An L-402 by any other name is still an L-402 – or an AL-60 or a Conestoga or a Ranger or a Santa Maria or a Trojan, unless it’s a Kudu, Part 1

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The first prototype of the Lockheed L-402. Anon., “Le Lockheed-Azcarate C.L.-402.” Les Ailes, 16 April 1960, 1.

What are you doing here, my reading friend? The weather is nice. Go walk outside few minutes! Not immediately, you say? All right. I am therefore going to pontificate today on an aircraft whose story has more twists and turns than a box of pretzels.

The L-402 was a robust and reliable 6-seat single-engine short takeoff and landing utility aircraft designed by Lockheed-Georgia Company, a division of the American aerospace giant Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, today’s Lockheed Martin Corporation, which first flew in September 1959. This aircraft, the first Lockheed-Georgia design to be put to the test, may have been developed in response to a request from a high ranking individual in Mexico.

As you well know, Lockheed Aircraft was mentioned in July, August and October 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, but I digress – for the first but certainly not the last time in this article.

The management of Lockheed Aircraft soon realised that the very size of this firm could complicate the production and sale of such a simple and small aircraft. It then decided to limit its efforts to the production of 2 prototypes. Lockheed Aircraft thus began discussions to produce the L-402 abroad, in countries where labour cost less. The firm hoped that it would be able to compete with the very successful and popular Cessna C-180 and C-185.

The first production L-402s, now designated LASA-60 Santa Marias, thus left the workshops of Lockheed-Azcarate Sociedad Anónima (LASA), a Mexican subsidiary created in 1958 to supply the Latin American market. The Mexican air force, or Fuerza Aérea Mexicana, ordered nearly 20 aircraft. LASA may, I repeat may, have made almost 45 Santa Marias in the 1960s.

Aviones Lockheed-Kaiser Sociedad Anónima, a company founded by Lockheed Aircraft International Incorporated and Industrias Kaiser Argentina Sociedad Anónima, apparently assembled some L-402s in Argentina between 1960 and 1962. The latter was partly owned by Kaiser Automotores Sociedad Anónima, a subsidiary of an American automotive company, Kaiser Motors Corporation / Kaiser Jeep Corporation. Yours truly does not know whether the components of these aircraft were made in the United States or Mexico. I do know, however, that potential customers did not rush to Aviones Lockheed-Kaiser’s door, which explained the abandonment of any production project in Argentina around 1962.

This accumulation of names leaves you breathless, my reading friend? You can always go outside if you wish. No? Let us continue. In fact no, let us not continue immediately.

In the weeks and months after the abandonment of the Avro CF-105 Arrow, a supersonic bomber interceptor mentioned in several / many issues of our you know what since February 2018, A.V. Roe Canada Limited (Avro Canada) of Malton, Ontario, a subsidiary of the British industrial giant Hawker Siddeley Group Limited, was (desperately?) trying to find products it could make in its workshops. What is the Arrow doing in this story, you ask yourself, my slightly annoyed reading friend? Be patient, I’m getting there.

And yes, you are right, the most important pieces still in existence of the Arrow are part of the amazing collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario.

Around September 1960, a subsidiary of Avro Canada, A.V. Roe Aircraft Limited (Avro Aircraft) of Malton, signed a deal with the holding company United Marine Incorporated, one of the most important American manufacturers of pleasure boats, created in 1959 by the merger of Richardson Boat Company and Colonial Boat Works Incorporated. Under this deal, the new marine division of the aircraft manufacturer undertook to supply fully equipped aluminum hulls for several / many types of luxurious Phantom series cruising yachts manufactured by Richardson Boat, and ... Yes, I’m getting there.

Is it necessary to mention that Avro Canada, Avro Aircraft and Hawker Siddeley Group were mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018? No? Very well.

Avro Aircraft designed the new hulls in collaboration with the American firm Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation – a firm associated directly or indirectly with, tadaa, Kaiser Motors. The aircraft manufacturer sent the hulls of the ships destined for the American market to the Richardson Boat plant so that they could receive their superstructure. In return, the American company supplied the superstructures of cruising yachts intended for the Canadian market. The aircraft manufacturer hoped to offset the higher cost of aluminum compared to wood by using advanced machine tools and reusing / recycling any discarded part.

As Avro Aircraft prepared to deliver the first hulls, its management learned that all was not well in the United States. Almost all Richardson Boat employees had been laid off and rumors of a closure were circulating. The aircraft manufacturer had to announce the disappearance of United Marine in March 1961. It acquired Richardson Boat, after requesting and obtaining the resignation of the firm’s board of directors. Avro Aircraft also announced the sale of the other division of the defunct firm, Colonial Boat Works, to an unidentified American firm.

Already affected by increasingly pushy rivals and the introduction of fibreglass hulled boats, Richardson Boat declared bankruptcy in June 1962. Barely 150 aluminum-hulled cruising yachts left the Canadian and American workshops in 1961-62.

A slightly nutty and screwy idea if I may. The Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, a sister / brother institution of the aforementioned magnificent Canada Aviation and Space Museum, may wish to consider whether it could acquire one of these aluminum hull cruising yachts, but back to our story, in other words to the L-402.

Towards the end of 1960 or the very beginning of 1961, the Italian aircraft manufacturer Aeronautica Macchi Società per Azioni (Aermacchi), today’s Alenia Aermacchi Società per Azioni, a subsidiary of the Italian industrial giant Finmeccanica Società per Azioni, acquired the production rights of the L-402, which then became the AL-60. And yes, Aermacchi could therefore deliver AL-60s anywhere in the world, except in the United States. By the way, Lockheed Aircraft or, more exactly, the aforementioned Lockheed Aircraft International had a minority stake in Aermacchi, but I digress.

The Italian firm manufactured around 100 AL-60s, known as Santa Marias, Conestogas and Trojans, which were delivered to various customers between the early 1960s and the early 1970s (1972?).

This last name deserves to be underlined because here lied / lies a tale. In November 1965, the very small and racist white population of Southern Rhodesia, an autonomous African colony of the United Kingdom, declared its independence unilaterally and illegally, without the British government lifting a finger to prevent it from doing so actually.

Realising the need to beef up the strength of its air force, the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF), the Southern Rhodesian government tried to buy a number of American North American T-28 Trojan training aircraft, a type of machine that could be easily converted into a light attack aircraft. The American government, and this was to its credit, refused to sell anything. The Southern Rhodesian government, very upset / furious, then bought, in 1966, a certain number of Fennecs, a French light attack version of the Trojan used between 1959 and 1962 by the French air force, or Armée de l’Air, during the war, lost by France, which led to the independence of Algeria.

The American government, however, called on its French counterpart to block the transaction in order to respect a compulsory embargo imposed in December 1966 by the United Nations Organization (UN) on arms sales to the pariah country that was now Southern Rhodesia. Would you believe that the ship carrying the Fennecs was apparently off the coast of South Africa when its captain was ordered not to disembark these aircraft? The Southern Rhodesian government was once again very upset / furious. In the end, it was unable to acquire any light attack aircraft.

Incidentally, said embargo was the very first to be declared by the UN’s Security Council, on which France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and United States sat. Yours truly thinks that there was a bit of behind-the-scenes arm twisting before France and the United Kingdom sided with the 2 superpowers.

The Southern Rhodesian government nonetheless managed to acquire 10 or so AL-60s, dubbed Trojan by the RRAF once assembled in Southern Rhodesia. This name may have been adopted to cause confusion. Yours truly also wonders if the RRAF chose said name to annoy the American government.

Dare I suggest that the management of Aermacchi did not give a rodent’s rear end about the mandatory embargo imposed by the UN? Of course not. These businessmen must have had an excellent reason for acting as they did. Money? Probably.

Would you believe that the AL-60 was apparently deemed to be a civilian aircraft, which could be sold to Southern Rhodesia legally, even though aircraft like it would be useful indeed to a government trying to crush the efforts of a population trying to free itself from the clutch of an oppressive regime?

By the way, it was not until November 1977 that the UN declared an embargo on the sale of arms destined for the apartheid paradise that was then South Africa. While it is true that many arms-producing countries preferred not to do business with the South African government before that date, some countries and some firms did not seem to be overly affected by the oppression of the black majority in that country.

Aermacchi, for example, granted a license to produce the AL-60 to Atlas Aircraft Corporation of South Africa (Proprietary) Limited. This division of the state-owned Armaments Corporation of South Africa manufactured 40 Kudus, the name of the version of the aircraft used by the Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag (SAL) / South African Air Force (SAAF), during the second half of the 1970s.

Interestingly, the American engines of these aircraft and of the Trojans were produced in Italy by Piaggio & Compagnia Società per Azioni, a firm mentioned in an August 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Some people suggest that the Kudu was in fact a subtle hybrid that combined the fuselage (slightly stretched?) of the AL-60 and the wing, slightly modified it seemed, of a small 3-seat utility aircraft jointly designed by Aermacchi and Costruzioni Aeronautiche e Ferroviarie Società per Azioni, a firm better known as Aerfer. Originally known as the MB-335, this AM-3 first took to the air in May 1967. Would you believe that Aermacchi delivered 40 of these aircraft, locally known as Bosbok, to the SAL / SAAF between 1973 and 1975? And yes, the wing of the AM-3 was based on that of the AL-60.

According to scholarly calculations made by various people around the world, around 180 L-402s / AL-60s / Santa Marias / Conestogas / Trojans / Kudus intended primarily for military use were manufactured in the United States, Mexico, Italy and South Africa between the late 1950s and the late 1970s. Some of these aircraft still flew in the 2010s (or in 2020?) in places such as Alaska, South Africa and, perhaps, the Central African Republic. They carried civilian marks and colours, with the possible exception of the latter.

If you don’t mind, yours truly will put online the rest of the information on the L-402 and its derivatives, updated by the sweat of my follically challenged brow, in the second part of this article.

Be careful, my reading friend.

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Rénald Fortier