Fighters, trainers, bombers, flying boats —Canada now builds nearly twice as many a week as she used to build in a prewar year
RONALD A. KEITH
THE STORY of Canada’s warplane industry can be summarized in two sentences: Before the fighting began, about a thousand people puttered at the job of building some forty “stick and string” planes a year. Today 42,000 men and women are industriously producing nearly twice this number of military planes every week.
Twelve big factories and nearly 34,000 people are busy with the assembly line production; some 2,000 are employed in the innumerable big and little subcontracting shops all over the country; the booming business of repair and overhaul has enlisted 6,000 in thirty plants. The total backlog of orders amounts to $500,000,000.
Multiplication of employment by forty-two and numerical production by eighty in the thirty-one months of war has not been achieved with the wave of a magic wand. The aircraft industry has suffered perhaps more than its share of “headaches.” But today the industry is finally in a position to deliver the planes in abundance for training, for defense, and for offensive air war.
Since the first warplane order was placed, Canadians have manufactured approximately 4,000 aircraft, less engines. These have included some 1,200 elementary trainers, each representing a “mere” 3,000 man-hours of labor. But the remainder have been complicated production assignments such as the Harvard advanced trainer (8,000 manhours); the Anson twin-engined advanced trainer (12,000 man-hours); the Hawker Hurricane fighter (18,000 man-hours); the Bolingbroke medium bomber (40,000 man-hours), etc. Altogether, twelve different types of aircraft have been manufactured.
Orders now in the hands of the Canadian industry total more than 10,000 aircraft. Based on the comparative population of the two countries, this would be equivalent to approximately 120,000 planes in the United States. At the present time, Canada is producing enough to supply all the requirements of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan as well as aircraft for home defense and some fighting planes for overseas.
Jacks From All Trades
THE TIDE of production set in motion by war orders for trainers, fighters and bombers has lapped over the ten-times-enlarged borders of the aircraft industry. It has seeped into a multitude of activities never before even remotely associated with aviation. Oilcloth and linoleum manufacturers, plow and harrow makers, marine equipment specialists, railroad car builders, snowmobile fabricators, washing machine manufacturers, and operators of smalltime machine shops are only a few of the countless varieties of producers virtually swept off their feet and into the aircraft business as subcontractors, component builders and accessory artisans.
On an even grander scale, the effect of long range orders for the plane builders has uprooted literally thousands of men and women from almost every conceivable occupation, depositing them, somewhat to their own surprise, in the aircraft-building business. A poll of the average plane plant today would show at least ninety per cent of the men and perhaps ninety-eight per cent of the women to be relative newcomers to aviation. You would find many who, before the war, had never been within two miles of an aircraft.
There are skilled metal craftsmen who have exchanged stove pipes or pots and pans for aluminum aircraft components and fittings. There are tool designers and machine-shop supervisors from wherever their rare species could be found.
There are other skills which have struck up strange alliances with the aircraft profession. In the Noorduyn plant, for example, there is an expert shoemaker, who, to his own astonishment, is considered invaluable in the sheet metal department. The canny skill which he practiced in cutting shoe soles from sheets of leather to get the maximum number of cuts with the minimum waste is now employed in mapping out the snipping of shapes from aluminum sheets. There are other skills as well, but the great majority are novices learning to do unaccustomed jobs as quickly and skilfully as they can.
Women, about 4,500 of them, have jumped into overalls and crossed the threshold of the aircraft industry. One young lady in blue denim has quite a reputation in the Fairchild plant where they build
Bolingbroke fighter-bombers. She was born in Arabia. Her parents folded their tents when she was quite young and brought her to Canada. When the war came, Tilly Aboud was in command of a “squadron” of forty sewing machines in a Montreal clothing factory. When, under the pressure of war production, men got around to conceding that perhaps women might be suitable at fabric work or rivet sorting, she took a job at Fairchild’s.
Today she can handle a rivet gun with the best man on the job and has been placed in charge of fifteen girl riveters on fuselage assembly. They help to put in the little metal “collar buttons” that keep the big plane’s shirt on.
Bob Noorduyn, making Harvard trainers, claims his feminine employees are working successfully in every type of job in the plant except the drop hammer and flight test departments. The way he says it, you imagine he believes that some of the girls wouldn’t do at all badly with a five-ton drop hammer if they were given half a chance. He does insist that women have established their merit on the most intricate and exacting machining operations. He told of one young lady who learned a complicated turret lathe job in three days. Within a week she was turning out more and better work than the he-man who preceded her on the job.
CANADA’S plane-building business has been the target for successive barrages of criticism ever since early 1939. Many of these attacks were well founded, but for the most part were aimed over the heads of the manufacturers, or they should have
been. Fortunately, order is now emerging from the relative chaos through which the industry has had to battle for production. Where there was confusion, indecision and woeful lack of long range planning, there is now a definite and substantial program. Instead of getting their orders in dribbles and squirts of two, three and ten at a time, every one of the manufacturers has orders on hand to occupy his plant and personnel fully at least to the end of 1943. The horizon of some extends into 1944 and even to 1945.
For the first time in its history, the entire industry is confidently forging ahead, freed from the bogey of idle plants. It is true that there is still a “hangover” from yesterday’s bewilderment. It is still true that certain plants are not working allout twenty-four hours a day. The answer, of course, is that until the long range program really takes effect, the plants cannot go full-out. This is because the main production factories are paced by the delivery of such items as propellers, fuel pumps, flight instruments, hydraulic equipment and other essentials. Disregarding these, the manufacturer going full-out would simply be piling up incomplete planes into a jam on his final assembly line or on the flying field.
The industry credits Ralph P. Bell, energetic Director-General of Aircraft Production, with the relentless determination responsible for “jelling” the new unlimited-horizon plan. Thus, instead of trying to build twelve different types in a hodgepodge of aeronautical bits and pieces, the entire schedule of Canadian requirements has been reduced to seven types, each ordered in quantity and for a specific purpose. Subsequently, in order to occupy Canadian capacity to its maximum, arrangements have been made to build one American type in Canada for delivery to the United States.
This is the line-up today:
1. The Fairchild Cornell, an exceptionally trim and modern elementary trainer, has been chosen as a standard type for the Air Training Plan. It will succeed the Fleet Finch and the Tiger Moth, both of the older biplane design, and is being manufactured on license from the U.S. by Fleet Aircraft Limited at Fort Erie, Ontario. Incidentally, one of the favorable manufacturing features of this plane is that the monoplane wings are constructed almost entirely of plywood which is available in Canada.
2. The North American Harvard, a singleengined advanced trainer, is being produced by Noorduyn Aviation Ltd. in Montreal. The original plan called for manufacture to supply only the requirements of the Air Training Plan. Production has increased to such an extent that Harvards are being supplied from the Canadian plant to the United States, over and above the A.T.P. needs. Thirty-two Harvards were produced in the Montreal plant in February of this year.
3. The Canadian version of the English Avro Anson, a twin-engined advanced trainer in the Air Training Plan, is being manufactured by a number of companies under general supervision of the government organization, Federal Aircraft Limited,
Montreal. The government company was responsible for translating the English drawings and specifications into North American specifications and organizing the manufacture and assembly of components by five principal companies and a large
number of subcontractors. Ansons are now being completely assembled in the following plants: The de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, Toronto; National Steel Car Corporation Ltd., Malton, Ontario; Canadian Car and Foundry Company Ltd.; MacDonald Bros. Aircraft Ltd.; and Ottawa Car and Aircraft Ltd., Ottawa.
4. The Bristol Bolingbroke, a versatile fighterbomber used for home defense and for operational training, is being produced by Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. at Montreal.
5. The Consolidated Catalina, a long range amphibian for coastal patrol, is being manufactured by Boeing Aircraft of Canada Ltd. at Vancouver and Canadian Vickers Ltd. in Montreal. This type succeeds the older Stranraer flying boat which was being manufactured by Vickers in Montreal.
6. A new type of fighter plane is scheduled for production by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Ltd. De Havilland is tapering off on production of Tiger Moths which have been turned out in great quantity ever since before the war.
7. A four-engined British bomber will be manufactured at the plant of National Steel Car Corporation Ltd. This company has been particularly unfortunate in the orders assigned to it. In the pre-Dunkirk era, the big National Steel Car plant was commissioned to build Westland Lysander Army co-operation planes in quantity for the Canadian and British forces. Subsequently, however, the type of plane became obsolete and the big plant was given a succession ef odd jobs for the rest of the industry, building wings for the Hurricane fighter and the Hampden bomber, as well as other miscellaneous parts.
David Boyd, who earned a sky-high reputation for getting production of Hurricanes at Fort William, has been placed in complete charge of National Steel Car’s Aircraft Division. He is busily sweeping the remnants of the “bits and pieces” orders out of the plant and at the same time tooling-up for an ambitious production job involving some $185,000,000. He will be responsible for the creation of bomb-carriers able to take off from the plant and fly to England on their own power.
8. The Curtiss dive-bomber, an up-to-the-minute American type (known as the SB2C-1) is to succeed the Hurricane fighter in the big Fort William plant (285,000 sq. ft., being expanded to 500,000 sq.ft.) of Canadian Car and Foundry Company Ltd, The order amounts to approximately $100,000,000 and the planes will be delivered to the U.S. Navy.
OUR AIRCRAFT industry has accomplished an expansion which, in the words of one manufacturer, “has advanced Canada industrially forty years in less than three.” Considering the difficulties overcome in doing this it is not surprising that the word “bottleneck,’’virtually unknown before thewar, is already threadbare from overuse. If the dreams and nightmares of the men responsible for aircraft production have not been made miserable by this expressive symbol, it is indeed surprising. The forward march of the industry has been to the tune of exploding bottlenecks.
The first and perhaps the severest of these production restrictions involved the supply of materials and drawings from England. Before Dunkirk the entire Canadian industry was geared to English production. When England subsequently became an embattled fortress, Canadian manufacturers were suddenly confronted with a total absence of certain vital parts. There was a great scramble to translate drawings and specifications so that the shortages could be made up from sources on this continent.
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As a result of such experiences, there has been a complete swing to an established policy of North American self-sufficiency. As far as aircraft production is concerned, the international border has been virtually rubbed out and Canadian manufacturers of planes receive exactly the same priority privileges for obtaining materials in the U.S. as do the American manufacturers themselves.
Furthermore there has been the closest collaboration between Ottawa
and Washington, particularly since Pearl Harbor. For example, five of the eight types now in the Canadian program are of American design and one of these is being built for the United States. The manufacture of other types either has been or is being organized on the understanding that all materials will be available on this continent.
We are, of course, dependent upon American production for the engines to power the aircraft which we build. We also obtain certain accessories such as flight instruments and materials such as steel tubing from south of the border. This does not mean—as some have suggested— that there is no such thing as an aircraft manufacturing industry in Canada. As a matter of fact, the Canadian plane industry has developed in versatility to such an
extent that American manufacturers are depending upon Canadian plants for important materials and components.
Thousands of tons of aluminum are going across the border from Canadian plants, not only in the ingot state, but also in the form of sheet, tubing and, in increasing quantities, propellers. Besides the gigantic new Aluminum Co. of Canada plant at Kingston, wrhich is forging thousands of aluminum propeller blades every month, a new government plant is in production of aluminum propellers three months ahead of schedule and will shortly be delivering them at the rate of some hundreds every month. Meantime, Canadian Car and Foundry Company Ltd. has designed and is producing its own metal propellers complete with constant-speed hubs. These are being delivered to the United States as well as Canada.
Another important item is a highspeed fuel pump which is now being manufactured in a new plant near Toronto. Most of these fuel pumps are being sent to a California factory for use in a plane being built there for the Royal Air Force. One Canadian accessory manufacturer has orders from the United States amounting to $500,000 a month or a total of $6,000,000 a year.
Another aircraft bottleneck was related to the modification of design to keep pace with training and operational requirements. For example, the annual report of Canadian Car and Foundry Co. for the year ended September 30, 1941, indicates that production of Hurricanes had hardly reached the maximum output according to contract requirements when serious delays were incurred through modifications made necessary by developments in combat tactics on the front line overseas. The conclusion, by the president of the company, is this:
“Thus, while under our original schedules we would have by this time completed our total orders for 1,200 of this type of aircraft, only about half of the total has been shipped.”
While the demands of the fighter and bomber forces cannot be ignored, the Director-General of Aircraft Production has provided buffers to protect the manufacturers against recurring modifications. Now no change is made without conferences between Air Force and manufacturing representatives, seeking to achieve the desired results with the minimum delay in production.
Cutting Production Time
STARTING virtually from grassroots, as they did, the Canadian manufacturers have been expected to attain efficient production with the smallest nucleus of experienced personnel and with practically no massproduction equipment, such as hydraulic presses, stamping machines, automatic routers, etc. The situation in Canadian plant was summed up in a few words by H. R. MacMillan, then chairman of the Wartime Requirements Board, in the conclusion of his report of a survey on the aircraft industry early in 1941. He said:
“The Bolingbroke bomber is consuming 60,000 man-hours. Fairchild hopes to get it under 40,000 manhours. A bomber fifty per cent bigger is budgeted at 20,000 man-hours in the United States and expectation is
By the training of personnel, by the simplification of intricate jobs, and by the introduction of more modern equipment, some of the Canadian plants are getting closer to the assembly-line mass-production idea which prevails in the big American plants. The Bolingbroke job, as anticipated, has been brought down under the 40,000 man-hour mark. Another type of plane which originally required 14,000 man-hours to manufacture in Canada, has come down to 8,000 and is expected to drop to 6,000 man-hours per plane.
An example of what can be done with modern equipment is a five-ton drop hammer recently installed in a Canadian aircraft factory. It will do in five minutes a metal-forming job which formerly took a man an entire day to do with a rubber hammer and a great deal of personal skill.
A serious shortage of experienced personnel in Canadian plane plants is being at least partially remedied by an ambitious educational program undertaken several months ago and now under way. A co-operative scheme between the Dominion Government and manufacturers provides for the sending of selected employees from their plants to a big aircraft school, Aero Industries Technical Institute, in California, for threemonth courses in specialized phases of modern plane production. The employees from each plant are selected on the basis of education, aptitude and promise of success. Each man chosen is sent to California with all expenses paid. While there he receives seventy-five per cent of his normal wage.
In accepting this free tuition, the employee must sign an agreement to remain with his firm for three years, or for the duration, whichever period is the shortest. At the time of writing there are about one hundred Canadian aircraft employees studying in California, while’approximately
1.000 others are taking spare-time correspondence courses in production under an extension of the same program.
Although the industry has managed to blast its way through successive bottlenecks and has diversified its activities amazingly, it has consistently shied away from aircraft engine production. The reluctance of the Government and the industry to tackle engine manufacture is based on very sound reasons. The shortage of the necessary machine tools, which would have to be obtained from the United States, has been such that U.S. production authorities have maintained a virtual embargo on exports. Furthermore, the highly trained personnel necessary to supervise the organization of engine production did not exist in Canada and could not be spared from the sensationally expanding American engine plants. Another consideration was the multiplicity of horsepower ranges and types required. Even if Canada did embark on manufacture of one or two categories, this would still not solve the problem of the engine completely.
