Thursday, July 13, 2017

Part 16: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Bombardier, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Conclusions

         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.
The upshot of more than forty years of political machinations is that Canada now has only one major aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier Aerospace, which over the last few decades has become a global competitor in the mid-sized civilian jet market.
However, in 2016 an assortment of delays with a new line of aircraft pushed the company stock into difficult waters and once again the government was asked to intervene. In this instance the government of Quebec had the most to lose and so it was the first to pour money into the company.

The newly elected Trudeau government was expected to do the same, but the whole issue was delayed by complaints from Brazil's Embraer SA, which had accused the Canadian government of unfair subsidies. This situation was further complicated by the senior shareholders refusing to transfer stockholder control to the government in exchange for the investment.

As a partial solution the sophisticated new line of "C" series jets was spun off into a separate company and new management placed in charge. When Pierre Trudeau's government poured money into Canadair and de Havilland in the 1970s one of the first things he did was to place some new management into the ailing companies. This is standard company procedure in practically any majority sale of shares to new stockholders.

In February 2017 Justin Trudeau's government announced its intention to navigate this difficult problem by offering $372Mln CDN in interest-free loans to Bombardier, because the conventional tactic of money for shares/management control would place the majority of the company's ownership into government hands and would almost certainly trigger a trade dispute with the USA, Brazil and Europe.

Today Bombardier competes with Embraer to be the third largest manufacturer of jets in the world, but it is not the only aircraft manufacturer in Canada. Somewhat ironically, after so many of Canada's top aerospace engineers moved to Bell Aircraft in Buffalo in the 1950s, Bell ended up moving some of its helicopter manufacturing operations to Quebec.

There have also been dozens of other small aircraft manufacturers in Canada in the last hundred years. Those consigned to history include Vickers, Cub, Noorduyn and Fairchild. However, the light aircraft industry in 2016 still includes Bristol Aerospace and over two dozen other small companies.

The civilian airline market has an equally convoluted history far beyond the scope of this article. Well over two hundred domestic commercial air carriers have operated in Canada, half of them are still in business today, most flying aircraft made outside of Canada.

Satellites and rockets have never supplanted the need for aircraft. They are two completely different tools in our arsenal to study, explore and defend. Canada's huge size and difficult and varied climate has always required unique aerospace solutions. Whether it be planes capable of landing on water, or on skis (another of George Klein's inventions), or whether it be long-range interceptors, or better radio transmitters that can defeat the auroral interference; or special kinds of rocket fuel like that developed at  the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) for the Black Brant. At the heart of the industry has been what Canadians needed, access to communications and resources.

At the time of writing, yet another cabinet in Ottawa is staying awake at night trying to decide which aircraft to choose for the next generation of Canadians. There is no doubt that as long as Canada has access to remote sensing tools like Radarsat that decision becomes a little easier to make.

On the military side, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) currently has 14 Wings which are spread right across the country. Air Force officers also operate in the space arena, conducting such high profile projects as the Sapphire satellite, which was launched in 2013 by the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to study the problem of space debris in low earth orbit.

The RCAF also utilizes the huge amount of data that pours down from Radarsat-2 through their Polar Epsilon project. Then there is the proposed Enhanced Satellite Communications Project, which if implemented will place two satellites in a high elliptical orbit capable of providing better communications in the arctic and polar regions.

The media spends a lot of time concentrating on the things that need fixing in the RCAF, such as replacing the fighters, or search and rescue helicopters, but the Air Force has over 80 squadrons equipped with more than 20 different aircraft.

The heart of the fleet's technology spans more than six decades. Although the oldest model is the Lockheed Hercules, the actual Hercules aircraft in service today are modern upgrades purchased in 2010. 45% of the currently operational RCAF fleet is built in the United States, 20% in Europe and Israel and 35% in Canada.

Our foreign built aircraft include:
  • CC-130 Hercules (Built by Lockheed, with the first flight in 1956)
  • CH-147F Chinook (Boeing 1962)
  • CH-124 Sea King (Sikorsky 1963)
  • CT-155 Hawk (BAE 1974)
  • CF-18 Hornet (Boeing 1978)
  • CP-140 Aurora (Lockheed 1979)
  • CP-140A Arcturus (Lockheed 1979)
  • CC-177 Globemaster III (Boeing 1991)
  • CC-150 Polaris (Airbus 1992)
  • CU-170 Heron (Malat 1994)
  • G-120 (Grob 1999)
  • CH-149 Cormorant (AgustaWestland 2000)
  • CT-156 Harvard II (Beechcraft 2000)
  • CH-148 Cyclone (Sikorsky 2008)
Our Canadian built aircraft include:
  • CT-114 Tutor (Built by Canadair, with the first flight in 1960)
  • CH-139 Jet Ranger (Bell  1962)
  • CC-138 Otter (de Havilland/Viking Air 1965)
  • CC-115 Buffalo (de Havilland/Viking Air 1965)
  • CC-144 Challenger (Bombardier 1978)
  • CT-142 DASH-8 (Bombardier 1983)
  • CH-146 Griffon (Bell 1992)
The world has changed a lot since de Havilland and Avro built everything in-house. Many of the largest aerospace manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus don't make everything in France or the USA, they source components from all over the world. So although we think of Bombardier and MacDonald Detwiler (MDA) as Canadian companies they have factories and facilities on several continents. The global market has changed everything.

