It took off at 100 kilometres/hour, flew at 100 kilometres/hour and landed at 100 kilometres/hour, more or less: The saga of the Curtiss JN-4 Canuck
Good morning, my reading friend. Yours truly would like to commemorate, with you to the extent possible, the 60th anniversary of the acquisition, by the National Aviation Museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, of an example of a type of aircraft which played a very important role in the history of Canadian aviation.
Indeed, the Canuck had / has more Canadian aeronautical first under its, err, wings than any other type of flying machine: first aircraft to be truly mass-produced in Canada, first aircraft to perform military type missions in Canada, first aircraft produced in Canada to be exported in large quantities, first aircraft in Canada to operate on skis, if only experimentally, first aircraft to perform an air mail flight in Canada, first aircraft to perform an aerial survey in Canada, and first aircraft to be seen up close by countless Canadians.
The aircraft in question was / is the Curtiss JN-4 Canuck, or Curtiss JN-4 (Can.) Canuck, which is located in the First World War section of that amaaazing museum. (Hello, MMcC!)
And yes, the title of this article was inspired by the words spoken by Canadian author / journalist Pierre Francis de Marigny Berton in a video presented many years ago in a minitheatre of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. If memory serves me right, Canada’s first astronaut, Joseph Jean-Pierre Marc Garneau, spoke similar words in French. Was Berton mentioned in a July 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee? Yes, he was. Garneau, on the other hand, was mentioned in an August 2021 issue.
Built in 1918, the museum’s Canuck was one of 680 such machines delivered to the Aviation Section of the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC), an air force known as the United States Army Air Service (USAAS) from May 1918 onward. It almost certainly served at Love Field, near Dallas, Texas, the site of a USAAS flying school, during the closing months of the First World War.
Sold as war surplus after the end of the conflict, the Canuck was used for unspecified civilian purposes. Edward T. Faulkner (1894-1970) of Honeoye Falls, New York, bought it in 1925 or 1926, from George Reece of Naples, New York. Faulkner rarely using his Canuck, he put it in his barn in 1932. The aircraft remained there for about 30 years.
In the spring of 1961, Kenneth Meredith “Ken” Molson, a gentleman mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since July 2018, contacted Herbert S. Fyfield, Junior of Redding, Connecticut. The founding curator of the National Aviation Museum had heard that this aircraft collector might have in his possession components of a Canuck and of a very similar machine, the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. Fyfield indicated that Molson’s information was inaccurate. He had in his possession components of a pair of Jennies. That said, Fyfield pointed out that Faulkner had a Canuck. A delighted Molson wrote a letter to that gentleman in June 1961 but got no reply.
At some point in the summer of 1961, Molson heard that the acting director of Human History of the National Museums of Canada, was interested in acquiring a Canuck. Indeed, this well-known geologist and paleontologist by the name of Dr Loris Shano Russell had recently asked the Canadian War Museum to do precisely that. The museum’s efforts had not panned out. Molson was quite surprised. He soon informed Russell that the National Aviation Museum very much wanted to obtain a Canuck. Indeed, Molson may have suggested to Russell that the two of them travel to Honeoye Falls to see Faulkner’s aircraft.
In any event, a small Canadian team soon made the trip south. Faulkner’s politely listened as his visitors explained the importance of the Canuck in the history of Canadian aviation. In turn, he explained to them that they were by no means the first people to show an interest in his Canuck. Faulkner showed the Canadians a pile of unanswered letters 10 to 13 centimetres (4 to 5 inches) thick. He and his guests seemingly agreed that negotiations should not conducted by mail. Molson thus returned to Honeoye Falls in November 1961. Russell may well have accompanied him. And yes, it was Russell who managed to pry the $ 9 000 required by Faulkner from the hands of the Secretary of State, the federal government department which controlled each and every national museum of Canada at the time. Molson was most grateful for that behind the scene effort.
A team from the museum, two people in fact, travelled to Honeoye Falls in February 1962 to bring the precious machine back to Canada, in a furniture van. These gentlemen soon realised that one wing and perhaps both of them would have to be dismantled. You see, these large elements of the Canuck were stored on the rafters of the barn. Faulkner had put them there, with some assistance, back in 1932. At some point later on, the whole barn got moved to the other side of a road – with the Canuck components inside. Faulkner had then condemned the door of said barn and cut a new door on the opposite side of the latter, sealing in the elements of the Canuck stored on the rafters.
And that explains why the two National Aviation Museum people were forced to climb on said rafters to disassemble the wings of the Canuck. Did yours truly mention that the door of the barn had to remain open so that they could see what they were doing – and see where they should step in order not to fall off the rafters? Would not leaving the door open let in the cold winds which blew at the time, you ask, my reading friend? You bet, my reading friend, you bet. Aaah, the good old days…
The Canuck was one of the first aircraft acquired by the National Aviation Museum after its opening, in October 1960.
At the time of its acquisition by the museum, the Canuck had a fairly complete airframe, including an engine and propeller. It even had original fabric on its wings. Of the original instruments, however, only the oil pressure gauge was still in good condition. Some others were damaged or, worse yet, missing.
