Monday, April 24, 2017

Part 6: 150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History

Bomarc Missiles, The "Prevailing Wisdom" of Unaware Politicians, Unemployed Avro Employees, NASA, Canadair, CAI & the Origins of Spar Aerospace





Bomarc. Photo c/o Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.
         By Robert Godwin

Canada's aerospace raison d'ĂȘtre has always derived from its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location.

The Avro Arrow was to be replaced by a surface to air missile, built by Boeing in the United States, named the Bomarc.  The Bomarc was a liquid fueled interceptor with a static launching site and a limited range. It was also designed to be equipped with a nuclear warhead.

At the moment that Canada committed to this weapon for its defence, the prevailing wisdom was already changing in the United States and the Soviet Union, against the usefulness of static-site liquid fueled rockets. They were considered easy targets and they took too long to prepare for launch.

In the Soviet Union even rocket genius Sergei Korolev was struggling to convince Nikita Khrushchev that the rocket which had launched Sputnik was useful as a weapon. In England, Geoffrey Pardoe, one of the principal designers of Britain's Blue Streak was fighting a similar fight with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

However, in the United States dozens of contractors were still lining up to build missiles. The new technology of rockets was outpacing the social awareness of the politicians in charge of commissioning them.


At the exact time that 13,000 Avro employees went in search of employment, the United States government was looking for aerospace engineers to come and help its newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to put a man into space. Within weeks of the Avro lay-offs dozens of engineers headed south of the border and took up positions at NASA, McDonnell, Douglas, Boeing, Bell, Grumman and elsewhere. Many went back to England where they were employed by de Havilland and Hawker Siddeley.

The main beneficiary of this "brain drain" was NASA where people like James Chamberlin, John Hodge, William Carpentier, Len Packham, Owen Maynard and two dozen others took up positions in the fledgling American space program, often as department heads. Over the next ten years they would play an important role in putting humans on the moon.

Just four days after the cancellation of the Arrow, the Black Brant was fired for the first time on a test stand in Valcartier. The cancellation of Arrow represented something of a windfall for Canadair. The management at the Montreal based company now knew that it had another chance to bid on the construction of Canada's next generation of fighter aircraft. Canadair had flourished all through the 1950s building more than 1500 variants of the North American Aviation Sabre fighter. At about the same time de Havilland had been building the Grumman S2-F Tracker anti-submarine aircraft.

Sabres of 421 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force at RCAF Station Grostenquin, France in the 1950's. The Canadair Sabre was a jet fighter aircraft built by Canadair in Montreal, PQ under licence from North American Aviation. According to the wikipedia entry, "a variant of the North American F-86 Sabre, it was produced until 1958 and used primarily by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) until replaced with the Canadair CF-104 in 1962. Several other air forces also operated the aircraft." Photo c/o Canada's Air Forces, 1914–1999

The CAI barely acknowledged the huge loss of jobs at Avro and began to encourage more cooperation with the United States, both for fighters and for space. In early March 1959, in response to the notion that Canada should join in on a Commonwealth space program, Herbert Ribner of the CAI expressed his opinion that Canada would be better to ally itself with the USA.

Less than a month after that, in April 1959, the Diefenbaker government announced its intentions to design a satellite to be launched by the United States. At first it was expected that the satellite would be built in the USA, with the stated intention that it would be used to probe the upper atmosphere from above. If it could be built and launched successfully the satellite was expected to reveal hitherto unforeseen insights into the nature of the ionosphere and perhaps resolve some of the problems with long range communications that had been dogging governments for generations. Two weeks later the British government announced its intention to follow Canada's lead and launch its own space program with the help of the United States.

Canada's first real satellite was proposed by John Herbert Chapman of the NRC in Ottawa. Chapman knew that to be able to study the ionosphere from above, his satellite would need to operate in a frequency range that would require extremely long antennae. Chapman knew Phil Lapp, who was still at de Havilland's missile division in Downsview Ontario, so he contacted him and suggested that he visit the office of George Klein who worked near to Chapman at NRC. Klein had devised a clever device which could be used as an antenna but could also be packed into a very tight space. This so-called STEM antenna could be deployed without any overly complicated mechanisms. It was perfect for space projects.

The Canadian built STEM antenna used in the Alouette-1 satellite. The compact, flat, but flexible metallic bar unrolls and bends inward to become a rigid cylinder able to be used as a satellite antenna.  Photo c/o Canadian Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) collection #1992.0357.00.

Klein was another graduate of the University of Toronto. He was born in Hamilton in 1904 and by the time he was 39 he had already earned an MBE from King George. Klein had an uncanny knack for invention and in July of 1951 he had been returning from a trip to England aboard the Cunard ship Franconia when he had what was perhaps his greatest idea.

Evidently Klein liked to roll his own cigarettes and it was while standing on the deck of the Franconia he rolled up a cigarette paper and had a revelation. It had occurred to him that he could make a similar roll-up device out of metal which might be a useful remedy to a problem that he had been given to solve.

What was needed was an antenna which could be dropped out of an aircraft over rugged terrain, or even water, and be used to send back data. Working with another NRC genius named Harry Stevinson, Klein concocted a workable device which would ultimately lead to the black box concept seen in most of today's modern aircraft.

Lapp studied Klein's invention and took it back to de Havilland where the engineers went to work to make a version that would be long enough for Chapman's satellite. This innocuous device would become so successful it would go on to create an aerospace industry behemoth – SPAR Aerospace. 
Robert Godwin.
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Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum and an American Astronautical Society History Committee Member.
He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music.  
His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.
Last Week, "The International Geophysical Year, the Avro Arrow & Jetliner, Lapp, Stehling, Bull & Blue Streak" in part five of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Next Week, "A Government Lurching From 'Problem to Problem,'" as part seven of "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History" continues.

On sale now, at Apogee Books.

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