wireless transmission from an aircraft occurred over West Palm Beach, Florida in February 1911 with John Alexander Douglas McCurdy at the controls. J.A.D. McCurdy was a Canadian aviation pioneer and is credited with being the first British subject in the Empire to fly an aircraft in 1909, as well as being the recipient of the very first Canadian Pilot’s License issued. His father was the secretary of Mr. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and the younger McCurdy helped start the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company in 1908 with his friend, Glenn H. Curtiss.
Naturally, when McCurdy put a radio transmitter in his airplane, he likely was not intending to again put Florida firmly on the map of aviation firsts, but like so many others, McCurdy came to Florida to escape the bitter cold of Canada, and Florida fit the bill perfectly because of its balmy, year-round flying weather and beautiful annual temperatures. These environmental traits remain to this day, as hundreds of thousands of international students come to Florida for flight training each year, and NASA still uses Florida for its premier launch site for all manned and most unmanned space missions.
McCurdy set several aviation records in Florida, including the world’s first trans-oceanic flight in the world from Key West to Havana Cuba in a Curtiss aeroplane, which will be featured on another blog post. McCurdy was only grounded in 1916 when his deteriorating vision prevented him from future flying. McCurdy went on to be the 20th Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and an aircraft manufacturing executive, working as Assistant Director of General Aircraft Production until 1947. John Alexander Douglas McCurdy died in Montreal, Quebec in 1961, and was admitted to the Canadian Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973. J.A.D. McCurdy’s time in Florida was marked by several broken records in the annals of history. Although his time in Florida was short, the impact of his flights were felt across not only the state but the entire continent of North America. In 1959, J.A.D. McCurdy was awarded the McKee Trophy, a trophy dedicated to the advancement of aerospace in Canada. He was awarded the trophy on the 50th anniversary of his 1909 flight that earned him Canada’s Pilot License No. 001.