As a good example of that, and for anyone still looking for more signs of Canada’s rich aerospace DNA in the Toronto area, one of the great success stories is that of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Located in a 250,000 sq ft plant a short walk from where Victory Aircraft stood in the 1940s, MHI Canada (MHIC) is the latest contributor to the long genealogy of large aircraft part manufacturers in Mississauga.

Known in the industry as a “Tier One” player, MHIC employs over 750 Canadians (many brought in straight out of the local universities and colleges) to quietly and studiously build wings and fuselage sections for Bombardier. That’s more than twice as many people as Sir Roy Dobson started Avro with in 1946. The Mitsubishi name is known and respected around the world, not least for having built the Kibo module for the International Space Station (ISS).

MHIC now has a direct link to Canada’s long aircraft manufacturing history and not just through its obvious connection to Bombardier. The company is also partnering with MDA to apply the outstanding robotic technologies developed for the Canadarm to create world-beating methods for aircraft manufacturing.

As if that isn’t enough of a provenance, the current president of MHIC came up through the ranks at the old Victory/Avro/McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing plant in Malton and makes sure the company has a good working relationship with industry groups such as CASI, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada and the Ontario Aerospace Council.

The company is also an engaged and generous partner to the local community on a par with how Avro conducted itself in the 1950s. Perhaps even more encouraging is that MHIC sources its components from more than two dozen other Canadian suppliers, accounting for 65% of their material requirements. Many of the companies in MHIC’s and Bombardier’s supply chain provide world-class technology and are the quiet unsung heroes of modern Canadian aerospace.

Many smaller companies continue to evolve and grow in Canada's special aerospace market. One highly visible success story is Viking Air of British Columbia.

Initially Viking's business was selling parts and repairs for Grumman aircraft but in 1983 they took over servicing for the large global fleet of de Havilland aircraft, such as the Beaver and the Otter. By 2006 they had acquired certificates for the Chipmunk, Otter, Beaver, Caribou, Buffalo and the DASH-7. Between 2010 and 2016 Viking sold 60 Twin Otters to 24 countries. In 2016 they purchased more designs from Bombardier for amphibious aircraft. In 2017 Viking is modernizing Canada's rich aviation heritage and once again shipping iconic designs around the world.

Remote sensing continues to be one of the principal ways that Canada contributes to our understanding and better stewardship of our home planet. The Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (CCMEO) is now leading a Government of Canada research and development effort to prepare for a 3-satellite RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) to be launched in 2018.

It is now a little more than 150 years since William Leitch first proposed rocket space flight from his desk at Queen's College in Kingston Ontario. Since then, Canadians have:
  • Postulated the first rocket assisted  aircraft. 
  • Become the third country to build its own satellite.
  • Built the world's first geosynchronous national telecommunications system.
  • Designed and fabricated what is arguably the most successful piece of space communications hardware ever created.
  • Flew the world's first direct TV satellite broadcast system.
  • Constructed the most advanced robotic system to ever fly in space.
  • Created some of the world's most sophisticated space-based remote sensing systems.
  • Proposed the first space-based earth-observation platform using microwave radar.
  • Manufactured the fastest down-link imaging system in the world.
  • Assembled the world's only space "gun."
  • Created the hardware which discovered weather on Mars and beyond Pluto.
  • Contributed to every manned spacecraft yet to fly in the United States.
  • Helped design and build the spacecraft and launch system which took humans to the moon.
  • And unraveled the mysteries of the aurora. 
In this anniversary year it seems more than appropriate that this uniquely polar phenomenon would now be enshrined on Canadian money. Image c/o Canadian Mint.

Canada may be 150 years old but since before the dawn of recorded history the eyes of ancient ancestral peoples have gazed up at the astonishing spectacle of the polar aurora and wondered what role it plays in our terrestrial affairs. By trying to answer this question the first inhabitants of this continent took the first steps on a long path of discovery which has ultimately spawned our own unique aerospace industry.

All of this came about as a result of a need to explore the vast remote regions of Canada, to be able to communicate across that same wilderness, and to be able to utilize and protect its resources. Despite all of these amazing accomplishments one thing hasn't changed; Canadians still need a robust aerospace industry for all of the same reasons which Phil Lapp outlined sixty years ago.

There is still a lot to explore, utilize and protect. 
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, "More RADARSAT, More Astronauts, the CSA's Growing Importance, the 'Airbus Affair,' MacDonald Dettwiler & the 'Canadarm'," in part fifteen of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

To Start at the Beginning: Check out, "Before Canada: HMS Agamemnon, the Telegraph Cable, William Leitch & 'The Fur Country'," in part one of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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