It really kept going and going and going: A brief look at the Canadian career of the Lockheed / Canadair Silver Star jet trainer, part 1
Greetings, my reading friend, and welcome to this new page in the history of the Canadian aircraft industry. A page which opened in Cartierville, Québec, in February 1953. Let us keep away, however, so as not to attract attention. Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Brooke Claxton, appears indeed to be asking a question to the President and Managing Director of Canadair Limited of Cartierville, James Geoffrey “Geoff” Notman.
The Canadian saga of the aircraft at the heart of this issue of our amazing blog / bulletin / thingee, the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star / Canadair Silver Star, or “T-Bird” for those in the know, began well before February 1953, however.
Although very pleased with the performance of its first jet-powered fighter, the British-designed de Havilland Vampire, which had entered service in early 1948, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) realised that this aircraft could not meet its needs throughout the 1950s. It therefore began to look for a replacement in 1948.
And yes, I realise very well that the French language expression and acronym Aviation royale du Canada and ARC were / are anachronistic in 1948 and again in 1953, given the use of the expression Corps d’aviation royal canadien and the acronym CARC. The previous expression and acronym being better known however, I took the liberty of using them in the French language version of this text, but back to our story.
British aircraft manufacturers were not really in the race. Indeed, their aircraft were not very impressive. In any case, it was no longer in the United Kingdom but in the United States that the RCAF found its inspiration. The latter having to be able to cooperate with the United States Air Force (USAF) in order to ensure the defence of North America, the advantages linked to the use of equipment which could be supported by the industries of Canada and / or the United States outweighed all other considerations.
In April 1949, the RCAF therefore chose the North American F-86 Sabre, a high performance American single-seat day fighter tested in October 1947 which perfectly complemented the Canadian Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck two-seat night / all-weather fighter, then under development. The federal government bought the manufacturing rights of the Sabre in August 1949. That same month, Canadair, a subsidiary of Electric Boat Company, a well-known American submarine manufacturer, won the first of a series of contracts.
The Sabre was / is undoubtedly one of the most important fighter planes of the 20th century.
You will remember that Electric Boat was mentioned in several / many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, and that since July 2019. Canadair, for its part, has been frequently present in that publication since February 2018, but back to our subject.
Before I forget, the fantastic collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, includes 2 Vampires, 1 Silver Star, 1 Sabre and 1 CF-100. You do not think I was going to forget to remind you of that detail, do you? And back to our topic we go.
The lack of a two-seat training version of the Sabre, however, led the RCAF to consider purchasing a jet aircraft capable of providing advanced training for its fighter pilots. Mind you, CF-100 pilots also needed advanced training before comfortably getting aboard that rather complex machine. In addition, RCAF jet trainers might be used to train on Canadian soil pilots from certain member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Canada was a member.
You will have noticed, my reading friend, the use of the designation CF-100 in the preceding paragraphs. Yours truly did that because almost no one used / uses the term Canuck to identify the CF-100. You are welcome.
Anyway, again, British aircraft manufacturers were not really in the race which was to lead to the purchase of a jet trainer. The RCAF chose an excellent machine and the only American jet trainer available at that time, the Lockheed T-33, in the spring of 1951.
The first Lockheed T-33 Silver Star delivered in 1951 to the Royal Canadian Air Force by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Bernard Légaré, “Remise du 1er avion T-33 ‘Silver Star.’’” Le Droit, 13 February 1953, 1.
To speed things up, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, a firm mentioned many times in our you know what since July 2018, delivered slightly more than 15 T-33s to the RCAF from September 1951 onward. These aircraft had seemingly been ordered by June at the latest. Now, that was service… Since these aircraft were apparently not numerous enough to meet the RCAF’s growing needs, the USAF leased it a dozen T-33s around August 1952. The last of these machines returned to American soil in February 1955.
Would you like to read (see?) a little something about the origin story of the T-33? And yes, that was a rhetorical question.
That saga began even before the end of 1942, as the Second World War raged. Lockheed Aircraft was indeed interested in the design of a fighter plane equipped with a brand new and revolutionary type of engine, the jet engine. The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), the service which gave way to the USAF in September 1947, approved the project in June 1943. A prototype of the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star flew in January 1944. Now, that too was service.
The USAAF took delivery of the first production Shooting Star in February 1945. A handful of pre-series aircraft took part in combats towards the very end of the Second World War, in 1945. The Shooting Star was the first combat-capable jet fighter of the American armed forces.
Lockheed Aircraft produced nearly 1 725 Shooting Stars between 1944 and 1950.
It should be noted that the American government turned over approximately 130 used aircraft to the air forces of 6 Latin American countries around 1958-59.
Even though Lockheed Aircraft offered a two-seat training version of the Shooting Star to the USAAF as early as 1944, the latter only showed interest in that machine in 1947. You see, that service was then confronted with a high number of accidents. Let us not forget, a USAAF fighter pilot’s first flight in a Shooting Star was usually that pilot’s first flight in a jet aircraft, a much more capable / edgy type of aircraft than those with which American pilots were familiar.
