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I was wondering where the 'Jackrabbit' subject line came from! Okay, 'Operation Bunny', it is  ;D

Watching with interest  8)

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.

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.

February 5, 1962: RCAF Station Marville, France

BAC and Aermacchi teams converged for the final fly-off at the same location as the competiton began, the RCAF Station At Marville in France.

It was an anti-climactic event, as the decision had largely made itself by that point in time. A retired BAC representative recalls:

"We knew the Jet Provost, with its lack of cockpit pressurisation, really didn't have a chance.

The T.4 version that had entered RAF service in late 1961, and was the version Canada would get, was a sound aircraft. However, the need for trainer jets that could operate at higher altitudes was being voiced by many air arms around the world and the Jet Provost would need a serious redesign to accomodate the cockpit pressurisation required for that.

What the MB-326 could deliver 'now', we could only promise for later.

What really put the MB-326 over the top, was that Aermacchi promissed a license building deal to Canada for their aircraft if it won.

All we could do was sit and watch, then shake hands with the victors."

As it was, Aermacchi was working on more than a license building deal. At the time, Canadair was a subsidiary to General Dynamics through that company's Convair division.

At the same time Aermacchi was selling the MB-326 to Canada, they were also in negotiations to purchase Canadair and make it their own subsidiary.

A former Aermacchi executive:

"There was, understandably, a great deal of concern at Canadair and General Dynamics about Aermacchi's bid to purchase Canadair. Lockheed was showing even more concern as Canadair had not only license built a version of their T-33 trainer, but they had the license to produce Lockheed's F-104 Starfighter as well.

In truth, they needn't have worried. We were prepared to respect any license building deals that were already in place at Canadair.

We knew we had a winner on our hands with the MB-326 and that there would need to be multiple assembly lines to meed the global demand we envisioned for it.

We could simply have granted a production license to Canadair, but purchasing them would give us a real foothold in the North American market for potential future aircraft construction and marketing."


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