Thursday, August 06, 2015

Part 4 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Britain follows Canada's Lead; Rearming the RCAF and the Commonwealth Space Symposium

1959 Hawker Siddeley ad promoting Commonwealth Space.
By Robert Godwin
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Just two weeks after the announcement of the joint US/Canadian satellite venture, and ignoring the recommendations of the team at Hatfield, the British government decided to hedge their bets. Before they would consider an all-British space program they would test British experiments using rented space on American Atlas and Thor missiles; in essence following Canada's lead.[1]

About a month later, on June 13th 1959, the United States Congress began talking about cutbacks to the Bomarc missile program. Just two days after that James Floyd, the genius engineer who had built the first civilian jet airliner in North America and whose career had spanned everything from the legendary Lancaster bomber, to the CF-100 fighter, to the Avro Arrow, decided to return to England. Where he took up the role of Chief Engineer at the Hawker Siddeley Advanced Projects Office.

Under some pressure, two weeks later on June 29th the British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan formally announced the desire of his government to pursue an all Commonwealth Space Program. The pundits assumed that Canada would, and should, play a major role.[2]

Rearming the RCAF

Meanwhile, Crawford Gordon, the tempestuous head of A.V. Roe Canada had resigned. His relationship with Diefenbaker was known to be somewhat less than cordial so his departure was expected to clear the way for a new start at the troubled company; particularly since the government in Ottawa was still faced with the same unresolved problem that it had faced almost a decade earlier - what to do with Canada's Air Force. The CF-100 and the F-86 Sabres on-station were obsolete and no match for the latest generation of Soviet fighters.

Several choices were considered by the cabinet: buy the new Mirage from France; purchase an experimental aircraft from Lockheed; or allow A.V. Roe to build its parent company's own brand-new experimental Hawker 1127. On July 3rd the interested parties were told that the government had chosen the Lockheed deal despite not having conducted a single test flight of the aircraft.

The parliamentary opposition accused the government of buying an untested aircraft which didn't meet Canada's requirements. The highly modified Lockheed F-104G fighter,customised to be all things to all services,would never live up to any reasonable expectations. It became known as the Widowmaker, killing pilots at an alarming pace over the next four years; with an accident rate over seven times the average across the service.[3] [4]

The Lockheed Starfighter (its real name) was also almost useless for patrolling the vast expanse of Canada's north...

To Continue Reading Part 4 of 
"The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program"

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Daily Express May 4 1959
2. Toronto Star Jun 29 1959
3. Globe and Mail Oct 3 1963
4. Toronto Star Aug 21 1976

Last Week: "A 50th Anniversary; Rocket Interceptors; Buy American & Blue Streak," in part three of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program."

Next Week: "Replacing the Squadrons: the Arrow: its Cancellation and the Reasons Behind the Decision," as part five of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" continues!

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