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)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

In 1948, TCA’s new president Gordon McGregor did just that: Floyd’s book reports that at a meeting shortly after his appointment, McGregor said he didn’t want the airline to be the first in North America to operate a jet transport. Management began to look for escapes: Since few Canadian airports had the new Instrument Landing Systems that would enable the new aircraft to land, TCA pointed out that the Jetliner would require considerably higher fuel reserves to get to those airports with the necessary equipment. TCA also demanded more stringent specifications, like a 500-mph cruising speed, which would have required a complete redesign to accommodate a swept wing, like the Comet had. “It would have been easier to convert a cow into a crocodile than it would have been to incorporate all TCA’s new ‘suggestions’ into the C102 design,” writes Floyd, who points out that unlike the long-range Comet, the Jetliner was optimized for short- to medium-length routes and the ability to operate from shorter runways.

As TCA dithered, Floyd looked for customers elsewhere, especially south of the border, where airlines traditionally worked closely with designers. But in 1947, U.S. airplane manufacturers Douglas, Lockheed, Martin, Convair, and Boeing all posted financial losses and were preoccupied with new piston designs like the DC-6, Constellation, Martinliner, Convairliner, and Stratocruiser. Years later, Boeing unveiled its 707 prototype, heralding a new jet intended for longer-range, intercontinental travel. The Avro Jetliner, by contrast, had been designed as a regional jet. Still, U.S. interest in Avro’s work was high. “In the Avro XC-102, the Dominion of Canada has something brand new in the commercial transport field—a 100 percent jet-powered design with an economical cruising speed 100 mph faster than the newest American types,” reported Aviation Week magazine on November 1, 1948.

So Floyd and his team pressed on, dedicated to making the Jetliner a success. Despite the loss of key staff to the CF-100 program, morale at Avro was soaring. Engineers, draftsmen, and technicians worked on the project well into the nights, and in the summer of 1949, the Jetliner flew without a hitch. Flight testing went smoothly into the fall.

Soon a second prototype was under construction. But with no firm customer base, what was there to design to? Sales pitches to the United States were stepped up, as “the American market is wide open” for the jetliner, Delos W. Rentzel of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration told Canada’s national news magazine, Maclean’s, in late 1949.

On March 10, 1950, the Jetliner, along with the new CF-100, was flown to Ottawa to show off to government officials, military leaders, and dignitaries. The show was impressive; Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported “the big Jetliner’s performance evoked whistles of amazement.”

To keep the ball rolling, Avro invited TCA’s McGregor along on a flashy marketing and demo trip to New York. On April 18, the Jetliner made what was probably the most widely publicized airliner flight in North American history: leaving Toronto and blowing into New York City 59 minutes later. Scores of newspapers, including the New York Times, carried headlines like “Canadian Jet Liner Makes Air History” and “Jet Airliner Cuts Flying Time in Half.” Recognizing Canada’s huge jump on U.S. airline manufacturers, some U.S. newspapers blasted the lagging state of the American industry.

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.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus