Author Topic: Avro Canada Arcturus  (Read 1052 times)

Offline apophenia

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Avro Canada Arcturus
« on: June 21, 2019, 05:57:36 AM »
The Avro Canada Arcturus airliner began as a project of the Victory Aircraft Ltd of Malton, Ontario. With the end of WW2, Victory found its contracts for Lancaster bombers (and Lancastrian passenger carrying conversions) being slashed. RCAF replacement programmes for Lincoln bombers and York transports were cut outright. If Victory Aircraft was to survive it needed active peacetime civilian projects ... and quickly.

Victory's Montreal-based wartime rival, now renamed Canadair, was actively buying up war-surplus C-47 Dakota transports for conversion into DC-3s for peacetime airlines. Canadair was also buying up surplus four-engined C-54 components and arranging for licensing with Douglas Aircraft. US buyers for Victory Aircraft were following a similar path. In their case, however, the hunt was on for C-46 Commando components. In August 1945, Victory reps hit the motherlode as Curtiss-Wright vacated its Louisville factory in Hazelwood, Missouri. [1]

The last C-46 had been assembled at Louisville in June 1945. All remaining Commando components were available for sale at scrap value. Victory Aircraft had already done an informal survey of Canada's two largest airlines - Trans-Canada Airlines and Canadian Pacific Airlines. Both had already committed to buy refurbished DC-3s from Canadair and neither airline had any interested in civilianized C-46s (the main reason being the Commando's much higher operating costs compared with the Douglas twin). But Victory was playing past the DC-3 market and aiming for a four-engined aircraft which could fly both cross-country and trans-Atlantic routes.

The Victory scheme was to build a large-capacity pressurized airliner based upon the wings and tailplane of its wartime Lancaster Mk.X bomber. Accordingly, the parts purchase from Curtiss-Wright comprised almost exclusively fuselage components. The ultimate goal was to assemble fully-pressurized fuselages to mate to Lancaster flying surfaces as the Victory VCW-20. [2] However, the original Curtiss-Wright tailplane was to be retained on the unpressurized prototype to speed assembly. All as going according to plan when, in November 1945, the Canadian government ordered Victory Aircraft to cease operations. The Crown Corporation was then sold to the Hawker Siddeley Group. The new British owners were not at all keen on the monsterous hybrid they found in the assembly shed but, other than refurbishing Lancasters for RCAF postwar use, the 'Lancommando' was Victory's sole ongoing project. [3]

Re-organized as A.V. Roe Canada Ltd (aka Avro Canada), staff pressed on with their airliner project. The prototype was rolled out in February 1946 as the Avro Canada C103 Arcturus. [4] After engine and ground handling trials, the prototype Arcturus Mk.1 - CF-VAC-X - flew on 24 Feb 1946. The flight was uneventful but, at this stage, the C103 Arcturus was essentially an empty husk, bereft of seating or any other hints of future airline service. In fact, CF-VAC-X never would serve with an airline. After passing Avro Canada tests, the prototype performed a series of demonstration flights for Canadian airlines and for Curtiss-Wright brass (in Buffalo, New York). With no interest from potential customers, CF-VAC-X was transferred to the air force was use by the RCAF Experimental Flight at Rockcliffe, Ontario.

Top Avro Canada Arcturus Mk.1 (16701) of the RCAF Experimental Flight, Rockcliffe, ON, while on detachment to RCAF Cold Lake for winter weather testing. [5]

Avro Canada's British masters would have been happy with an airline sale of the Arcturus Mk.1 but Malton design staff had already moved on. The industry response to the roll-out of the rival Canadair North Star prototype confirmed to Avro Canada engineering that their aircraft must have a tricycle undercarriage. Such a landing gear had been envisioned for future Arcturus developments but that original timeline was now thrown out the window. The 'tail-dragger' Arcturus Mk.2 and Mk.3 were unceremoniously dumped. [4] In their place came the 'trikes' - the Merlin-engined Arcturus Mk.4 and the radial-engined Mk.5 (Bristol Hercules) and Mk.6 (Bristol Centaurus). These models were aimed at specific roles. The Arcturus Mk.4 and Mk.5 were meant as trans-continental airliners. The Arcturus Mk.4A and Mk.6 were to be trans-Atlantic flyers (with wingtip fuel tanks as an option).

Bottom An Avro Canada Arcturus Mk.4 airliner as it might have appeared in Trans-Canada Airlines service circa 1948.

The extra development funding for the tricycle models was the final straw for Hawker Siddeley Group. Canadian aviation enthusiasts would later hatch conspiracy theories that the Brits feared their flawed Avro Tutor airliner being outshone by a superior aircraft from Canada. In fact, Hawker Siddeley reasoning was well grounded. Canadair already had a lead with an airframe which required much less development effort and expense. [6] The major Canadian airlines and the RCAF had already stated their preference for the Canadair North Star. With no domestic market or realistic expections of export success for the Avro Canada Arcturus, management at the Hawker Siddeley Group quite rightly pulled the plug on this project.

The prototype Arcturus Mk.1 served with the RCAF until early 1948. The sole Arcturus was then sold off to a civilian operator. CF-VAC was employed as a freighter on DEW Line work until being written off in a ground loop accident while landing heavily-loaded in a squall at Frobisher Bay.


[1] Components were collected from suppliers located all over the St. Louis area as well as the Louisville final assembly facility. Some high-priority parts were flown out of Lambert Field, St. Louis but most components were delivered to Toronto by rail.

[2] The Victory VCW-20 was watched with interest by Curtiss-Wright. The US firm was planning a four-engined CW-20 variant of its own - the twin-finned CW-24. However, Curtiss-Wright retained an option on producing its own version of the VCW-20 in the US using American engines. For such a development, Curtiss-Wright reserved the designation CW-30 but this 'Super Commando' was generally referred to in-house as the Condor-Four.

[3] Later, as Avro Canada, Victory's wartime work on jet-powered fighter aircraft would be resumed. But, in late 1945, those projects were still a year away.

[4] Arcturus is the name of one of the brightest stars which can be seen from the Northern Hemisphere.

[5] Note the short-lived RCAF livery - overall polished-metal, no cheatline, 1946/'47 -style red/blue roundels, serial displayed behind the fuselage roundels (not on tail), and fin flashs rather than 'Red Ensign' tail markings.

[6] Curtiss Wright had done some preliminary design work on a nose gear for the Commando in preparation for their postwar CW-28 model. Whether that tricycle undercarriage could have been easily adapted to the Arcturus was another matter.
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Offline Brian da Basher

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Re: Avro Canada Arcturus
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2019, 02:52:55 AM »
A 4-engine Canuck version of the Commando is a fantastic concept and you've rendered it wonderfully!

I especially like the look of that classic Trans-Canada livery which to me is the epitome of late 1940s airline style.

Very well done!

Brian da Basher

Offline GTX_Admin

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Re: Avro Canada Arcturus
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2019, 04:11:07 AM »
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

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But you can make the Bastard work for it.

Offline tankmodeler

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Re: Avro Canada Arcturus
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2019, 01:13:32 AM »
The elongated nose and fuselage of the Mk 4 really makes the aircraft look an awful lot better, from pudgy to purposeful.