Canada's aircraft industry is just now hitting its stride after having literally forced its way into the United Nation's aircraft pool.
In the early days of the war, the industry toyed around, reluctantly but not from choice, with 20 different types of planes. Many of these, like the Hampden bombers, Lysander cooperation planes, and the Stranraer flying boats, were obsolete before their tooling was completed. Then came Dunkirk, followed by the marriage between the Canadian and American aircraft industries. Things began to happen.
Last year Canada met her own needs in elementary and advanced trainers for the vast commonwealth air training program and even supplied some to her allies. This year, from about July on, Canada will be in full production on a small but diversified group of the best planes of their types that the United Nations have uncovered badly needed dive bombers, a fast plywood fighter-bomber, Britain's newest four-engine heavy bomber, and a top-notch long-range coastal patrol flying boat.
Canada's aircraft program now totals more than one billion dollars, an amount nearly equivalent to the Dominion's total expenditures in World War I. In fact, the United States has more than $250,000,000 worth of planes on order from Canadian companies, a dollar volume as great as the total annual sales of the American aircraft industry a few years ago. And Canada's plane production has been averaging 400 planes a month recently, compared with a possible 40 planes in the course of a whole year before the war. Now that the final stage of conversion to new combat models has been reached, output by number of planes is decreasing. Yet in tonnage the 1943 figures will be far and away beyond all former records,
But to get the real picture of the struggle this Canadian industry has experienced to achieve its present position, it is necessary to hark back, briefly, to the first World War. At that time plants were developed in the Dominion that produced more than 2,500 "stick and string" planes, including the famous Curtiss Jenny. Thereafter, the little industry virtually disappeared until 1923 when Canadian Vickers, Ltd, received an order from the Air Force for eight amphibians.
Three years later deHavilland Aircraft established a Canadian subsidiary, followed by such presently well known plane makers as Fairchild Aircraft, Ltd, Boeing Aircraft of Canada, Fleet Aircraft, and Noorduyn Aircraft. Wright Aeronautical Corp opened a plant to assemble engines, Cub Aircraft started producing light planes of the same name, and Ottawa Car & Foundry, Ltd, took up aircraft repair work.
Here was a nucleus of aircraft manufacturers that should have gladdened the hearts of the successive British air ministers. But they were uninterested, and the English aircraft firms looked with disfavor on any overseas expansion. Until shortly before the present war, as Leslie Roberts points out in Canada's War in the Air, the industry had to content itself with building heavy-duty planes for bush-flying, light planes for private flying, and repair work. Demands of the Canadian Air Force alone, with its 3,800 officers and men, could not aid much in fattening up the infant industry.
Then in 1936 officials of Canadian Car & Foundry went to London, as the clouds started to gather, for the purpose of interesting British authorities in the production of military aircraft in Canada. But they again found the door closed. The British had no intention of letting the Dominion in on their aircraft program which was still mostly in blueprint form at that time.
Other Canadian companies which pressed their claims both at London and at Ottawa were told that planes would not be required from North America; Britain could look after the aircraft needs of all the Empire.
Again in 1938 a British air mission came to Canada, talked vaguely of a "long term buying policy", and held out some hope for a "gradual" expansion of the Canadian industry. Even after Munich the Canadian industry continued to be treated as a stepchild, once or twice removed.
The British Air Ministry, it seems, had little conception of the ingenuity and skill possessed by Canadian aircraft leaders, and British plane manufacturers were only willing that obsolete designs should be sent to the Dominion. Thus Canadian Car & Foundry, which had decided to go ahead and build an aircraft engine in 1938 and completed its tests successfully the following August got orders to shelve the engine when war broke out. Britain would supply whatever engines the Dominion needed.
Canadian Car, instead got an order for 30 Hurricane fighters, promptly secured materials for 300, and saw the original order multiplied many times after the astonished Air Ministry heard that the contract had been finished five months ahead of schedule Only then did British officials begin to appreciate Canada's great potential aircraft capacity in both brains and brawn. Nevertheless, the "Munich mind" continued to prevail up to the fall of France.
Meanwhile, in 1938, National Steel Car had started construction of Canada's largest aircraft plant. Orders were received to build the Lysander cooperation plane, followed by parts for the Hampden bomber and the Anson training plane. National Steel Car's president, R J Magor with plans for Canada's future in the air, which seemed most visionary to many authorities at the time shopped around for a vital part in the production program. Finally he received the go-ahead signal on the Martin B-26 bomber, and his company was well advanced on the tooling job when orders came to stop work on the plane.
At long last, it was decided, early in 1942, that National Steel Car would build the Lancaster, latest of Britain's four-engine heavy bombers. That, of course, meant further plant expansion to house the huge plane, new orders for materials, and a vast new tooling job.
