Canada's Warplane Industry

by James Montagnes

What twelve months has accomplished in building a permanent aircraft industry

Canada's rapidly expanding aircraft industry will assure the Dominion a postwar aircraft factory plant capable of supplying practically all Canadian military, commercial and private airplanes. just as World War I brought Canada an automotive industry which now exports to all parts of the British Empire under preferential tariffs, so the necessities of war are giving Canada an airplane production which after the war will largely eliminate the importation of commercial and military airplanes from Great Britain and the United States.

Under the exigencies of war Canada's aircraft industry has rapidly grown from a fledgling with trial orders of military aircraft started prior to the outbreak of war. Just before the end of the first year of the war, Canada/s airplane plants were employing 17,000 in all fields of aircraft production, exclusive of an assembly company working on British war orders. This according to Munitions and Supply Minister, C D Howe, who also announced about that time that early in 1941, 360 airplanes a month would come from Canada's aircraft plants.

The Canadian industry has been faced with a three-fold task: to produce airplanes ordered

  1. by the British government,
  2. for the Royal Canadian Air Force,
  3. for the British Empire Air Training Plan.
All have been urgent, and production for the three needs had to be correlated.

Because Canada is at war it is not possible to give all the details of her aircraft industry. Information on actual production and employment in individual plants cannot be obtained. Nor is data available on the full purchasing scope of the Canadian and British governments in the Canadian industry. But sufficient data is available from official and authoritative financial sources to show briefly the job the industry is doing.

British government orders were supplemented by an order for 600 Hurricane fighters late this summer. Canadian Car & Foundry Co Ltd, Montreal, has been manufacturing Hurricanes on trial for the British Air Ministry, and success of the first of these has led to the placing of this largest order to date by the British government. The order is valued at upwards of $15,000,000 for the planes less engines and accessories. Other British government orders include an unstated number of Handley Page Hampden bombers being assembled by Canadian Associated Aircraft Co Ltd., at Montreal and Toronto, and a number of other planes on which no information is available. British government aircraft orders for Canadian plants move through Morris W Wilson, president of the Royal Bank of Canada (one of Canada's three big banks) who is agent for aircraft for the British government with the British Purchasing Commission at New York.

For the Canadian government, biggest job the aircraft industry is doing is turning out planes for the British Empire Air Training Plan, a joint operation of Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, under the Canadian government's jurisdiction. (Aviation, March 1940).

Fleet Aircraft Ltd, Fort Erie, ON (opposite Buffalo), and de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd, Toronto, are both turning out elementary training planes, 404 each of the Fleet Finch and de Havilland Tiger Moth, at the rate each of 30 a month during the 1940 summer when mass production first began, and which is being speeded up, as the planes are put into use now that the training scheme is practically in full operation. Engines for both planes come from the United States, though de Havilland's Gipsy engines formerly came from Great Britain and are now replaced by Menasco engines. Fleet is also building a new Canadian designed ship, Fleet 60, for intermediate training. Two hundred of these have been ordered for battle pilot training and production is understood to begin early in 1941.

Noorduyn Aviation, Ltd, Montreal, builds the Noorduyn Norseman, a bush freighter, for the Canadian government for use as troop transport and training plane for radio operators and observers. This company is also building North American Harvard trainers for advanced training, to replace Fairey Battle bombers which Great Britain has been unable to deliver for the training plan. The first Canadian-built Harvards are to come off the production line before 1940 ends.

National Steel Car Corp at its Toronto plant is building Westland Lysander reconnaissance planes used also in the training scheme, as well as on active service. Production on this plane is to be one daily by October, 1940.

Fairchild Aircraft, Ltd, at its Montreal plant, is building Bolingbroke bombers, a modification of the British-built Bristol Blenheim bomber.

Canadian Vickers Ltd, at Montreal, is producing twin-engined Supermarine Stranraer flying boats, for active service on Canadian coasts and for training purposes. This is the largest ship being produced in the Dominion.

In addition to these individual aircraft, Fleet, Fairchild, National Steel Car, Canadian Car & Foundry, Vickers, and the Ottawa Car Manufacturing Co Ltd, Ottawa, are all making parts of the Handley Page Hampden bomber for assembly at the Montreal and Toronto plants of Canadian Associated Aircraft Ltd.

Altogether eight Canadian aircraft companies, according to Munitions and Supply Minister C D Howe at a Toronto speech on Sept 4, have in hand orders totaling 3,800 planes, valued at approximately $125,000,000. He stated 5,000 planes would be needed for the Empire training plan alone.

One of the main type planes used in the British Empire Air Training Plan is the twin-engined Avro Anson bomber for intermediate training. The air training plan called for 1,600 of these planes to be supplied as Great Britain's share.

