Salvage, re-use, and disposal of equipment, from uniforms to aircraft parts, is a feature in the operations of every Royal Canadian Air Force base in the Dominion.
True enough, for the first two years of Canada's war there was little time for the RCAF to consider salvage. In those days the RCAF had too little equipment and was too busy procuring it and building up the vast training organization which is today the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. But in the past two years, the RCAF has begun to make all possible use of every item of equipment, in accord with conservation measures of the Canadian government.
Today that system is working so efficiently that before any item of equipment is disposed of as scrap whether a pair of uniform pants, a radio transmitter, or a sheet of perspex from a salvaged aircraft it will first have been offered for reclamation or reuse to all branches of the RCAF, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, other Canadian government departments, and to other United Nations governments through Canada's Mutual Aid Board.
Typical of the study which is given all salvageable material is the case of broken plastic window glass. RCAF dental officers found that perspex which had no more aircraft use could be formed into splints and headcaps necessary in plastic surgery to hold broken jaws. Further, engine packing cases are reused for shipping between RCAF depots, or they are offered to the engine manufacturer.
Extent of the salvage operations was first publicly revealed this summer when the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee questioned the RCAF on its salvage work and savings made to the taxpayers through its operations. At that time, a financial report given to the committee showed that in the year from June 1, 1942 to May 31, 1943, there was sold to private companies or transferred to other departments equipment totaling over $1,000,000 in value. Ranging from aluminum to scrap rubber, and from spark plugs to X-ray film, this covered anything and everything which the air force itself could not reuse.
Salvage operations are varied, some being small, some big. The program is a daily routine at training stations. There are also special operations. One such was the RCAF's salvage, on the Atlantic coast command last spring, of a twin-engined Ventura bomber, worth $250,000. It soon was flying again.
It was during the beginning of the spring thaw that this Ventura, with its crew of five men, went out on patrol from a Nova Scotia base. Engine trouble and bad weather conditions forced the plane down on a lake. The pilot brought the bomber down on the melting ice without mishap to ship or crew. Then the radio brought a ski-equipped plane which took the crew off.
But to bring the bomber out was another problem. There was no road directly to the lake, the nearest one being 14 mi distant. The Canadian Army was called on to help, and along with an RCAF crew it hewed a road out from the lake through virgin bush. Meanwhile to save the aircraft from sinking through the melting ice into 23 ft of water, the rescue crew cut down trees and hauled them through the woods for three-quarters of a mile without the aid of a tractor. Holes were cut in the ice and the trees sunk to the lake bottom. The bomber was next strapped to the poles, then floating wooden platforms were built. It took half a day to sink the first pole, and it was two days before the second was secure. One and a half miles of rope were needed for guying purposes.
With the aircraft secure, the work of taking it apart was started. First item salvaged was the machine gun, then the gun turret, then the wings, followed by the engines. Everything was placed on wooden sleds and hauled across the ice to the camp site at the lake edge. By the time the plane was dismantled and the road finished, five weeks had passed. The salvage crew took the parts out by truck, while the aircraft itself was attached to a bulldozer, which inch by inch crept with it over the newly constructed road, on two occasions just missing tipping over the edge and hurtling down a cliff. Quick work by the soldiers and airmen averted the danger. Yes, it took a lot of work to salvage that aircraft but it meant one more plane in the air.
Another time, a Hudson bomber which had landed on a mountainside in the Eastern Command area had its engines removed and was taken 3½ mi down the mountain to a frozen lake in 19-below weather, and there had its engines refitted, after which it was able to take off from the ice under its own power. Also a Canso amphibian, with depth charges aboard, sank in water off the Newfoundland coast. With high seas to make the work more difficult, an RCAF rescue crew grappled for the aircraft and brought it up to the surface for salvage. They had to keep in mind those depth charges all the time they were at work. And an Anson bomber trainer landed on an ice floe off the Newfoundland coast. Its crew was rescued without too much difficulty, but salvaging the aircraft was another matter. Flyers kept that ice floe and its stranded Anson constantly in view. When the floe drifted close to shore, the aircraft was rescued from its icy landing field.
