Did you know that the Eagle landed on the Moon on legs made in Québec?
Grab a chair, or a beanbag, my reading friend. While it is true that we are not in Longueuil, Québec, in July 1969, waiting for a human being to set foot on the Moon, we nonetheless have the right to have a little comfort. Let us start our weekly peroration with a review of the situation. The photo above was / is from the 27 July 1969 issue of the weekly Le Petit Journal of Montréal, Québec, a publication gone for many years now.
Let us continue our peroration with the question you probably asked / ask yourself: is it true that the Eagle, the Apollo Lunar Module / Lunar Excursion Module of the Apollo 11 mission, landed on the Moon on legs made in Québec? This answer was / is yes. Absolutely and irrevocably, yes.
Do you have an additional question, my reading friend? I am pleased. Your cooperative spirit encourages me not to bust your chops too long this week. I shall be brief, to a point. Your question? How is it that Québec legs were found on all Apollo Lunar Modules? A good question.
Our story began in 1942, with the founding, by Eugène Héroux and his son Bertrand Héroux, of Héroux Machine Parts Limited of Longueuil, Québec, a small company that may have machined aircraft components during the Second World War. Let’s not forget, the aeronautical industries of Québec and Canada experienced a spectacular growth during this terrible conflict. It should be noted that a Longueuil businessman, Joachim Crête, provided real (financial?) support to Héroux senior when the company was founded.
Said Héroux senior was an expert mechanic who invented a motorised saw mounted on his automobile to cut ice on the St. Lawrence River. As we both know, only a small minority of Canadian families had a refrigerator before the Second World War. Héroux senior’s first business seemingly was a garage, the Central Garage in Longueuil.
Héroux Machine Parts may have developed hydraulic components for aircraft involved in the Berlin airlift, a major effort to supply the population of that city between June 1948 and May 1949 mentioned in an October 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The Royal Canadian Air Force being uninvolved in the Berlin airlift, yours truly wonders how Héroux Machine Parts could have contributed to it. I will continue my research in this area, if I have time.
This being said (typed?), Héroux Machine Parts became a subcontractor of Canadair Limited, a well-known aircraft manufacturer of Cartierville, Québec, which was a subsidiary of Electric Boat Company, a major American submarine manufacturer mentioned in a March 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee which became General Dynamics Corporation in 1952. Héroux Machine Parts, say I, manufactured landing gear parts and components for the Lockheed T-33 Silver Star jet trainer and the North American F-86 Saber jet fighter, 2 American aircraft made under license by Canadair, a firm mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2017. Two aircraft, say I, found in the unimaginable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario.
In 1960, Héroux Machine Parts began designing and producing components for aircraft landing gear and other aircraft components. For example, it designed and built the front landing gear leg of the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter utility aircraft / commuter airliner, an aircraft known worldwide, one of the best aircraft in its class in the 20th and 21st centuries, and an aircraft found in the, yes, yes, unimaginable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The company also obtained a Canadair contract for the landing gear of the Canadair CL-215 water bomber, also known worldwide. These two aircraft flew for the first time in May 1965 and October 1967, by the way. Héroux Machine Parts apparently became Héroux Limited, around 1967-68, then, with greater certainty, Héroux Incorporated, around 1978-79 it seemed / seems.
Before I forget, the company also made the landing gear for the Canadair / Bombardier 415 water bomber. This aircraft, sometimes known as the Superscooper, made its first flight in December 1993. The company also made at least one part of the landing gear of the upgraded / improved version of the Twin Otter produced by a company based in Victoria, British Columbia, Viking Air Limited. The first example of this aircraft flew in February 2010.
Interestingly, in late September or early October 2016, Bombardier sold the type certificates of the CL-215 and Superscooper to Viking Air. And yes, my fervent my reading friend, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited was mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since February 2018, but let’s get back to brass tacks.
The most exotic project on which Héroux Machine Parts / Héroux worked was very different and it is indeed that one which concerns us today. As you probably know, I hope, the Apollo program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) aimed to transport humans to the Moon and safely bring them back safely, all before the end of the 1960s. Each crew included 3 astronauts. Two of them would go to the Moon aboard an Apollo Lunar Module, while the third remained in orbit around our satellite aboard an Apollo Command Module.