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Tropics to the Arctic
THE SWELLING tide of industrial activity set in motion by $500,000,000 in plane-building contracts extends even beyond the 42,000 people most directly affected. In fact, it has burst across the Canadian borders and spread to hemisphere proportions;
The life story of the Hurricane, the Bolingbroke or the Harvard, does not begin on the material-receiving platforms of the home factory. Canadian fighters, bombers and trainers begin in the bauxite pits of British Guiana. They depend on the cryolite mines of Greenland, the petroleum coke sources in the Gulf of Mexico region, and the mighty waterfalls of the Quebec wilderness. In a word, these aircraft are seventy per cent aluminum.
It is not generally recognized, perhaps, that the raw material of a big bomber includes about twenty tons of tropical mud, and enough electrical energy to light a big city. Yet, Canada’s magnificent aluminum industry is the titanic proof of that basic fact.
The Arvida plant of the Aluminum Co. of Canada is one of the largest aluminum smelting establishments in the world. In order to turn out its 1941 production, about 500,000,000 pounds of aluminum, it had to import perhaps one million tons of bauxite (the aluminum ore) from British Guiana. The bauxite was reduced to aluminum and a residue, by an electro-metallurgical process employing cryolite from the mines of Greenland as a flux, and petroleum coke for making the necessary electrodes.
The importance of tremendous power developments in the proximity of Arvida is indicated by the fact that the electricity used by the Aluminum Company is more than twice the amount used in all Canadian homes for any given period.
In response to the vital requirements of British and American aircraft production, far in excess of Canadian consumption, the capacity of aluminum productive industry in
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this country has been increased by 310 per cent since 1938 and it is expected that the 500,000,000 pounds output cf 1941 will rise to between 700,000,000 and 800,000,000 pounds in 1942. This means that the Canadian aluminum capacity is equivalent tc the requirement? for producing 50,000 planes a year and will provide for 80,000 planes a year.
Probably the greatest contributing factor to the Canadian aluminum industry is the water power development in the Saguenay River basin in northern Quebec which has been expanded from 750,000 horsepower capacity to about 1,750,000 horsepower. This involved the building of huge dams and power stations in the Saguenay area. Furthermore, it meant sending men hundreds of miles into the forest wilderness of northern Quebec to develop additional storage areas.
One of the new dams, for example, is located in the same latitude as James Bay. Fittingly, in this instance the airplane was instrumental in making a substantial contribution to aircraft production. This project required the air transportation of over 1,900 tons of equipment as well as 750 men and even a number of horses and oxen. It was the largest and most ambitious air freighting enterprise ever undertaken in Canada.
Paralleling expansion of raw aluminum capacity, extensive facilities were constructed, working in cooperation with Great Britain, for the fabrication of the metal in Canada. Starting in June, 1938, the first building of the successively expanding Kingston plant was constructed. The original building was a sheet rolling mill with presses also for making certain aircraft components. In November, 1940, a substantial addition was started for the fabrication of aluminum tubing. Early in 1941 a big aluminum forging plant was added to the Kingston establishment.
The propeller forging hammer is undoubtedly the most spectacular feature of the activity at Kingston. Helmeted workmen first feed the aluminum billets, hot from electric furnaces, through rollers which iron them out into an elongated shape, vaguely resembling a propeller. Heated again, this rough shape is then set in the lower die of the forging hammer. With a deafening impact that seems to jar its own foundations, deep in bedrock, the 35,000-lb. hammer smashes down on to the blade and beats it into shape with seven or eight herculean blows. The first propeller was forged at Kingston on September 4, 1941, and potential production at that time was estimated to 600 propeller blades in twenty-four hours.
Such, then, is the kaleidoscopic picture of the Canadian aircraft industry, extending in panorama from the Tropics to the Arctic, occupying the concentrated attention of increasing thousands of men and women, and—most important—providing the men who fly for freedom with their wings of Victory.