Canada's Aircraft Industry

by James Montagnes
Aviation's Canadian Correspondent

Before the war our neighbors to the North had little reason to build up an aircraft industry of large proportion. Now, as a very major cog in the Allied war machine, Canada is rapidly acquiring impressive stature as an aviation center.

Canada is now producing eight basic types of aircraft including one for the United States government. The Dominion is now making propellers for her own and American aircraft factories, is manufacturing considerable equipment, parts and a number of instruments formerly imported, is producing vast numbers of parachutes and has built up an engine and aircraft industry which at peak will handle 10,000 airplanes annually.

When Canada went to war there were eight aircraft companies and one or two overhaul plants in operation in Canada. Less than 1,000 persons were turning out an average of 40 planes annually in the four years prior to the war. The entire industry occupied about 500,000 sq ft of floor space. Today, Canada's twelve aircraft factories are turning out in one month ten times the number of planes formerly produced in a year, occupy about ten times the space, employ forty times as many persons, and have not yet reached the peak of their production. The overhaul industry alone is now centered in some 30 plants strategically located across Canada.

Trainer Production

In the early days of the war the production of training craft was the chief objective of the government aircraft program. During the first nine months of the war the industry turned out 200 aircraft, most of which were elementary trainers. With the fall of France the entire aircraft production program was altered and expanded immeasurably. The nine plants in operation at that time have since been converted and expanded into large-scale operations. Hundreds of manufacturers throughout the Dominion were put to producing parts and equipment of one type or another.

Today the major effort of the industry is still in training planes, but more emphasis is being placed on the building of aircraft for service flying. And from the simple elementary trainers the industry has progressed to advanced trainers, fitting in with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which turns out aircrews for every type of service job. To simplify and speed up the output of Canadian aircraft, current production has been reduced from a dozen types to seven types, five of which are trainers and two service craft, with an eighth type being built for United States government account.

Instead of two types of elementary trainers made until this year, the de Havilland Tiger Moth and Fleet Finch, the Fairchild Freshman, renamed the Fairchild Cornell, has picked for elementary training in Canada, and is being manufactured by Fleet Aircraft Ltd. It is understood that the Norwegian Air Force training in Canada found this aircraft so well suited that it was adopted for elementary training by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The monoplane wings of this trainer are manufactured of plywood.

Graduating from the Fairchild Cornell, future pilots receive advanced training in the North American single-engined Harvard, manufactured since early in the war in Canada by Noorduyn Aviation Ltd. Production on this plane has new reached a stage where more than enough to meet Canadian needs are manufactured and some have been sent to the United States.

Twin-engine aircraft pilots receive their first training in the Canadian version in the Avro Anson. The first of these Canadian Ansons came off the production line in September, 1941, and since then a substantial level of production has been attained. Originally the fuselages of this plane were to come from Great Britain as part of its contribution to the cost of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, but when in the summer of 1940 Great Britain found herself in the midst of an air blitz, it was decided to manufacture the entire plane in Canada, except for engines. A government company was set up, Federal Aircraft Ltd, to manufacture and administer a program of manufacturing of this trainer by other companies.

Five major aircraft companies, a large number of subcontractors, and a number of assembly plants are now engaged in turning out the Anson. Early this year the Department of Munitions and Supply announced that Federal Aircraft had on hand the materials and parts for the manufacture of 600 Ansons, and that steps had been taken to provide for a large number of spare parts for normal maintenance of this trainer. One of the big jobs in getting the manufacture of Ansons ready was to translate the English plans to North American specifications. Major companies now working on parts of this twin-engined trainer are Ottawa Car & Aircraft Ltd; de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd; National Steel Car Corp Ltd; Canadian Car and Foundry Ltd, and MacDonald Bros Aircraft Ltd.

Service Planes

The Bristol Bolingbroke is being manufactured by Fairchild Aircraft Ltd, as a twin-engine reconnaissance bomber and bombing and gunnery trainer. This aircraft is used both in service and in training at various schools of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The PBY5 Catalina amphibian replaces the older Stranraer flying boat, a number of which have been built since the start of the war and are in service on the coasts. The Catalina is being built by Canadian Vickers Ltd, who built the Stranraer, and by Boeing Aircraft of Canada Ltd. It is used for coastal reconnaissance and as a trainer for coastal command aircrews.

The two service planes being built in Canada are a twin-engine fighter, about which little is known except that it is to be produced by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. and a British four-engine long-range bomber, which is to be built by National Steel Car Corp Ltd.

For the United States Navy, the Canadian Car and Foundry Ltd, has started producing Curtiss dive bombers. The order for these is announced at approximately $100,000,000. This plant has been producing Hurricane fighters for Great Britain, is now working mainly on the Curtiss dive-bomber.

Canada on her own account has let contracts for airplanes worth nearly $400,000,000, according to figures released by Ottawa in June, 1942. By the end of this year the aircraft industry hopes to have 10,000 airplanes in the air, last year half that number were in use for training and coastal defense.

