This Week in History


"Shooting for the Moon"

For the week of Monday August 4, 2008

On August 8, 1934, two Canadian pilots made history by being the first men to fly from Canada to United Kingdom. James Ayling and Leonard Reid wished to break the record for the world’s longest continuous flight. The pilots purchased a small De Havilland Dragon airplane from Captain James Mollison who, together with his wife, tried to break the same record the previous year. They renamed the plane Trail of the Caribou.

The "Trail of the Caribou" prior to its departure
© Town of Wasaga Beach
Flying long distance at that time was challenging. Planes of the time did not have fuel tanks large enough to fly long distance, so an additional 600-gallon tank had to be installed. In addition, the pilots had to find a runway long enough for a plane this heavy. Ayling and Reid chose Wasaga Beach, Ontario, as their location for its long and straight beach.

On the day of the takeoff the beach was cleared and the final checks on the plane were made. Ayling and Reid faced the same problem the Mollisons encountered the previous year: heavy crosswinds threatened to tip the plane on takeoff. The pilots managed to maintain control and rise into the air. Everything was going smoothly in the first part of their journey. Ayling and Reid flew high where thinner air provided less resistance.

The "Trail of the Caribou" at the time of its flight
© Town of Wasaga Beach
It was at this point that their fortune changed and they encountered bad weather. Icy temperatures froze the throttles wide open on both engines, increasing the fuel consumption. Then the plane entered a heavy fog bank forcing the pilots to fly blind. Ayling and Reid realized that the record could not be made under these conditions. Their original destination had been Baghdad, but with the quickly diminishing fuel they chose to settle for landing at Heston Airport in Britain.

A saying goes: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars.” This proved true for Ayling and Reid. Although they failed to break the record, their flight was a remarkable feat. The plane stayed in the air for 30 hours and 55 minutes. Despite poor visibility, the two pilots, without any previous long-distance flying experience, stayed almost exactly on the course they plotted and were the first ones to make the flight from mainland Canada to Britain.

To acknowledge the significance of this historic event, in 1949 the Ayling and Reid Flight was designated a National Historic Event.

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