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January 31, 1961. Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Canada

A pillar of black smoke rose from the south bank of the St.Lawrence river, just south-west of Trois Rivieres. A single parachute drifted downward into the farmland north-east of Nicolet. A test pilot survived, a prototype jet trainer did not.

"I'd been set to fly a routine trip from the Canadair factory in Cartierville to Quebec City and back, following the river for navigation. Nothing should have gone wrong, but the program had been full of unexpected delays and obstacles. If ever there was an aircraft full of gremlins, the CL-41 was it."

So went part of the post crash interview with Canadair test pilot Ian MacTavish.

From the maiden flight, on January 13 of 1960, the Canadair CL-41 jet trainer program had been plagued with inexplicable problems. In spite of losing three prototypes due to sudden loss of control during flight, all wind tunnel tests showed a stable aircraft design. All mechanical inspections showed no problems and all test pilots were healthy as horses.

Investigations into the loss of the three CL-41 prototype airframes were inconclusive. What was not inconclusive was that the program had fallen through the thin ice it was already on.

No lives had been lost, but with three prototypes lost in a year of flying and no conclusive explanation for it, the Royal Canadian Air Force had lost interest in the CL-41 as its new jet trainer aircraft.

The RCAF's next generation jet trainer would not be of domestic design.

A former Canadair employee:

"The CL-41 had been a private venture by Canadair to create an indigenous advanced jet training aircraft. As there was no tender put out, we really had to sell it to the RCAF. We failed.

We had piqued the RCAF's interest in an advanced jet trainer, but they had lost their interest in the CL-41 after the accidents.

They put out a tender not long after the CL-41 program was cancelled and we hoped that we could get a second chance at the trainer, even if it might be license built.

We got lucky."

Good stuff! And colour me intrigued ... very interested to see what replaces the CL-41.  :D


The Competition Gathers

While the RCAF brass decided they had seen enough of the CL-41's bad luck, the logic of looking for a new generation jet trainer to supplement and possibly replace the Canadair license built T-33s was sound. The RCAF announced a competition for the new jet trainer in late summer of 1961.

The trouble was that the only truly new generation jet trainer flying at the time, other than the CL-41, in western Cold War skies was the Aermacchi MB-326 from Italy.

Other available trainers, like the Cessna T-37, Fouga Magister and BAC Jet Provost were well proven and capable but all more than half a decade older in basic design than the CL-41.

Additionally, the RCAF had specified that the new trainer be of single engine design. This effectively removed the Cessna and Fouga aircraft from contention.

The final line up of competing designs were the the Aermacchi MB-326, BAC Jet Provost and the Folland Gnat.

A former RCAF pilot who was involved in the competition:

"While the Italian jet was still in prototype and pre-production stages, several of us who had been stationed in France or West Germany in the late 1950s had seen the MB-326 demonstrator jets perform. We were impressed to say the least.

The Jet Provost variant in the competition would be the very new T.4 version that was a just a few months away from entering RAF service when the competition was announced. RCAF pilots who had flown the previous Jet Provost version, the T.3, generally spoke well of it, so we were interested to get a look at the new version.

As for the Gnat, we weren't sure what to make of it. It was fast, but the small size concerned us a bit and we knew that the aircraft was initially intended to meet a light strike fighter role that the RAF lost interest in and Folland had reworked the aircraft into a trainer in order to sell the RAF on it. The idea of a reworked and repurposed fighter rather than a from-the-ground-up trainer didn't sit well with all of us."

October 9, 1961: RCAF Station Marville, France

As all three competing trainer designs were European in origin, it was decided to host the preliminary stage of the competition at one of the RCAF's European bases. As it was likely the new trainer would see some deployment to Europe, it had to be seen how it would perform over the congested airspace of Continental Europe.

With September spent preparing Marville for the competition, the first week of October was given for the competing parties and their aircraft to arrive and give briefings on their machines. The flying started in earnest the second week of October.

Oh this is very cool! I'm already anticipating Macchis in Maple Leafs :)

Are you doing images to accompany the story?


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