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 4 of 5)
Ironically, it was the CF-100 work that spawned a potential revival for the Jetliner. Avro was proposing to use the
Hughes MG2 fire control system for the Mark IV version of the CF-100. In a 2005 interview, Floyd told me: “Crawford Gordon got the idea that Howard Hughes is good for new projects, and so why don’t we get him interested in the Jetliner?” The idea was that the Jetliner would make a good flying testbed for the fighter program. “The Jetliner was nearly as fast as a CF-100, so we could put all the equipment in there and try it out,” Floyd said. Hughes was well aware of the record-breaking Jetliner—his airline TWA had already evaluated it, and he was anxious to fly it.
So on April 7, 1952, the Jetliner departed Malton for Culver City, California. Among those on board were Floyd, who brought along reams of Jetliner drawings, and chief test pilot Don Rogers. After stops for fuel in Chicago and Denver, the crew arrived at Hughes’ airfield the following afternoon. The next day, the billionaire arranged to meet them at their airplane.
“My first impression was: Here was someone who was almost, what shall we say, a phantom,” Floyd told me. “He drove up in a car, and stayed in the car about two hours talking to somebody.” Finally the car door opened and Hughes walked over to meet the team. He had a quick look inside, and seemed especially interested in the cockpit layout.
The next day, Hughes wanted to fly. Rogers sat him in the copilot’s seat. “He didn’t say very much,” Rogers told me in a 2005 interview. “He just took the ride in the right-hand seat for a few circuits, then I put him in the left seat for a few circuits.” Rogers recounted that Hughes was a fast learner, very careful, and applied just the right inputs to the Jetliner’s flight controls. He remembered Hughes tended to make his approaches faster than necessary, in order to “feel” the airplane. The entrepreneur had a cavalier disregard for flight plans and radio instructions. “Flight plans weren’t mandatory in those days,” Rogers said. “He’d just take off on his own private strip and I’d be searching the sky very carefully for other aircraft.”
After they landed, Hughes immediately ordered the Jetliner parked on the far side of his airfield, under a tree with guards around it. No one else was allowed near it. “His pilots never did get to fly the airplane,” Rogers said. Besides wanting to feel how the airplane performed,
Hughes wanted to understand its design and engineering details, so he asked Floyd to sit down with him at a suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel. “We stretched all the drawings out on the dining room table, starting off about seven o’clock at night,” Floyd recalled. “I hadn’t had my dinner and it went on till about six o’clock the next morning.”
In the course of talking with Hughes for 11 hours about nothing but the Jetliner, Floyd came to admire the man’s engineering acumen. “My God, he really asked the questions that should be asked,” he said. “He was absolutely at home with the drawings and all the things we were talking about. He came across as a very knowledgeable engineer.” Floyd later got a photograph of the Jetliner that Hughes had autographed: “To Jim, with commendation for this very good design.”