Sunday, April 02, 2017

Part 3: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Rockets, Mosquitoes, Lancaster's, UTIAS, and the Cold War

Downsview in the 30's. Photo c/o CASM.
         By Robert Godwin
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.
Along with rockets that could now pierce the edge of space, the war had also brought the need to accelerate other technologies, particularly in the fields of aviation, communications and navigation.

De Havilland's factory in Downsview mass-produced fighters like the Mosquito, while just down the road in Malton Ontario the Victory Aircraft Company churned out hundreds of heavy Lancaster bombers. One engineer from Toronto named Edward Fox who had kept his eye on the pulse of this work during the war wrote a book titled Stratosphere Flying, about the future of aviation and how to use the stars for navigation. By the end of the war Fox had written another 80,000 word manuscript about how to fly in space, but it seems this was never published. For his work on these books he won an award from King George.

While Kurt Stehling and Edward Fox were off fighting the Axis, another University of Toronto student named Hillel Diamond founded the Canadian Rocket Society (CRS). At the end of the war Stehling and Fox returned home and shortly thereafter they joined forces with Diamond to work towards their mutual dream of spaceflight. Fox, who had been an engineer since the 1920s, immediately took their cause to the media and conducted radio interviews and frequently appeared in the newspapers. He claimed to have become interested in the whole subject when he read the works of Jules Verne as a child.

One of those who supported the CRS was a brilliant engineer named Gordon Patterson, who had spent much of his life working in England, Australia and the United States on advanced aeronautics work. In his youth Patterson was one of a new breed of young engineers who spent their "off hours" conducting aerial surveys of Canada's remote regions. Mapping Canada's resources and remote geography was still an enormous unfinished task. In 1947 Patterson returned to his alma mater, the University of Toronto, where he established the the Institute for Aerophysics (UTIA), which eventually became the Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS).  This institution remains at the forefront of Canada's aerospace research until the present day.

UTIAS today. As outlined in the history page of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies website, Gordon Paterson "insisted, as a condition of his coming to U. of T. (in 1947), that a separate department of aeronautics be established, and after some equivocation, and resistance within the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, the University complied." Photo c/o UTIAS.

One of the most important developments at UTIAS was the construction of an advanced and extremely powerful wind tunnel. This was installed not far from the de Havilland factory in Downsview Ontario. Many of the next generation of top Canadian aerospace engineers would work at this establishment including a young man named Gerald Bull who was destined to make important advances in the future.

In early 1948 Stehling introduced engineers across Canada to the potential of the rocket when, as President of the University of Toronto Rocket Society, he wrote a paper entitled "Rocket Propulsion." He concluded his report with, "from a defensive and scientific viewpoint it will be necessary for Canadians to interest themselves in this useful and portentous science. Why shouldn't we use our native initiative and do more original work, instead of imitating or improving on the work of other countries?"

Stehling would win an award from the Engineering Institute of Canada for this paper. Despite some post-war difficulties finding employment, which he attributed to his German background, he soon found himself in-demand, lecturing on rockets and the intricacies of atomic energy. By the end of 1948 Stehling and Fox were willing to debate anyone on the feasibility of spaceflight.

Just down the road from the UTIAS wind tunnel, at the de Havilland factory, many iconic aircraft were now being manufactured, including the legendary "Beaver" and "Chipmunk." These planes were ideally suited for Canada's unique conditions and the Beaver's distinctive design would soon become an iconic image to all Canadians. The ability to land the Beaver on water allowed unprecedented access to some of Canada's remote regions.

By 1949 the Cold War was in full swing. Victory Aircraft in Malton had been taken over by the A.V. Roe Company (Avro) and it was now also building and developing some of the best aircraft in the world. The market for a civilian jet transport seemed obvious and in 1949 Avro delivered the C-102 "Jetliner." Thousands of man-hours had gone into the design of what could easily have been remembered as the world's first civilian jet transport, but technically it flew just two weeks behind Britain's de Havilland "Comet."

At the same time the CF-100 all-weather fighter was being developed for deployment in Europe and many squadrons were to be spread across Canada, waiting to be called up in case of a Soviet invasion from across the arctic. The Korean War soon became the front line and Avro were asked to drop the Jetliner program and concentrate their efforts on war materiel.

The early 1950s brought with it the beginning of the global race to perfect ballistic missile technology and the engineers at De Havilland in both England and Canada opened their own special missile divisions. This new field required an entirely new breed of engineers, and many young men from the University of Toronto travelled further afield to learn these special skills.

Kurt Stehling chose to accept a job at Bell Aerospace in Buffalo New York, where some of the German rocket scientists from World War II were now working. Wilfred Dukes also moved from Avro to Bell and became the deputy chief of engineering, where he wrote some of the first serious papers on hypersonic flight. Another young engineer from Toronto named Phil Lapp chose to go to MIT in the United States to learn more about missile guidance.

In 1951 Stehling wrote to American scientist James van Allen urging him to consider Canada as the perfect location for launching rockets into the high stratosphere. The wide open spaces were the precise kind of location for testing dangerous new hardware which might unexpectedly fall from the sky. Stehling proposed using high altitude balloons for the first stage, to save fuel. One of the locations he suggested for these launches was Churchill Falls in Manitoba.

Now that he was a paid-up member of the American Rocket Society, in January 1953, Stehling delivered a seminal paper called "Earth Scanning Techniques for Orbital Rocket Vehicles" in which he outlined the special work which an orbiting satellite could do to study ground based resources, and to monitor coastlines, by using either microwaves or visible-light scanning equipment.

This paper would lay the groundwork for the whole field of remote sensing from space and especially many of Canada's future space projects. Stehling's paper was based on non-classified information and suggested using a conventional paraboloidal "sweeping" radar antenna, the only kind known to operate in aircraft at that time. 
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, "The International Polar Year, the Silver Dart, Canada's First Air Show and Aerospace Becomes Serious Business" in part two of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "Radar, Better Radar (of the "Synthetic Aperture" Variety), Project Quill, 
CARDE, Velvet Globe & Black Brant," in part four as "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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