Salvage and reclamation of crashed aircraft is especially proving one of the best sources of supply, for those items which are scarce. There are three classes of crashes, "A," "B," and "C," the first being those craft beyond repair. Every crashed plane that is salvageable goes to a repair depot, of which there is one in each RCAF command. There they are gone over minutely by qualified engineers. All serviceable components are removed, examined by aeronautical inspectors, and put back into stock. Equipment is either repaired at the depot or, if beyond depot facilities, is sent to civilian contractors. Materials which cannot be re-incorporated into aircraft (such as forgings and central columns) are sold to the manufacturer of each type of aircraft through the Department of Munitions & Supply at the price set by the RCAF and the Department.
Salvage work is handled through the Air Member for Supply on the Canadian Air Council. On formation of the salvage section it was realized that if a maximum effort was to be obtained it was essential to engender a spirit of conservation among the personnel. This has been accomplished through the formation of voluntary patriotic salvage committees at all units, and the individual air force man is now highly salvage conscious.
Lists of items which are recommended for disposal, because they are considered surplus or are obsolete, go to headquarters at Ottawa, where they are passed on to various sections dealing with supply within the air force. Where equipment cannot be used within the force, disposal as equipment or scrap is handled for the RCAF by a salvage officer of the Treasury Board. Standing contracts have been arranged in all commands for the disposal of accumulations of scrap metals and other materials, such as kitchen waste, used oil, etc. Where no contracts exist, disposal of equipment and scrap is done through tenders. Primary aim of the salvage section is to assure maximum quantities of needed materials for hard-pressed industry to remanufacture in pursuance of Canada's war effort.
Detailed instructions have been issued to all commands as to handling each item of salvageable equipment. Thus, for instance, used oil is disposed of by sale under contract to the provisioning oil companies, except in western Canada, where the company supplying oil reclaims it, and the RCAF uses it once more in its motor transport section. Tests have indicated that reclaimed oil is not really satisfactory for reuse in airplane engines, although it has been used in this way in Great Britain by the RAF for some years.
All used ethylene glycol base antifreeze is currently being sold after being salvaged, under government supervision as to its reuse. The Canadian Army is reclaiming antifreeze used in motor transports for reuse.
There are hundreds of items which have a reuse value. Instructions on disposal of these fill hundreds of pages of administrative orders. A few picked at random show how thoroughly the RCAF has gone into the salvage problem. Instrument packing cases, as an example, must be held at each unit and reported quarterly. Surplus accumulations are returned periodically to manufacturers for reuse. Slinging irons, braces, angle irons, and corner irons from aircraft packing cases from Great Britain have to be saved and shipped back after the wooden packing cases are broken up. Unserviceable engines and airframe parts are sent to air cadet training squadrons.
Nose sections of practice bombs are salvaged and refitted with tails for reuse. Bombs dropped on land ranges in winter time may not penetrate the frozen ground, and the RCAF puts aside time on bombing practice ranges for airmen to go out and salvage this metal on certain days in the spring. All metal film cores and clips are to be salvaged and sent back to the manufacturer, who has agreed to a price of 1¢ each for each item which can be reused in the making of more aerial photographic film. Unserviceable aluminum propeller blades, minus all other metal, go in accumulations of at least 200 lb to the aluminum manufacturers. Similarly, metal typewriter ribbon spools go back to the manufacturers.
So carefully has the RCAF gone into the salvage problem that even bent nails are accounted for in an instructional circular on reuse, or if no longer serviceable they are to be sold as scrap. Similarly all metal containers, those for food and paint especially, are handled as scrap, except that paint containers of 1 gal or larger size are to go back to the manufacturers at fixed prices and on a priority system. Instructions for the conservation of all types of wooden and paper containers are minute.
Aircraft going to contractors for overhaul are drained of oil and gasoline and an accounting of this salvaged fuel is kept, a similar amount being reissued on completion of overhaul. Used oil drained from such aircraft is to be sold for subsequent reclamation purposes.
Conservation has been carried out on a large scale in the use of motor cars at the various commands, pooled operations by all sections now being standard to save gasoline, tires, and equipment. All rubber no longer serviceable is disposed of as scrap to meet the rubber shortage.
While at present the RCAF salvage operations are aimed at discarding nothing that can economically be reemployed, no detailed planning has been done as yet on postwar disposals of equipment. But the RCAF has made big strides in the salvaging and reclamation of equipment and has set up an organization well able to tackle post war salvage when policy on that subject has been set.
This article was originally published in the March, 1944, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 43, no 3, pp 168-169, 324, 327-328.
The original article includes 5 photos: 4 illustrating the Ventura recovery, 1 showing the Hudson. Photos are not credited, but are almost certainly RCAF.