And yes, the same went for RCAF fighter pilots. For some reason, however, that service did not find itself faced with a wave of accidents. The Vampire might have been more forgiving of small pilot errors, but I digress.
The USAAF authorised the transformation of a Shooting Star into a Lockheed TP-80 Shooting Star two-seat aircraft in August 1947. That prototype flew in March 1948. Redesignated TF-80 before becoming the Lockheed T-33 in 1949, the new machine counted among the most successful advanced trainer aircraft of the 20th century. Lockheed Aircraft produced approximately 5 690 examples of it, of which approximately 1 060 were given, yes, yes, given, to allied / friendly air forces under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program.
The Japanese firm Kawasaki Jūkōgyō Kabushiki-kaisha also manufactured around 210 other examples of that virtually indestructible machine.
The last T-33 made on our big blue marble took to the air around 1959.
It should be noted that the United States Navy (USN) used approximately 650 T-33s extracted from USAAF orders and its successor service, the USAF. Redesignated TO before becoming the Lockheed TV Shooting Star, these aircraft could not land on USN aircraft carriers.
A derivative / cousin of the T-33 which could land on those ships flew for the first time in December 1953. That Lockheed T2V SeaStar entered service in 1957. Lockheed Aircraft manufactured around 150 of them.
Before I forget, another derivative / cousin of the T-33 had entered service in 1950. This time around, it was a two-seat night / all-weather fighter, the Lockheed F-94 Starfire, first tested in April 1949 and manufactured in more of 850 examples, but back to our topic of today.
T-33s served in the air forces of more than 40 countries between 1948, I think, and 2017, the year in which the last T-33 of the Fuerza Aérea Boliviana (FAB) was withdrawn from service. Yes, yes, 2017. The last T-33 went into retirement almost 70 years after the first flight of the prototype.
By the way, yours truly wonders if the aircraft in question was not a Canadian-made T-33 sold or given to the FAB around 1973-74, but I digress.
You will have noticed, my reading friend, the use of the T-33 designation in the preceding paragraphs. I did so because the Shooting Star descriptor was seemingly not used during the 1950s when discussing the T-33. You are welcome.
Let us now examine the Canadian phase of the T-33 saga. Canadair announced in September 1951 the signing of an imposing contract with the Department of Defence Production, aimed at the production of hundreds (500?) of Silver Stars. Indeed, the victory of the Québec aircraft manufacturer had been on many people’s lips since June. Senior Canadair employees actually visited the Lockheed Aircraft factory in the summer of 1951 to examine the T-33 assembly line there.
At that time, senior Department of Defence Production officials hoped that the United States and some NATO member countries would order a number of Silver Stars. It was a safe bet that the management of Canadair shared that hope.
Before going any further, I must mention that the Canadian version of the T-33 differed slightly from the original. Its engine, for example, was no longer American, but British – a detail made public in October 1951. It was a Rolls-Royce Nene, more reliable, it was said, as well as lighter and more powerful than the American Allison J33.
In any event, the Allison Division of General Motors Corporation (GM) was not really able to deliver turbojet engines to Canadair within the desired timeframe. Said engines should also have been paid for in American dollars, which posed a problem given Canada’s unfavorable balance of payments with its southern neighbour. The Nene, on the other hand, could be paid for in pounds, which helped to help the British aircraft industry without hurting Canada’s balance of payments. Better yet, it cost less than the J33. Canada’s choice provoked some negative reactions in the United States, but the federal government politely ignored them.
Would you believe the Nene was the most powerful turbojet in the world when it was first ground tested, in England, in October 1944?
Incidentally, the first aircraft powered exclusively by a Nene was a Shooting Star graciously loaned by the USAAF. That modified pre-series machine flew in July 1945, but I digress.
Speaking (typing?) of digression, GM was mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since March 2018, but back to our story.
Several / many Canadian firms were also to manufacture several / many (50 %?) elements of the Silver Star in order to lighten the burden on Canadair, which would speed up deliveries. Let us mention, for example, Industries Roy Limitée, which announced that it had obtained a contract in October 1951. The L’Assomption, Québec, factory of the young firm (1946) was to manufacture the rear fuselage of the Silver Star, in addition to manufacturing Roy electric stoves, washing machines and refrigerators, and Roy oil furnaces.
Another digression if I may. Roy refrigerators had a reputation for being virtually indestructible. These large household appliances were in fact refrigerators designed by the engineers of the American firm Gibson Refrigerator Company, a firm which, let us not forget, had produced approximately 1 080 Waco CG-4 transport / cargo gliders widely used during the Second World War.
