Canada's Warplane Industry

by James Montagnes

Our northern neighbors have increased production to the point where Canadian output now helps the US meet its Lend-Lease obligations.

When Canada went to war in September, 1939, less than 1,000 persons were engaged in the Dominion's aircraft industry; 160 aircraft of all kinds, valued at about $3,350,000 were built in the previous year. By the beginning of 1942, Canada employed in its aircraft industry nearly 35,000 men and women, and stepped up its output of training, fighting and bombing planes to 70 per week. Floor space of Canada's industry had grown from less than 400,000 sq ft before the war, to nearly 4,000,000 sq ft by January, 1942. Canada has ordered, since the start of the war, more than 8,000 airplanes, practically all from her own factories. So rapidly and efficiently has the Canadian industry grown, that now its factories have started working on orders for trainers to be shipped to the United States for shipment abroad under the Lend-Lease plans.

These are the bare facts about the growth of Canada's aircraft industry, a fledgling when war broke out. While Canada used the airplane extensively since the last war in opening up its vast hinterland, it bought most of its aircraft from the United States. Canadian factories had licenses to build American planes in the Dominion, but most of the planes built were light planes, a few cabin jobs, and a few military types for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Output rose slowly from 18 in 1934, to 160 in 1938. Since then, Canada has repeated its job of the first World War, only on a larger scale. Then Canada built 2,900 two-seater fighters in hurriedly assembled plants at Toronto. Now the Dominion's industry is building planes at Montreal, Toronto, Fort William, Fort Erie and Vancouver; has set up parts factories elsewhere, and is making everything for the modern airplane except engines and a few instruments.

With orders for $200,000,000 in aircraft on the books, Canada's aircraft industry will soon cut down the number of airplane types it is now building. American-born Munitions and Supply Minister C D Howe said in Ottawa in September, 1941: "We are building 13 different types of aircraft. We hope, however, ultimately to narrow these down to six or seven." The smaller group consists of the Fairchild Freshman, an elementary trainer; the North American Harvard, a single-engined advanced trainer; the Avro Anson, a twin-engined advanced trainer; the Consolidated Catalina, a coastal reconnaissance amphibian; the Bristol Bolingbroke, a bomber; the Avro Lancaster, a four-engined bomber; and a secret plane.

Here is what, with latest production figures, Canada's aircraft industry has been busy building during the past year:

Tooling-up has started for the production of the Lancaster four-engined bomber, which replaces the Martin B-26. The Lancaster, on which little is known as yet, is being built by Canadian Car & Foundry Co and the National Steel Car Co, which have plants at a number of points in Canada. Early in 1942, Ottawa placed an order for 1,000 Curtiss Navy dive-bombers with the Canadian Car & Foundry Co. The order will occupy the full facilities of the Fort William, and most of the Montreal plants of the company, until late in 1944. The contract calls for 12 months sustained peak production and the estimated maximum output is placed at 80 per month. The first plane on this order is expected to be completed by early in 1943.

In addition to these aircraft now building in Canada, the Dominion's industry has been producing the Noorduyn Norseman, used as a trainer for radio operators of the RCAF, 56 of these planes being completed during 1941, at the Noorduyn aircraft plant at Montreal; the Blackburn Shark torpedo-bomber and reconnaissance seaplane (now obsolete); the Lysander army cooperation monoplane at the National Steel Car plant at Toronto, where 250 of these planes are on order — with 150 for Great Britain — the plane having a maximum speed of 234 mph; the Northrop Delta, built for photographic work for the RCAF, which is, however, now out of production.

Canada has also done some work on building plastic planes of the Vidal molded-plywood type, the Canadian government holding a license for the production of this process from the United States company. A plant at Belleville, Ontario, has been prepared for mass production of laminated-wood-process fuselages. An all-wood Anson bomber fuselage has been exhaustively tested at Ottawa by the RCAF, and found to make 10 miles an hour greater speed than the metal-fuselaged Anson.

Aircraft production in the Dominion comes under the control of Ralph P Bell, director-general of aircraft production. He recently stated that 30 per cent of the 8,000 airplanes Canada had on order — including 1,000 ordered from United States plants — had been delivered by September, 1941. He also intimated that Canada has, for the time being, given up the idea of building an airplane engine industry, on obtaining assurances from the United States that the Dominion would be able to obtain all engines necessary for its airplane building program. This eliminates another demand on machine tool makers for tools to set up an engine industry. Canada now uses American-made Wright, Pratt & Whitney, Menasco, Jacobs and Kinner engines.

To the overhaul and repair of aircraft and engines, the Department of Munitions and Supply has set up 29 overhaul and repair plants, mostly under private ownership. These new plants take care of the 4,000 service planes used in training Canada's air force as well as those on active service on coastal defense. Many American mechanics have been brought to the Dominion for this work, either to work in private companies or in the air force.

The Dominion now also makes parachutes at a number of plants in eastern and central Canada. The manufacture of aluminum aircraft propellers was recently started. Many electrically-operated instruments are now built in Canada — including temperature, fuel content, wing flap and wheel indicators, and aircraft radio instruments. Airplane forgings are now being produced in Canadian factories. By the autumn of 1942, Canada expects to be self-supporting in practically all airplane instruments, and to be exporting airplane propellers to Great Britain.

Bringing the aircraft industry to its present position has not been easy, for Canada lacked skilled aircraft labor, and had few of the types of air mechanics schools such as are common in the United States. Canada had the added difficulty of having to translate designs of British planes, to be built in the Dominion, into terms common to the American aircraft and machine tool industry, where tools and parts had to be ordered. The Canadian industry obtained much help from south of the international border, in setting up mass-production techniques, and Canadian airplane plants such as Canadian Car and Foundry, Canadian Fairchild and Noorduyn are today show-places of the industry. Labor has been trained at schools operated by the plants, and at technical schools set up by the various provincial governments.

Best description of the progress made in Canadian aviation industry since the outbreak of war came from Director-General Ralph P Bell, when he told the National Industrial Advertisers' Association convention in Toronto: "Most important of all, a year ago, almost the entire output was in elementary trainers; today almost half the output is in fighters and bombers. And when you realize that you can build a dozen trainers in the time it takes to build a fighter, and that the manufacture of one bomber is the equivalent of a month's output of trainers, you have a better appreciation of just what this statement signifies."

This article was originally published in the August, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 2, pp 32-34, 108-109.
The original article includes 8 photos: Photos are not credited.