Pres Magor died, and the plant personnel became restless at the production delays and changes which the company management did not feel at liberty to explain. The upshot was that the government took over National Steel's big Malton plant last fall, formed a crown company called Victory Aircraft, Ltd, and gave David Boyd, the plant manager and one of Canada's ace production men, the green light to proceed post-haste with the Lancaster.
Soon after the war started the commonwealth air training plan was formulated to train the empire's airmen in Canada. Great Britain was to provide the major portion of the training planes, while a number of Canadian aircraft makers were assigned the British Avro Anson advanced trainer.
Then came the fall of France and the stream of engines, propellers, and parts allocated to Canada died to a trickle as did the inflow of British training planes for the commonwealth program.
Canada's underfed aircraft industry had reached the crossroads and quick decisions had to be made. Almost over night the training plan was geared to North American production. It was dependent no longer on British factories, whose capacities could now be diverted to the all-important task of supplying planes for the coming battle of Britain.
Cessna training planes were purchased from the United States, while Canadian plants, under the coordination of Federal Aircraft, Ltd, a crown company, tooled up for a Canadian redesigned Anson trainer powered with the American Jacobs engine. Menasco engines, too, were purchased for the Tiger Moth trainers. Federal has supervised, to date, the production of more than 1,500 Ansons in five plants with a cross-section of Canadian industry chipping in as subcontractors for various parts.
Robert Noorduyn had secured the Canadian rights to make the North American Harvard in 1938. Fortunately he had hung on to his highest skilled personnel in peacetime, and, since 1940, Noorduyn Aviation, Ltd, has more than met the Dominion's advanced trainer needs. Wright, Pratt & Whitney, and Packard-made Rolls-Royce engines supply power, while instruments, propellers, and parts in great profusion are shipped across the border to supplement Canadian production of these essentials.
Canadian Propellers, Ltd, serves as an example of how closely the aircraft programs of Canada and the United States have been meshed together. This crown company, with its management supplied by the Canadian Pratt & Whitney Division of United Aircraft Corp, commenced production of Hamilton Standard propellers in the fall of 1941. At first it was planned to have the company produce five different models, but later these plans were scrapped and the plant was linked up with the over-all propeller program for North America whereby it centered all production on one type propeller for the United States and Canada.
Results of the decisions made in 1940 when Britain's allies were toppling over like a pack of cards are plainly visible today. A large segment of the Dominion's aircraft industry is passing through the final conversion stages to large scale production of the most modern aircraft now used by the United Nations. How high production will soar depends, primarily, on the ability to get engines, instruments, and materials from American suppliers. For better or for worse, the Canadian aircraft industry is closely allied today with its counterpart in the States.
Approximately 75,000 workmen are employed today, in contrast to barely 1,000 before the war. Another 30,000 will be added to the payrolls this year. Personnel directors report that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel on manpower, so the vast majority of the new workers will be women. In fact, nearly 80% of all new employees at several plants for the last four months have been women. And Canada, it should be noted, has never had a reservoir of experienced aircraft workers on which to draw.
At the Malton airport is situated one of the most modern aircraft plants in the world. Here the twin-engine Anson transitional trainers, have been coming off the assembly line at the rate of around 18 a week. At the same time the plant has been tooled up recently for the powerful four-engine Lancaster. This was a logical selection, since this plant, built and expanded with private capital, is the only one in Canada large enough to make these giants of the air with their 102-ft wing spread, bomb-carrying capacity of eight tons, and maximum flying range of 3,000 mi. They are powered by 1,250-hp Packard-built Rolls-Royce engines, as are the Canadian-built Hurricane fighters and Mosquito bombers.
Nearly 5,000 are employed at Malton now, including close to 1,000 women. Within another three or four months, when the big bombers come down the assembly lines, laid out in three huge bays, the payrolls probably will be up to 8,000. But that won't necessarily be the peak, as present orders may be tripled. "The Lancaster," as Plant Manager Dave Boyd puts it, "is bound to be a good bomber for the duration."
Rivaling the big Lancaster in public interest is the Mosquito, which raided Berlin at 11 AM on the 10th anniversary of the Nazis accession to power, and which is rated as one of the swiftest, most deadly aircraft in the world. This combination fighter-bomber-reconnaissance plane is produced by de Havilland, formerly makers of the Tiger Moth trainer, which has been built in larger numbers than any other aircraft produced in Canada.
The Mosquito, in a recent test at Ottawa, amazed the writer with its speed and maneuverability. It flies so fast that it appears to keep ahead of the sound of its motors. Although made of plywood, it is classed as one of the strongest and toughest military aircraft now in use.
In the Ottawa test the pilot, Geoffrey de Havilland, son of the firm's founder, after a short run along the ground pointed the Mosquito almost straight up and was lost in the sky in a few seconds. A moment later he came down in a terrifying dive and shot across the field at astounding speed. All sorts of maneuvers followed, and the plane seemed to do almost as well with one engine as it did with both. They are Packard-built Merlins.
