The only thing that kept Canada from beating the U.S. to a jet airliner was Canada.
- By Graham Chandler
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
Collage: Ted lopez; photographs and newspapers courtesy Mabel Baker family, George Evans, Avro of Canada
(Page 3 of 5)
The tour set the industry abuzz. TCA warmed a little, sending their operations manager and their chief test pilot for flights. Dixon Speas, assistant to the president of American Airlines, defected to Avro to head up a new marketing office in New York. He began calling on Capital, United, National, American, Eastern, and TWA airlines, as well as the U.S. Navy. National discussed a contract to purchase four Jetliners with an option for six more. The second Jetliner would incorporate the airline’s requirements: longer fuselage for 60 passengers, increased range, double-slotted flaps, and a provision for whatever engine a customer wanted.
Meanwhile, the Air Transport Board released a study of the TCA route. The board said that running the Jetliner on the popular Toronto-Montreal-New York route, despite each leg being well short of the Jetliner’s design range, would be 20 percent cheaper than using North Stars. Not only that, the Jetliner could do the routes in two-thirds the time with three airplanes—one fewer than the number of North Stars required. And, the board wrote, as the lengths of the legs along a route grew, costs would improve, producing even greater net revenues.
So by mid-July 1950, less than a year after its first flight, the prospects for the Jetliner looked bright. But 1950 was another war year: Korea. The United States and Canada were gearing up in case it escalated into a wider conflict. Avro was committing more workers and nearly all of its space to CF-100 production. Avro’s commitment soon grew to 720 CF-100s—25 a month—and the second Jetliner was squeezed into a hangar corner.
Floyd pressed on. Through early 1951 several demonstrations were run carrying airline executives as far south as Miami and as far west as Los Angeles, confounding air traffic controllers along the way as they reported unheard-of airliner speeds and altitudes. Even the U.S. Air Force got into the picture, inviting the Avro team to come to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. With its high speed and cruise altitude, the Jetliner was the closest thing out there to the new bombers, so the Air Force thought the airplane would make the ideal crew training platform.
But the priority both nations put on building warplanes was leading to the Jetliner’s demise.
One hundred years agO, Clarence Decatur Howe left the land his ancestors settled in the 1630s near Waltham, Massachusetts, and crossed the Canadian border to take his first job: professor of civil engineering at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. By 1935, he was a member of Parliament, and soon after rose to become Canada’s wartime Minister of Munitions and Supply. A go-getter, he was dubbed in 1947 “our new dictator” by an opposition member when Howe got a new cabinet post as the country’s first Minister of Transport. From there, he would drive the final nails in the Jetliner’s coffin.
Although Howe oversaw TCA, he never warmed to the Jetliner. With the overwhelming CF-100 commitment, he ordered Avro to withdraw the airliner from consideration by National, end promotions to other U.S. airlines, and stop work on a second aircraft. Floyd continued courting U.S. Air Force interest, and had the jet flown to the Wright Air Development Center for a thorough trial by Air Force engineers, pilots, bombardiers, and maintenance crews. A month later, they submitted a report card: eminently suitable as a multi-jet-engine trainer for pilots and bombardiers, with a bonus idea—air refueling tanker. Speas heard from the sales manager for the Allison division of General Motors, who said the Air Force told him it had put aside $20 million to buy 20 Jetliners; according to Floyd’s book, the U.S. Navy was also interested.
But back home at Malton, all was not so rosy. The second CF-100 prototype had crashed, and production of the fighter and its engines was way behind schedule. Avro management continued to shift workers from the jetliner to the fighter program, and transferred Floyd’s chief aerodynamicist to a new, secret, all-weather, supersonic interceptor project to replace the CF-100; the interceptor would evolve into the Arrow. Floyd’s team didn’t even have the manpower to engineer the installation of the Allison J33 engines the Air Force wanted. Worse, Floyd himself was asked to leave the Jetliner project to troubleshoot the fighter production line—“not the happiest period of my career,” he wrote. Twisting the knife was a visit to the plant by Howe, who told Floyd, “I suggest you forget that airplane and put your energy into getting the CF-100s out.” Soon afterward, a senior civil servant named Crawford Gordon, who had worked under Howe, was made Avro’s president.