In 1965, confident that Héroux Machine Parts could meet the very high demands of NASA and Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, a well-known American aircraft manufacturer which was to build all the Apollo Lunar Modules, its sales director, the Canadian (?) Lionel Whyte, took steps to obtain a subcontract. Indeed, Héroux Machine Parts had been successfully completing jobs for the aircraft manufacturer for some time. The competence of the Québec company being recognised, Whyte’s contacts agreed to present him to the NASA representative at Grumman Aircraft Engineering. The latter was polite but firm. The American space program having among its goals to improve American technology, only American companies could participate. Whyte was very disappointed.
The following day, an American company which had won a subcontract for the Apollo Lunar Module contacted Whyte to obtain some help from Héroux Machine Parts. It had difficulties in machining steel parts. During the telephone conversation Whyte was surprised to hear that the steel in question, a fairly new alloy that was difficult to work with, was produced in Belgium.
This European country not being part of the United States, at least according to the latest news reports, Whyte went back to see the NASA representative stationed at Grumman Aircraft Engineering. He pleaded the cause of his employer with such enthusiasm that the latter finally accepted that Héroux Machine Parts submit a bid for an aspect of the Apollo Lunar Module. Whyte examined the question for several hours and chose the landing gear legs of this special spaceship.
Fifteen other companies, all American, also submitted bids for the subcontract related to these legs. Most of them, 9 perhaps, had their project rejected. Héroux Machine Parts and the American companies that were still in the running underwent a tight assessment. Some of its engineers were subsequently summoned to Grumman Aircraft Engineering. Engineers from the aircraft manufacturer and NASA poses a battery of questions, each of them more difficult than the last. Two American astronauts, Walter Marty “Wally” Schirra, Junior and Edward Higgins “Ed” White II, were also present. The latter was mentioned in a June 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Unexpectedly, Héroux Machine Parts won the jackpot at the end of 1965. The small Québec company was awarded the contract to produce 9 of the 10 elements of the landing gear of the Apollo Lunar Module. Grumman Aircraft Engineering soon sent it the plans and specifications for the legs of said landing gear. Tool designer Fernand Michon and his production team developed the necessary tools to carry out this extremely complex project.
The landing gear of the Apollo Lunar Module included four telescopic steel legs in which aluminum honeycomb shock absorbers were inserted. Said landing gear had to absorb the energy of the impact with the ground during a Moon landing, immobilise the vehicle if it landed on a slightly inclined surface and offer a stable platform during the launch of the upper part of the vehicle which had 2 astronauts on board. Worse still, Héroux Machine Parts had to take into account NASA’s extremely tight schedule: everything had to be delivered by the end of the summer of 1967. Speaking of tight deadlines, hello, EP, EG and SB!
It should be noted that initially only a few members of the production team knew the final destination and the exact nature of the items they produced. The management of the company did not wish to stress its staff unnecessarily. This being said (typed?), the whole team eventually learned what it was working on.
Would you believe that Michon apparently joined the staff of Héroux Machine Parts in 1942, the very year of its founding, after taking courses in mechanics and mechanical drawing at the École technique de Montréal? Interestingly enough, said technical school offered a course on aircraft engines from the middle of 1936 or so, but let’s get back to our story.
Michon and his team faced many challenges. Yours truly must admit that I am unable to specify their chronology. Héroux Machine Parts ordered a high-precision machine in Ontario to fulfill its order, for example. After a few months, the company which had to manufacture said machine informed it that it could not deliver the goods. Michon then went to a seller of used machine tools. He bought an old surfacer that he modified as best he could, and it worked.
Michon and his team apparently realised a little later that a crucial circular element of the legs of the landing gear became slightly oval during manufacture. They changed their old machine, and it worked.
You see, the element in question was horizontal when the machine worked on it. Its walls were so thin that the very weight of the machine made said element slightly oval. From then on, the elements were mounted vertically on the machine. Mind you, the friction between another tool and an element of the legs heated it just enough to deform it. Using a bicycle part, Michon developed a device which rotated the element just enough to reduce the heating.