The Mosquito requires fewer man hours of labor than any other two-engine bomber and, because of its wooden construction, conserves light alloys and other strategic materials. In fact, the production of this plane currently places Canada somewhat ahead of the United States with respect to the use of wood in combat planes. America, now building plywood training planes, soon will be in production on wooden cargo planes but has not, as yet, gone into large-scale production on wooden combat units.
Canada has set up two crown companies for the single purpose of developing new sources of aircraft woods and conserving existing supplies. It is no wonder that these supply conservation measures have been deemed necessary, for Canada eventually expects to be the most important producer of the Mosquito, a plane that has outflown in action Germany's best fighting plane, the Focke-Wulf 190. De Havilland had two planes of this type in the air late in 1942. Production probably will be well advanced by mid-year.
In connection with plywood, it should be recorded that the new Anson 5, a bombing, gunnery, and radio trainer, is largely of wood construction to simplify construction and save strategic materials. The Ansons, with a plastic nose, have used a substantial amount of wood from the beginning and now have both the fuselage and wings made of wood. The Anson runs a close second to the Tiger Moth in the total number of planes turned out in Canada.
One of the most pressing aircraft needs of the United Nations, particularly Great Britain, has been dive bombers. In order to help remedy that situation, two prominent Canadian aircraft concerns have been selected to concentrate on the Curtiss Helldiver. Canadian Car & Foundry will divert its main production from Hurricanes to the Curtiss plane within the next few months, while Fairchild likewise shortly will be turning out the dive bomber to supplement the several plants in the United States at work on that design.
Canadian Car has doubled its plant space at Fort William while tooling up for the Curtiss job and is increasing its plant force from 5,000 to around 7,000 for the new assignment. Other plants of this company, which make propellers and a variety of munitions outside the aircraft line will be brought in on the Curtiss contract which according to the original announcement, called for a maximum output of 80 planes a month. The order covered more than 1,000 planes at a cost of $40,000,000 and was calculated to keep both the Fort William and the greater part of the Pointe St Charles plants of Canadian Car fully engaged until late in 1944.
Fairchild Aircraft is building a long nose version of the Bristol Blenheim, also a twin-engine combination operational and training bomber. At the same time the company is doubling its plant capacity in preparation for making the Helldiver. Fairchild, along with National Steel Car, Canadian Car, and Noorduyn, has produced the lion's share of the nearly 7,000 aircraft produced in Canada since war broke out.
Canadian Vickers and Boeing Aircraft of Canada are producing the Consolidated PBY Catalina, long range coastal reconnaissance amphibian which is able to stay aloft for more than 33 hr. While not a new plane, it has the record range for any craft of its type and is indispensable as a watchdog of the seas. Vickers, which lead the revival of Canada's aircraft industry back in the 1920's, also produced the Stranraer flying boat for patrol work off the Canadian coast earlier in the war. Up to now the company has been making most of its aircraft right in its shipyard, although final assembly work and some parts have been handled at other plants.
Noorduyn Aircraft has the distinction of building the only plane now in production that is of strictly Canadian design the Norseman which has proved an excellent ship for radio training and which, in a newer version is on order from the United States for light cargo purposes in the northland. Known as the "flying one-ton truck", this rugged all-purpose plane with a 1,250-mi range is especially adapted for the rigors of the north country when equipped with skis or pontoons.
Bob Noorduyn, reared on a Vermont farm, came to Canada nearly eight years ago, built up the nucleus of a first-class production organization based on his experience as a manufacturer in the States, when the opportunity came, did a prime production job for the Dominion with his version of North American's Harvard trainer.
Fleet Aircraft, Ltd, at Fort Erie, on the other hand, is building the low-wing Cornell primary trainer, the Canadian version of the Fairchild PT-19 and the successor to the famous Tiger Moth.
Scores of other Canadian companies, most of them outside the strictly aircraft group, are contributing their bit along with the primary producers to bring the industry into hard-hitting maturity. Farm implement firms, such as Massey-Harris Company, Ltd, Cockshutt Plow Co, Ltd, and Dominion Oilcloth & Linoleum Co, Ltd, are among those making wings, ailerons, flaps, landing gears, and engine components. Other manufacturers are engaged in the overhaul and repair of aircraft. This business alone has mushroomed to the point where its volume is greater than the prewar business of Canada's motor car manufacturers.
And last but not least, Canadian aircraft officials attribute much of their success in overcoming what appeared to be insurmountable difficulties to the aggressive leadership and vision of Ralph Bell, director of the Canadian aircraft program. He is the Canadian counterpart of Charles E Wilson, new director of the United States air production program and, like Wilson, his specialty is getting things done.
This article was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 3, pp 92-95, 342, 344, 347.
The original article includes 8 photos: Mosquito, Hurricane, Lancaster, Norseman, Harvard.
Norseman photo credited to War Information Board; other photos not credited.