Woe Canada

The only thing that kept Canada from beating the U.S. to a jet airliner was Canada.

Even though the rugged airplane had survived an emergency nosewheel landing on its second test fight, the Jetliner’s days were numbered. Not even interest from Howard Hughes (opposite, top) was enough to save it. Instead, Avro ramped up production of its CF-100 fighters (left). (Collage: Ted lopez; photographs and newspapers courtesy Mabel Baker family, George Evans, Avro of Canada)
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Thermometers were nudging 100 at Malton Airport in Toronto, Canada, when North America’s first jet airliner lifted off in a stiff crosswind. The aircraft flew for 65 minutes that day, August 10, 1949, just two weeks after Britain’s Comet jetliner had become the world’s first and five years before the United States would fly its first, the Boeing 707.

The Avro Canada C102 Jetliner could out-climb and out-cruise any airliner on North American drawing boards. It also needed less runway than anything the airlines had in their fleets and could fly higher, faster, and, a cost analysis later found, cheaper. The airplane was coveted by at least six airlines, the U.S. Air Force and Navy, the U.S. Civil Aviation Authority, and even billionaire Howard Hughes. Yet despite all the interest, seven years later the jet was put to the cutting torches. Its nose section sits forlornly at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, and the rest of the pieces were long ago sold to an Ontario scrap dealer.

What happened?

When World War II ended, Avro Canada was an independently managed subsidiary of British-based Hawker-Siddeley Group and, capitalizing on former wartime talent and labor, soon had several advanced designs under way. By the end of the 1950s, Avro had created not only the first North American jet airliner, but also an exceptionally capable Mach 2 interceptor, the CF-105 Arrow. Both fell to the fickle politics of national defense (see “Fallen Arrow,” Apr./May 1998). Avro’s greatest success was the CF-100, the Canadian fighter that flew under the U.S./Canadian North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) during the cold war to protect North American airspace from Soviet intruders. More than 700 were sold to the air forces of Canada and Belgium.

“It was a heady place to work,” recalls Jim Floyd, now 94. “It was a brand-new company. There were so many exciting things going on there.” At 32, the Man-

chester-born engineer reported for work at Avro Canada on February 11, 1946, and began organizing a new technical department. By the end of the month, the forward-thinking group was ready to discuss a new proposal: to design and produce a 30-passenger jet for Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) that could operate from 4,000-foot-long runways, could cruise at 400 mph, and had a 1,200-mile range. The group proposed the C102, and TCA was impressed. By April 9 the airline had sent Avro a letter of intent to purchase “a quantity” of the aircraft.

Back then, jet airliners were pie-in-the-sky ideas. Designing one was more than just mounting jets in place of piston engines. Because a jet becomes efficient at much higher altitudes and airspeeds, entirely new configurations were required, ones that could be controlled over a wide range of speeds and had fuselages able to withstand constant pressurization changes.

Floyd looked even further ahead than the TCA spec. “We decided from the outset…to allow for future development of the type,” he wrote in his book The Avro Canada C102 Jetliner. The team was hoping eventually to attain cruise speeds of 425 to 450 mph with a 40- to 50-passenger range of 1,500 miles. Floyd had the ideal engines in mind—two newly designed Rolls-Royce AJ65s, with 6,500 pounds of thrust each—but since those were still restricted to the military, he had to settle for four tried-and-true Rolls-Royce Derwent V engines. In 1945 Derwents had powered Britain’s Gloucester Meteor fighter to a world record of 606 mph. The four engines gave the Jetliner more thrust but also increased the airplane’s fuel consumption 13 percent.

TCA expressed cautious interest in the Jetliner. But the airline had enough on its plate with getting its new North Star (a Canadian variant of the Douglas C-54/DC-4/DC-6 with Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines) into service and making sure TCA could fill the seats.

“The reality was that the high traffic levels of the early 1940s were artificially inflated by wartime demands, and Canadians were not yet reconciled to flying as the normal way of getting from place to place,” says Jonathan Vance, Canada Research Chair in History at the University of Western Ontario. As a result, the airline struggled with budget deficits in the postwar years. “When it came time to upgrade the fleet, there was a fundamental question: Do you do it with a supposedly better version of an aircraft that the traveling public is already familiar with—i.e., a prop-driven aircraft—or do you do it with something new and different? If I had been with TCA at the time, I would have avoided jet technology.”

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