Beyond The Sprues

Current and Finished Projects => Stories => Topic started by: upnorth on September 11, 2021, 02:20:31 AM

Title: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 11, 2021, 02:20:31 AM
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."
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: apophenia on September 12, 2021, 08:02:06 AM
Good stuff! And colour me intrigued ... very interested to see what replaces the CL-41.  :D
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: GTX_Admin on September 13, 2021, 12:48:48 AM
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 13, 2021, 05:20:09 PM
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.
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: apophenia on September 15, 2021, 03:02:45 AM
Oh this is very cool! I'm already anticipating Macchis in Maple Leafs :)

Are you doing images to accompany the story?
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 15, 2021, 03:21:18 AM
Oh this is very cool! I'm already anticipating Macchis in Maple Leafs :)

Are you doing images to accompany the story?

I'm thinking about some images. Gotta get out the drawing pens and ink and get the rust out.  :smiley:
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: dogsbody on September 15, 2021, 05:02:42 AM
Ooh! Another Upnorth tale! Chair pulled up and coffee cup filled.

Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 16, 2021, 02:11:01 AM
Ooh! Another Upnorth tale! Chair pulled up and coffee cup filled.

I can't promise this will be the long, drawn out tale that previous ones were. This year has been crazy on many fronts and the idea of losing the CL-41 has been bouncing around in my mind since I was still rewriting the post WWII history of Austria.
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 22, 2021, 05:25:23 PM
Operazione Coniglio

The initial stage of the competition at Marville had gone without a hitch for all three companies involved. While the RCAF were busy with closer assessment of the preformances of the aircraft, the three companies were making their way to Canada for the second stage.

A retired Aermacchi engineer recalls the time:

"The second stage of the competition focused primarily on cold weather performance and range. The Jet Provost had a bit less range than our 326, but it could still compete with us there. Of the Gnat, we were confident we had it roundly beaten as far as range was concerned.

Fitting the 326 out for cold weather operations proved to a be a straightforward task. We could imagine that the Jet Provost team wouldn't have too much trouble with that, but we were very sceptical that the Gnat would survive the cold weather operation aspect. The Finnish air force had experienced all sorts of problems with the Gnat almost as soon as they took in into service in 1958, part of those problems were due to the harsh operating environment in Finland.

Our 326 was doing well for itself so far and we were very optimistic. Our marketing team had created "Operazione  Coniglio" to market the aircraft specifically to Canada. In English, that translated into "Operation Rabbit". The name was chosen after our marketing team did some research and saw that the RCAF had some aircraft named after wild animals like the Chipmunk, Beaver, Otter and Caribou; they felt giving the 326 a name that fit in that pattern could only help in the competition.

To push the point home a bit further, the two aircraft we took to Canada were appropriately registered as I-JUMP and I-LEAP and had  the silhouette of a leaping rabbit painted on the fuselage just below the cockpits."
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: GTX_Admin on September 23, 2021, 02:44:23 AM
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: apophenia on September 23, 2021, 10:21:56 AM
I was wondering where the 'Jackrabbit' subject line came from! Okay, 'Operation Bunny', it is  ;D

Watching with interest  8)
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 23, 2021, 04:41:49 PM
November 20, 1961: RCAF Station Namao, Alberta, Canada

The chill of a Canadian prairie winter cut sharply through the cold weather clothing of the ground crews of all three teams in the competition as they prepared their respective aircraft in the pre-dawn hours for the range testing their aircraft would endure over the course of the day.

A retired BAC team pilot recalls:

"I had flown in the RAF in World War Two and had done the bulk of my flight training on the Canadian prairies, some of it during the winter, so I had some idea what to expect going out there at this time of year. Still, it was something of a shock to the system after having been away from it for several years.

The RCAF evaluation team had set a triangular course for the teams to fly and we were briefed on it while our ground crews readied the planes.

The first leg would be from Namao to Cold Lake. We would then go from Cold Lake to Moose Jaw and spend a few hours there so that representatives from RCAF Training Command could get a good look at the aircraft and ask questions. We would then head back to Namao in the early evening.

It was a good route for the test as the second on final legs, about 555 km and 658 km respectively, were a fair test of the range of all three aircraft and the final leg would see us return to Namao at night, so there was some latitude to show some night flying abilities of the aircraft.

The only real concern about our Jet Provost at the time was the lack of cockpit pressurization. Both the MB-326 and the Gnat had pressurized cockpits while the Jet Provost Mk.4 variant we were demonstrating did not. This meant we could not fly as high as they could and make the most efficient use of our engine."

November 20, 1961: RCAF Station Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada

After a flight of approximately 225 km, all three aircraft reached Cold Lake without incident.

Cold Lake was designed to be a quick stop for technicians from the three teams who had been sent to the station ahead of the aircraft to top up fuel and do a quick visual inspection for their respective aircraft before the second leg. The aircraft were all back in the air and headed to Moose Jaw less than an hour after landing at Cold Lake.