Accessories and Overhaul

In addition to the stepping up of aircraft production, Canadian factories are now turning out aircraft instruments and propellers. An aluminum plant in Ontario capable of forging the largest propellers in the world, is turning out thousands of aluminum propellers every month. Three other plants are also producing metal propellers. One of these plants is a government-owned factory built in the past year. Propellers are being delivered not only to Canadian aircraft plants but also are being shipped to the United States.

At an Ontario plant is being made a high-speed fuel pump, for use in airplanes being built in California for the Royal Air Force. Link Trainers for pilot instruction are built at an Ontario plant. Sighting and optical instruments for the air force are being manufactured at a government-owned factory, Research Enterprises Ltd, where also are being manufactured aircraft radio equipment and numerous secret devices. Three types of parachutes are being made at plants throughout Canada.

While not directly connected with the aircraft industry, it is of interest to note that Canadian factories are now turning out the munitions with which fighting planes are equipped, including Browning aircraft machine guns and ammunition, 500-lb aerial bombs, practice bombs, 50 types of pyrotechnics of basic kinds for practice and fighting use, four types of parachute flares, and much secret equipment and weapons.

Early this year over 5,500 persons were employed in 30 plants to overhaul and repair aircraft used for service and flying training. With the expansion of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the growth of air training the overhaul program is fast becoming one of the larger industries of the Dominion. When air training reaches its peak, it is planned that about 10,000 planes will be overhauled annually. The overhaul of airframes also includes the overhaul of all instruments and accessories, from tires to propellers. For every airframe overhaul about three engine overhauls are carried out. The cost of overhauling a single plane may run from $1,500 to $30,000 or more, varying with the type of plane handled.

The overhaul industry also handles the assembly of all crated aircraft which have been made elsewhere for use in Canada. In addition, it carries out all modifications to aircraft, including changes in engine installation and the extensive alterations to meet winter conditions in Canada.

The various companies in the industry last year did work amounting to $25,000,000, expect to do four times that amount of work during the current year with probably four times the number of employees. The plants of this new industry are spread from coast to coast, are financed mainly by government money amounting to $13,000,000 and $1,000,000 of private capital. Some of` the plants are operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force, though most are operated as private concerns set up especially for this work. Canada's publicly-owned Trans-Canada Airlines handles a considerable part of the instrument and engine overhaul.

Because Canada's aircraft industry was practically nonexistent when the war broke out, the Dominion has had a big job in training its labor, in outfitting its plants. Canadian plants are now beginning to use mass-production machinery, are cutting down on man-hours required to produce an airplane. The Bristol Bolingbroke, for instance, early in 1941 took 60,000 man-hours to build, is now coming off the production line in less than 40,000 man-hours. Other aircraft production has been speeded up even more, in one case time was halved.

Aircraft labor is being trained at factory schools and in government technical schools. A percentage of outstanding employees are being sent to teach at training schools in the United States under a cooperative scheme between manufacturers and the Canadian government. Training in schools carries with it a weekly pay envelope, which provides for subsistence pay.

Labor in Canadian aircraft plants is gradually absorbing a larger percentage of women workers. While it is customary to associate female workers in aircraft plants with sewing fabric on wings and fuselage, Canadian girls today are doing electrical wiring, riveting, welding, and fitting subassemblies on metal airplanes. They are doing practically all the jobs that men do, with few exceptions. About 4,500 women are now employed in the industry.

The Canadian aircraft industry has been fortunate in having little labor trouble. Employee-management committees are in existence in most plants, unions operate, good wages are paid and good working conditions prevail. Various production-stimulating schemes are in operation. A new National Industrial Executive Committee was set up in June, 1942, on government order, in the aircraft industry, and has the responsibility of directing and handling personnel problems for the entire industry. Under Canada's recently enacted labor rationing scheme, permits are required for each employee hired in future, and the same local National Selective Service officer, operating under the Department of Labor, must be notified of each dismissal.

The Canadian aircraft industry at no time has made engines, but has assembled British and American engines in the Dominion, engine companies having set up Canadian branch plants for this purpose. It was decided after due consideration by Ottawa and Washington, not to set up an aircraft engine industry in Canada because of shortage of machinery and skilled help, and engines are still imported into Canada for planes used in the Dominion as well as those shipped to the war zones from the Dominion. Early this year Ralph P Bell, director of aircraft production for Canada, announced that Ranger engines for training planes would be built in the Dominion at the rate of 300 monthly, but no further information is available.

The Canadian aircraft industry in the nearly three years that Canada has been at war has grown by leaps and bounds. Its personnel has been expanded 40 times and its output 80 times. It will shortly be self-contained insofar as power-plant instruments and regular line of standard flight instruments are concerned. To quote Ralph P Bell in a recent speech, "it has reached pro- portions that a year ago would have been considered absolutely staggering."

This article was originally published in the August, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 8, pp 96-97, 259-260.
The original article includes 5 photos: Anson, Bolingbroke, Harvard.
Photos are not credited.