This being said (typed?), Grumman Aircraft Engineering rejected the first leg produced by Héroux Machine Parts. The diameter of its upper part was 0.05 millimeters (0.002 inches) too big. Michon and his team went back to work, and it worked.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering and NASA accepted the 17 sets of 4 landing gear legs delivered by Héroux Machine Parts until the summer of 1967.
As one would expect, the contribution of Héroux Machine Parts / Héroux to the success of Apollo 11 did not go unnoticed. Many Québec dailies and weeklies applauded the company and its employees. Québec can do, they said. Better yet, it was jokingly said, Héroux set foot on the Moon before Neil Alden Armstrong, a gentleman mentioned in a June 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Would you believe that the management of Héroux may have given three weeks of vacation to all its staff the day after the Moon landing of the Eagle, the Apollo Lunar Module of the Apollo 11 mission?
Interestingly enough, at least for yours truly who’s amused by almost anything, Michon and his wife were themselves on vacation during the Moon landing of said Apollo Lunar Module. Héroux’s superintendent of tools and machinery was in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In August 1969, shortly after his return home, Michon was awarded the first diploma of Worker of the Year in Quebec by the Canadian Federation of Independent Associations. This seemed important until yours truly realised that said federation, considered sinister by at least one author, was a grouping of shop unions, in other words unions created by employers, in other words false unions. The Worker of the Year in Quebec diploma may very well have been awarded only once, by the way, but I digress. Sorry.
The crew of Apollo 11, Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Junior, Neil Alden Armstrong and Michael Collins, expressed its gratitude toward Michon and his team at a ceremony at the Hélène de Champlain pavilion, in Montréal, in December 1969. Armstrong and Collins signed the autograph booklet of Michon’s spouse. Aldrin, on the other hand, wrote a few amusing words, “Thanks for your beautiful legs.”
A key figure in the history of the landing gear of the Apollo Lunar Module, Michon retired around 1979, after a 37-year career. He died in October 2008, at the age of 92.
Five crews of the Apollo program landed on the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972. The landing gears manufactured by Héroux, thanks to Michon and his team, worked perfectly in each case. This success, reinforced with a lot of publicity, made Héroux known in Canada, in the United States and elsewhere in the world. In fact, the company won its first major maintenance contract for landing gears of American military aircraft in 1970.
A good 40 years after Armstrong’s small step for a man and giant leap for mankind, a replica of a leg of the landing gear of the Apollo Lunar Module shown at the booth of the company at a Salon international de l’aéronautique et de l’espace, at Le Bourget airport, in Paris, still attracted crowds.
Do you wish to know more about Héroux’s activities in the years following its participation in the Apollo program? Weigh your answer well. I still want to be brief. You wish? Wunderbar.
The Québec industrial giant Bombardier Incorporée acquired Héroux in 1973 – a detail that does not seem to be mentioned on the company’s website. The latter having faced certain financial problems, 2 managers bought it in 1985. They soon put Héroux back on the right track.
In 1986, Héroux acquired McSwain Manufacturing Corporation, a manufacturer of turbine components, apparently mostly industrial, from Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1989, it acquired an engine parts manufacturer, ABA Industries Incorporated of Pinellas Park, Florida. This company disappeared in 2003. In 1992, Héroux acquired 60% of FRE Composites Incorporée of Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, Québec. It let this manufacturer of composite parts go in 2000. In 1999, Héroux acquired 2 firms in Montréal, Metro Machining Corporation and Les Industries C.A.T. Incorporée. It thus entered the aerostructure sector.
In 2000, Héroux acquired Devtek Corporation of Kitchener, Ontario, to expand its capabilities regarding commercial sector aircraft landing gears. The company became Héroux-Devtek Incorporated. It seemed to redirect its activities slightly toward the military sector.
In 2004, Héroux-Devtek acquired Progressive Incorporated of Arlington, Texas, a manufacturer of complex structural components for military aircraft. In 2010, it acquired 2 precision machined components manufacturers for the aerospace industry, Eagle Tool & Machine Company Incorporated of Springfield, Ohio, and E2 Precision Products Incorporated of Cleveland, Ohio.