As you know, the fascinating flying machine that was / is the CG-4 was at the heart of an October 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Another firm, much larger that one, also won a contract in October 1951. Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited of Windsor, Ontario, a subsidiary of American automotive industry giant Ford Motor Company mentioned several times since December 2018 in our you know what, would make the wings and some other parts of the Silver Star. And yes, Ford Motor has been mentioned many times in our you know what since December 2018.
By mid-1952, however, a powerful union affiliated with the far more powerful American Congress of Industrial Organizations, the United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, asked that the seniority principle be applied to personnel in Ford Motor Company of Canada’s aircraft department. Several of these people having been hired recently, they might be replaced by workers who knew nothing about aircraft construction.
Fearing non-compliance with delivery deadlines, Canadair and Ford Motor Company of Canada canceled the subcontract. Unable in turn to meet its delivery deadlines, the Québec aircraft manufacturer was forced to buy 200 sets of wings from a Lockheed Aircraft subcontractor. That firm, the American aeronautical giant Boeing Airplane Company, was mentioned in the March 2021, December 2021 and January 2022 issues of our stunning blog / bulletin / thingee.
In January 1952, a dozen experienced and, in most cases, bilingual Canadair employees began a month-long internship at the California Flyers Incorporated school of aeronautics, in … California. They studied the assembly of fuselages and the installation of engines. Once back home, these people trained some of the new employees that Canadair was hiring at that time.
As was said (typed?) above, the Department of Defence Production and Canadair signed a contract in September 1951 for the production of the Silver Star. You will remember, I hope, that the department and the RCAF preferred that Canadian machines be fitted with a Nene turbojet engine instead of the J33 of the aircraft produced in the United States.
Around September or October 1951, the Department of Defence Production began negotiations with Rolls-Royce Limited to obtain the production rights for the Nene. The chairman of the British aeronautical and automotive giant, Lord / Baron Hives, born Ernest Walter Hives, was in Montréal, Québec, in November to take part in the discussions. Under the agreement signed by both parties, Rolls-Royce undertook to build a factory in Canada to help deliver the 900 to 1 000 Nenes that the RCAF needed.
A subsidiary founded towards the very end of 1947, Rolls-Royce (Montreal) Limited, which might, I repeat might, have had access after a certain time to a maintenance workshop on the site of Montreal (Dorval) Airport, in Dorval, Québec, became Rolls-Royce of Canada Limited towards the end of the summer of 1952. The construction of a factory worthy of the name, located in Côte-de-Liesse, Québec, near Dorval, and financed from the very resources of Rolls-Royce, the British firm of course, began around February 1952 and ended around March or April 1953.
Incidentally, some offices of Rolls-Royce of Canada were located in a renovated space which had once housed the barns of a well-known brewery, the Dawes division of National Breweries Limited of Montréal, a Québec brewing giant mentioned in November 2019, August 2020 and July 2021 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
The Canadian subsidiary of Rolls-Royce was obviously mentioned in our you know what, in April 2018 more precisely.
Some Canadian firms, including Cockshutt Aircraft Limited of Renfrew, Ontario, a subsidiary of a large manufacturer of agricultural equipment, Cockshutt Farm Equipment Limited of Brantford, Ontario, had landed a subcontract linked to the Nene by the fall of 1952. We (the royal / curatorial we of course) should also mention Macdonald Brothers Aircraft Limited of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a subsidiary of MacDonald Brothers Sheet Metal & Roofing Limited of Winnipeg, it seemed, which was to manufacture nozzles.
Initially (1952-54?), Rolls-Royce of Canada was to deliver a number of Nenes manufactured in the United Kingdom. It would then assemble and test engines, before starting the manufacture of many Nenes. Indeed, several employees of the firm went to England in 1953 for training courses.
Conscious of the need not to drive completely insane the poor people who lived within a radius of more than 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from its factory, harassed day after day by the howls of the Nenes being tested, the management of Rolls-Royce of Canada financed the construction of the first silencer / detuner mounted on Québec soil on a turbojet test chamber. That device was operational by January 1954 at the latest. Each Nene assembled or manufactured in Canada having to run for 8 hours in such a chamber to prove that all was well, I think, the presence of the silencer was a godsend for the locals.
By the way, would you believe that a Nene being tested consumed about 36 litres (about 8 imperial gallons / about 9.5 American gallons) of jet fuel per minute?
Let me remind you here that some hybrid automobiles available in 2023 can travel more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) using the same amount of gasoline. The mind boggles.
The first Nene assembled in Canada ran on a test bench in September 1954.
The emphasis on delivery times for the Silver Star, an emphasis which stemmed from Cold War fears (Hello, EG and VW!), was a game-changer, however. Rolls-Royce took on the bulk of production and its subsidiary ultimately produced only about 50 of the 900 Nenes ordered by the Department of Defence Production. This being said (typed?), Rolls-Royce of Canada manufactured many elements of the Nene, which were used as spare parts.
And that is it for today, I am afraid. You will have to wait a few days for the conclusion of this story.