November 20, 1961: RCAF Station Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada

After a flight of over 550 kilometres, the MB-326 and Gnat arrived at Moose Jaw in quick succession with the Jet Provost arriving about 20 minutes later. The three aircraft were taxiied to a shared hangar where technicians unstrapped the pilots and set to work readying the aircraft for the final leg later in the day.

The pilot of the Gnat team recalls:

"I loved the Gnat tremendously as a flying machine, but I don't think I've ever been as happy to get out of one as I was after the Cold Lake to Moose Jaw flight or the final leg of the range competition that followed it. Happily, Moose Jaw would give us a good chance to relax between second and third legs.

All of the pilots expected they would need to do some interviews with the press and answer questions from RCAF Training Command brass, but that was all being taken care of by the various company representatives and other test pilots. All three teams had sent spare aircraft to Moose Jaw ahead of time and all three teams were set up in an adjacent hangar attentding to the public relations and marketing end of things.

I was quite glad I didn't have to face the press that day. My flight so far had been great and the aircraft performed flawlessly. However, watching the vast Canadian prairie under me left me with some serious concerns about how appropriate the Gnat might be for a country like Canada. It was the smallest of the competitiors and had the least space for survival gear if it went down in the middle of nowhere.

As it turned out, the pilot of the other Gnat developed similar concerns while flying it from Namao to Moose Jaw for the press conference."

The flying crews were escorted to a private dining area for lunch and then were taken to mingle with instructor pilots from the base for an informal question and answer session with them.

A retired RCAF instructor pilot:

"We were all very excited at Moose Jaw about the new trainer. Our excitiment was only diminished a small amount by the fact it wouldn't be domestic. A good plane is a good plane, wherever it comes from and we were looking at three good planes.

All three aircraft had things in their favour. The Jet Provost, with its side by side seating, definitely felt like a trainer first and foremost while both the MB-326 and Gnat gave more of a fighter feel.

My personal preference was for the MB-326. Sitting in the cockpit felt like getting into a newer version of the T-33 we were already flying. It felt comfortable right from the start."

November 20, 1961: RCAF Station Namao, Alberta, Canada

The three aircraft returned to their starting point as twilight was giving way to the full blackness of night. The teams would have the next 48 hours to relax and discuss the day's flying and aircraft performance. The teams that had done the press conference in Moose Jaw were due back at Namao the next morning.

Those aircraft that had been used at the press conference were to be the subjects of the icing trials later in the week.
Title: Re: Jackrabbit
Post by: upnorth on September 30, 2021, 08:00:07 PM
December 4, 1961: Hawker Siddeley headquarters, Kingston upon Thames, United Kingdom

Following the range and icing tests in Canada, the three competing teams returned to Europe to break for Christmas and prepare for the final fly off scheduled for early in 1962.

The reports of the Gnat pilots had reached the executive levels of Hawker Siddeley, which had taken over Folland in 1959, and the first two weeks of December 1961 were taken up by many meetings and heated debates in the company boardrooms.

A former company executive recalls:

"The Gnat pilots who had demonstrated the aircraft in Canada had both recommended that we pull the aircraft out of the competition as they both had serious misgivings on the adequacy of the aircraft for Canada as far as range was concerned.

I could empathize with their position as I had some experience flying over the Canadian prairies myself, those could be some very big distances to cover and the Gnat had a range of just a bit over 800 kilometers. The final leg of the range test was around 660 kilometers, so the math was not difficult to see that there wouldn't be a lot of options for an aircraft with a range of less than 1,000 kilometers if things started going badly.

They also had concerns over the Gnat's small size in regards to how much survival gear might be able to be packed into it. If a Gnat went down in a remote enough area, would the  aircraft be able to carry enough supplies to keep the crew alive until rescue teams could get to them?

I didn't have any problems taking the side of the pilots and the company had plenty of other irons in the fire at the time, so it wouldn't hurt us much to pull out.

Not everyone at the company felt as I did, though.

There were those who saw the Gnat as way for the company to keep a hand in aircraft production in Canada. Avro Canada was a full subsidiary to Hawker Siddeley at the time and the cancellation of the Avro Arrow interceptor in 1959 had left the factory at Malton without a project or staff. Their idea was that, if we won the competition, we'd open up a Gnat production line there rather than close the aircraft arm of the company as some others wanted to do."

January 5, 1962: Hawker Siddeley headquarters, Kingston upon Thames, United Kingdom

Following a return to work after the Christmas and New Year break, Hawker Siddeley executives voted by a narrow margin to withdraw the Gnat from the competition.

Later that same year, Hawker Siddeley disolved Avro Canada and restructured it as Hawker Siddeley Canada. The aircraft arm of the company was closed and de Havilland Canada eventually took ownership of the former Avro Canada factory at Malton.