In 2012, the American company Precision Castparts Corporation acquired virtually all of Héroux-Devtek’s aerostructure and industrial product lines.
In 2014, Héroux-Devtek acquired APPH Limited, an integrated supplier of aircraft landing gear and hydraulic systems and assemblies based in Runcorn, England.
At the time when yours truly wrote these lines, in 2019, with the sweat of his forehead long devoided of hair, Héroux-Devtek worked in 3 areas of activity: landing gears, industrial and aeronautical gas turbine components, and aerostructures.
You know of course that Héroux manufactured several elements of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), a robotic arm whose 5 examples were mounted on the Orbiters, or Space Shuttles, of NASA’s Space Transportation System. The Canadarm, a globally known moniker that NASA did / does not appear to use, played a crucial role throughout this program, active from 1981 to 2012. The first SRMS, loaned to the Canadian Space Agency by NASA, is on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, also globally known. Did you know that the Space Shuttle was mentioned in March, July and August 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee? You did? Wunderbar!
By the way, Héroux-Devtek also manufactured elements of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, or Canadarm2, a globally known moniker that NASA did / does not appear to use either, the robotic arm permanently mounted on the International Space Station, a space habitat mentioned in July and October 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
This peroration coming to an end, may yours truly be allowed a short digression? Weigh your answer well. Nothing forces me to be brief. You wish? Wunderbar.
Around 1983, a successful Canadian sculptor by the name of William Ayton “Bill” Lishman put together a full size replica of the aforementioned SRMS that complemented a partial Space Shuttle replica on display in the National Museum of Science and Technology, today’s Canada Science and Technology Museum, in Ottawa – a sister / brother institution of the aforementioned Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Both items were seemingly disposed of before the reopening of this national museum, in November 2017.
Eager to commemorate the new age of space exploration, Lishman had completed a rather more impressive project around 1972. This full size replica of an Apollo Lunar Module was put on display near the converted one room schoolhouse in Brougham, Ontario, where Lishman and his family lived. He sold it to a Japanese organisation in 1983, for use in the Dai Supērushatoru-ten, or great space shuttle exhibition, held in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, in 1983-84. The work was returned at some point to Lishman’s property, seemingly his new buried home at Purple Hill, now Blackstock, Ontario, possibly at the end of its stay in Japan. It could be seen in the movie Fly Away Home, for example. As of 2019, Lishman’s replica of an Apollo Lunar Module was in storage at the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame, an institution located within the Science Museum Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Once better known as “Father Goose,” Lishman pioneered the use of ultralight aircraft to guide young birds during their first migration flight, in the hope of reintroducing endangered species to their former habitat. The world’s first guided migration flight was made by Lishman, a colleague and 18 Canada geese, in October 1993, between Ontario and Virginia. This successful and well publicised journey and media event led to the formation of Operation Migration, a registered charity, in 1994. Ultralight aircraft were later used to lead trumpeter swans and whooping cranes, the latter a magnificent bird threatened by extinction. Lishman’s activities inspired the filming of, you guessed it, Fly Away Home. The world premiere of this very popular award winning American family movie with stunning images of Canada geese in flight took place at the Toronto International Film Festival, in September 1996.
American movie actor Jeffrey Warren “Jeff” Daniels and a young Canadian / New Zealander actress by the name of Anna Helene Paquin portrayed fictitious characters inspired by Lishman’s story. Lishman was actually Daniel’s pilot double. Better yet, as the filming came to a close, Lishman guided the Canada geese seen in the film from Ontario to South Carolina. This was his third migration flight.
And yes, the collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes 2 ultralight aircraft used by Lishman over the years, a seriously modified American-designed Ultralight Flying Machines Easy Riser, one of the first widely available ultralight aircraft and the very machine Lishman used during his early experiments, and a French-designed Cosmos Écho made up from a wing and a nacelle of the 2 ultralight aircraft used for the world’s first guided migration flight, mentioned above.
Sadly, Lishman died in December 2017, at age 78. He was mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. He will be missed.
Long life and prosper, my reading friend.