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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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.”

The airplane spent six months at Culver City, most of the time parked.

Hughes rented for Rogers and his family a former ambassador’s house in Coldwater Canyon with a swimming pool and fruit trees. While Rogers and the crew occasionally enjoyed a little of Hughes’ renowned Hollywood party life with the ever-present starlets, Hughes made a proposal for Convair to manufacture 20 or 50 Jetliners under license for TWA’s more prestigious routes. Convair completed detailed plans that summer to deliver the first airplane by May 1954. Some say Howe intervened to quash the deal, but historian Jonathan Vance isn’t so sure. “I suspect it was equal parts economic nationalism and a kind of tit-for-tat because the U.S. had put restrictions on out-of-country, defense-related manufacturing,” he says. The Convair license from Avro would certainly have qualified as “out-of-country” manufacturing. Floyd said the plan was killed when the U.S. government decided that its own military commitments must take priority in Convair’s plants.

Hughes’ final attempt was offering to finance Avro to build him 30 Jetliners. Howe would have no part of that. According to Floyd’s book, Howe wrote to Avro, “…any such use of your floor space cannot be tolerated.” The Hughes MG2 fire control system never did get installed, and Rogers was told to bring the airplane back to Toronto.

For the next few years the Jetliner became Avro’s house airplane, photographing CF-100 weapons tests or pilot ejection tests. But before long, the lack of spares and the long-term maintenance issues made the Jetliner increasingly useless.

On November 23, 1956, Rogers signed out the Jetliner and took off with three passengers for a 35-minute hop out of Malton. It was his only trip that day, and before he left the office, he sat at his desk and made his logbook entry. Seventeen days later Floyd received an interoffice memo from Avro’s president, ordering with great regret that “the Jetliner is to be dismantled, in an appropriate fashion, as quickly and as quietly as can be done, every precaution being taken to attract as little attention as possible, and with the avoidance of any fanfare.” That day, Rogers updated his recent logbook entry, adding in the Remarks column “Last Flight.” 

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Calgary-based writer Graham Chandler can be reached through his Web site, www.grahamchandler.ca.

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