Sunday, April 16, 2017

Part 5: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

The International Geophysical Year, the Avro Arrow & Jetliner, Lapp, Stehling, Bull & Blue Streak

         By Robert Godwin

Craphic c/o Canada Post.
Canada's aerospace raison d'être has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.
In 1955 President Eisenhower announced that the United States would contribute to the 75th anniversary of the International Polar Year by launching an orbiting satellite. This new scientific global initiative was to be called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) because scientists would now study the whole planet, rather than just the polar regions. Kurt Stehling was now in Princeton New Jersey working for the Naval Research Laboratory and he was assigned to be chief of propulsion on the as-yet untested launch vehicle for the proposed IGY satellite.

Russia had played a significant role in the two previous IPY events and it was only logical that its successor, the Soviet Union, would do the same. Soviet scientists informed their western counterparts at the Copenhagen International Astronautical Congress that they would be attempting their own satellite launch, but despite these comments the Western world was utterly stunned when on October 4th 1957 the world's first spacecraft, Sputnik, went soaring into orbit.

In Malton Ontario, on that very same day, thousands of Canadian aerospace workers were distracted by their own remarkable achievement. The roll-out of Canada's latest, home-grown, fighter-interceptor; designated the CF-105, or Avro Arrow.

Designed by a team of some of the brightest and best engineers in the world, the Arrow was like something from the future. It was packed from stem to stern with the latest aerospace technology and, should it live up to expectations, it represented a truly giant leap forward in aviation. But the Cold War was in full swing and while the Arrow may have been futuristic, the Soviet's little metal ball passing overhead at 25 times the speed of sound stole the limelight.

Phil Lapp, the U of T engineer who had gone to MIT, had spent much of his early career flying across the Canadian wilderness, mapping and recording mineral deposits and other potential resources. By the 1950s he had assumed an important role at de Havilland in Downsview and as soon as he heard about Sputnik he resolved to create an in-house group to look at the very-real new science of astronautics. He called his group the Canadian Astronautical Society and they held their first full meeting at the de Havilland Missile Division on January 8th 1958.

Lapp's group spent the next year working up proposals for high-altitude rockets and satellite tracking facilities. They built Canada's first space tracking station using spare parts and donated money and used it to keep an eye on the sudden flurry of American and Soviet satellites.

The United States government had launched its first satellite at the end of January 1958; seven weeks later the Navy rocket which Kurt Stehling had been working on, launched Vanguard 1 into an orbit that was expected to last 1000 years. Later that summer the United States consolidated its efforts into a civilian space agency named the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), based on the recommendations of the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel. This small group of scientists included Stehling, who was now writing science papers on almost a monthly basis, ranging on subjects as diverse as ion propulsion to relativistic time dilatation.

In April 1958 it was revealed that Gerald Bull's oxygen-hydrogen gun experiments at CARDE were being considered as a second stage for a Canadian satellite launch. The plan was to place the satellite atop a lightweight version of Bull's gun and place the satellite and gun combination on an American Redstone missile. The press dubbed the plan "Canucknik." Although there is no doubt that the technology existed, Defence Minister George Pearkes and Brigadier Waldock, who ran CARDE, were quick to deny the reports. Canada's satellite would have to wait.

In the summer of 1958 Phil Lapp sent the Canadian Astronautical Society secretary, Arthur Maine, to attend the International Astronautical Congress in Amsterdam. While there, Maine came into contact with the British de Havilland missile engineers who were working on a long range ballistic missile named the Blue Streak. After much discussion it was decided that the Blue Streak might be used as the basis for a Commonwealth Space Program. Maine reported back to Lapp that Canada should get involved immediately in this proposal and inaugurate a third contestant in the space race.

At this moment in history governments around the world had become obsessed with the notion that missiles would soon make aircraft obsolete. Missile divisions had already started to evolve to meet this new challenge and Canada had stayed in this arena by building increasingly advanced guidance mechanisms for air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

By the end of 1958 the Canadian Aeronautical Institute (CAI), a four-year old aircraft industry group, started to contemplate taking on a role in the space and missile arena. The CAI had about 1000 members and was the industry voice for more than four dozen aerospace corporations including de Havilland, Avro, Canadair, the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Trans Canada Airlines, Rolls Royce Canada and many others.

Most of these companies had long legacies in the aircraft business but few were involved with missile and rocket technology with the notable exceptions of de Havilland, Bristol and Canadair.  Despite these three companies being within the inner circle of CAI, there was a muted response from the members about getting involved in the new business of space flight. At this time the CAI chairman was a UTIAS professor named Herbert Ribner, who had originally worked at NASA's predecessor, the NACA in Washington.  Ribner's vice-chairman was David Bogdanoff, a Michigan native who worked at Canadair in Montreal, a company that was owned by General Dynamics in the United States.

In January 1959 Phil Lapp and Arthur Maine urged the Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, and his Defence Secretary George Pearkes, to allow the CAS to send official representatives to a Commonwealth Space Summit scheduled for August in London. The request was declined.

January 1959 CAS submission to Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Graphics c/o Apogee Books.

At this exact time the government of Canada was embroiled in a political miasma and seemed unsure of what to do with Canada's air defence. In the mid 1950s the previous government had commissioned the Avro Arrow as a replacement for the wildly successful CF-100 fighter. The new fighter/interceptor was to be designed and built by Avro in Malton Ontario and was to be on the cutting edge of aircraft design.

The team assembled in Malton Ontario included engineers from England, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Germany and elsewhere and they set about building an aircraft that would be uniquely suited to Canada's specific needs. It had to be capable of long-range interception, it had to carry the best possible weapons systems, it had to be able to fly faster and higher than almost anything else in the sky and it needed to be airborne by the end of the decade.

Since its first roll-out in October of 1957 the Arrow had gone through an assortment of test flights and was still awaiting its home-grown high powered engine, the Orenda Iroquois. This engine had outperformed almost every engine in the world during test-bed trials. But despite all indications that the Arrow would be a world-beating aircraft, at the beginning of 1959 the Diefenbaker government chose to cancel all further development and effectively consigned Avro Canada to a long slow decline into oblivion. Like its ill-fated predecessor the Avro Jetliner the Arrow suffered by false comparisons.

The history books all still say that the de Havilland Comet was the first civilian jet transport to take to the air, which is technically true. However, what the history books rarely reveal is that the Comet flew a few inches off the ground and then settled back onto the runway. Two weeks later the Jetliner took off and flew for over an hour at 13,000 feet. If we are to use such unfavourable comparisons then the Wright Brothers first flight should perhaps be overshadowed by the Maxim flight of the 1890s which also left the ground for a few inches.

If the Jetliner had gone into production it would have beaten its first real in-service competitor by more than five years. While history tends to lay the blame for Avro's demise squarely on Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, there are those who worked on the Jetliner who feel that the St Laurent government's decision to cancel the Jetliner was the mortal blow. It certainly didn't make it any easier that much later Diefenbaker accused Avro of complacency, and of only being successful because of government largesse.

The irony of this remark now resonates with sixty years of hindsight. In fact government subsidies underwrite almost every major aerospace program in the world. Canada was no different and Avro was no more blameworthy than Boeing or Douglas or de Havilland when it came to taking handouts from the taxpayer.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker famously remarked that Canada needed its aircraft manufacturing industry, but if Avro disappeared, the country would still have de Havilland and Canadair. Although technically this was true, the comment wantonly obfuscated the fact that thousands of highly trained people would lose their jobs, and even worse, leave the country.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened. 
Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
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.
Last Week, "Radar, Better Radar (of the "Synthetic Aperture" Variety), Project Quill, CARDE, Velvet Glove & Black Brant" in part four of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "Bomarc Missiles, The "Prevailing Wisdom" of Unaware Politicians, Unemployed Avro Employees, NASA, Canadair, CAI & the Origins of Spar Aerospace" as part six of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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