Following the disaster in Flanders, shipment of these planes could not be fulfilled. In fact planes on the high seas en route to Canada, were sent back from mid-ocean. By late summer Britain was able to send about 300 to Canada again, but meanwhile the Canadian government had gone into the airplane production business and formed Federal Aircraft Ltd, Montreal, to produce 1,500 Avro Anson bombers in Canada. Dynamic industrialist Ralph P Bell of Halifax heads Federal Aircraft, with R J Moffet, formerly chief aeronautical engineer of Canadian Vickers as general manager. Companies producing parts of the Avro Anson for the government-owned company are Boeing Aircraft of Canada, Vancouver; MacDonald Aircraft Ltd, Winnipeg; Cockshutt Plow Co Ltd., Brantford, ON; Massey Harris Co Ltd., Toronto; de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Toronto; Canadian Vickers Ltd, Montreal; Canadian Car & Foundry Co Ltd, Amherst, NS. Four Federal Aircraft assembly plants at Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Amherst put the machines together. The Canadian Avro Anson is powered with American Jacobs engines, more than 3,000 of which have been purchased in the United States.

Many Change-over Problems

To change over from British-built to Canadian-built Avro Ansons required a small army of engineers to translate the more than 5,000 blueprints needed to make the plane from British to Canadian-American engineering conventions and to figure costs from British to Canadian and American currency. The entire production of Avro Ansons will be the job of Federal Aircraft, with the possibility that other types of planes needed later may also be entrusted to the government corporation. First Canadian-built Avro Ansons are planned to take the air in March, 1941.

Canada is now building most of its own planes, and that it will continue to do so in increasing measure is implied by the Toronto Financial Post, leading Canadian financial weekly, in a recent article on Canadian government-owned war companies. Says the paper,

"Federal (Aircraft) symbolizes the new and basic defense policy of Canada; do it here, with Canadian machines, technique and supplies as far as possible; with help from the United States if essential. That it was a mistake to attempt to build British-type aircraft in this country and to make production here absolutely dependent on Britain is now a conviction that is general in both aviation and government circles."

Aircraft not yet produced in Canada, but which form part of the equipment of the Royal Canadian Air Force include British-built twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords, British-built Short Sunderland four-engined long-range flying boat, British-built Supermarine Spitfire single-seat fighters, British-built Blackburn Shark torpedo bombers, American-built Douglas Digby twin-engined bombers (largest plane in use by the Royal Canadian Air Force), American-built Lockheed Hudson bombers, American-built Boeing transports.

No attempt has as yet been made to produce airplane engines in Canada. It has been under advisement by the government but so far the cost to start such an industry has been felt too great for immediate needs. Thus Canada at present is importing engines largely from the United States, and is understood to share in orders given to the Packard Motor Car Co, for Rolls-Royce Merlin 1,050-hp engines which have so far been coming from Great Britain. Similarly instruments, metal propellers, and certain accessories are also still largely imported. Rubber tires are made in Canada, as the Dominion's tire plants have been long established as branches of American and British companies. A machine tool controller to procure machine tools for all war industries, including aircraft, was appointed late in August.

Parachutes are being made for the Royal Canadian Air Force by Irving Air Chute Ltd, Fort Erie, ON, which has opened a second Canadian plant near Montreal, to facilitate production of war orders.

While Canada had only the nucleus of an aircraft industry's personnel when war broke out, training of all types of mechanics has been pushed by various federal, provincial and municipal governments. Schools for training aircraftsmen for both the industry and the ground forces needed for the air training plan have been opened throughout Canada. Technical schools in all cities have established special aircraft mechanic classes, which have operated even during the summer holidays. Provincial governments have voluntarily transferred institutions into aircraft mechanics schools, paying wages to the student mechanics. The federal government, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Air Force, has started schools at St Thomas, ON, and Montreal, where mechanics and engineers can be trained. Every graduate from these schools is immediately placed in some airplane plant or flying school as a ground member crew.

Aircraft plants have greatly expanded as to factory space since the beginning of the war. Just how much space has been added is not known, but reports at various times during the first year of the war show that many plants have more than doubled in size, including some which were not even finished when war broke out. How much of this plant expansion will be liable to exemption for income tax purposes is up to a recently created War Contracts Depreciation Board which has been formed to rule on amounts which may be written off on expansion for the carrying out of war contracts. Business firms will not be called on to pay income tax on full capital expenditures on plant and equipment which will have no value after the war.

And of interest to United States aircraft industrialists is the fact that Canadian companies by the latest war budget must pay a minimum income tax of 30 percent of their profits, and if those profits are higher than the average profits of the years from 1936 to 1939, the excess profits tax is 75 percent. A Board of Referees is being set up under provisions of the excess profits tax to pass on costs and depreciation claimed by firms in completing excess profits returns. Just how Canada's aircraft industry will fare under these two boards is difficult to learn, for there is no doubt that much of the plant expansion necessitated by war orders will be of permanent benefit to Canada's postwar aircraft industry which by all appearances will repeat the history of the automotive industry's expansion after the first World War.

This article was originally published in the October, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 10, pp 30-31, 98, 106.
The original article includes 4 photos of airplanes under construction: Tiger Moth, Norseman, Northrop Delta, Stranraer.
2 photos credited to Star Newspaper Service; 2 photos apparently not credited.

Digby was the RCAF name for the Douglas B-18 Bolo medium bomber.
Harvard was the British and RCAF name for the North American AT-6 Texan advanced trainer.