This being said (typed?), Molson decided to introduce the Canuck to the public visiting the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Rockcliffe, Ontario, a suburb of Ottawa, as part of Air Force Day, in June. Mind you, it is quite possible that the decision to put the Canuck on display resulted from a request made by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and by RCAF Air Historian Wing Commander Ralph Viril Manning, a gentleman mentioned in October 2020 and February 2021 issues of our amazing blog / bulletin / thingee.
Given the historical importance of the Canuck for the history of aviation in Canada, Molson also decided to undertake its restoration in the summer of 1962. A narrow room located at the rear of the new terminal at Uplands Airport, near Ottawa, where the museum was located back then, was quickly reserved for that purpose. Access to that room turned out to be somewhat complicated, as all of the corridors leading to it were somewhat labyrinthine. In fact, since the fuselage could not enter the room that way, museum staff had to insert it with moult care through a window on the second floor. Aaah, the good old days…
As the visual examination of the internal structure of the fuselage made possible by the absence of fabric was greatly appreciated by people who saw the Canuck on Air Force Day, Molson decided to place new fabric only on one side of the aircraft’s fuselage.
Would you believe the museum had no Canuck plans? This being said (typed?), the staff could draw on a period document and a collection of photographs. Both proved essential. A very detailed large-scale model, made around 1918 by the personnel of the firm which had manufactured the Canuck, Canadian Aeroplanes Limited of Toronto, Ontario, also provided very valuable information.
The following text was taken from a section of the museum’s website which appears to be no longer be available. And yes, I am lazy and what is your point exactly?
The fuselage was completely disassembled and restored in two stages. First, the portion from the rear cockpit aft was done, and then the forward section. All metal parts were cleaned and repaired or plated as required. All wood parts were cleaned and varnished. Only three wood parts required replacing-the right horizontal seat bearer and the large left upright member at Station 3, along with the transverse support for the engine bearers at that station. During that work the American serial 39158 was found on the upper right longeron in the rear cockpit, establishing the original identity of the machine for the first time.
The cockpit flooring was cleaned and revarnished, all flight controls were removed and re-plated, and a new front control stick socket and stick were made to replace the crude ones made by some previous owner. New engine cowling panels were made to replace the badly worn and cracked original ones. The rear fuselage turtle deck, of later design and in very poor condition, was replaced by one of earlier design based largely on the detailed model.
A new instrument panel was made to the correct layout, and all original-type instruments, lights, etc., were located except for the airspeed indicator for which a dummy was made. New throttle controls were fitted in the front cockpit; Deloro Stellite [Incorporated] kindly provided the casting. The seats were repaired and re-upholstered. A correct style of seat belt was donated by Ed Carlson of Spokane, Washington, which served as a pattern for new ones and all-new webbing was installed in both belts, with needed castings again made by Deloro Stellite.
The tail surfaces were generally in good condition. The wood members required only minor repairs, cleaning and revarnishing, and the tubular members were treated internally with linseed oil as a preservative. New elevator trailing edges were required due to corrosion, and as the Museum could not form them in the required lengths, Canadair [Limited] generously supplied them.
The undercarriage required only cleaning and refinishing, but the spoked wheels were rusted, and to avoid complete disassembly Canadair kindly cleaned them as a unit in their ultra-sonic cleaner.
The wings, in general, required only minor repairs. However, the aircraft had been in an accident at some time, which resulted in the root fitting of the left upper front spar being pulled out of the spar and the end box rib being badly damaged. As only very crude repairs had been made originally, spar repairs and a new end rib were required. All-new trailing edges were required. All ailerons were warped so four new ones were made.
The [Curtiss] OX-5 engine obtained with the machine was overhauled and placed on separate display, and a second OX-5 was overhauled and placed in the aircraft. A donated Canadian Aeroplanes made propeller was refinished and installed to replace the American made one obtained with the machine.
As doping was not permitted in the Museum building, the covering and doping were done under contract by Personal Plane Services to the Museum’s specifications. The method of applying the fabric to the JN-4(Can.) fuselage was unique and it took considerable research before all its details were determined.
End of quote.
The Canuck was painted in the colours and markings of a machine of No 85 Canadian Training Squadron. These colours and markings obviously included the badge of that unit, a beautiful black cat.
And no, these colours and markings had not been born by the Canuck before that time. They were / are phony colours and markings. Before you blow a gasket, my reading friend, you may wish to note that this practice, frowned upon in 2022, was quite common and accepted in the 1960s.
Museum staff completed the restoration of the Canuck in May 1964.
It should be noted that the cowling of the real machine of No 85 Canadian Training Squadron was not green. Nay. It was khaki brown. And yes, the museum could consider repainting its Canuck one day or other. (Hello, EG!)
Would you like to know more about the Canuck and its history, my avid reading friend? Yes? I am pleased.
Your bribe is in the mail. Trust me.
Our story began in 1914, in the weeks and months following the start of the First World War. Curtiss Aeroplane Company, a firm founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss, a former member of the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), wanted to convince the federal / Canadian government to create an air force. Both that important firm and John Alexander Douglas McCurdy, its principal Canadian representative, also hoped to supply aeroplanes and pilots to the United Kingdom. These initial efforts failed.
You will obviously remember that Curtiss was mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2018. The same is true of McCurdy, mentioned many times since September 2017, but back to our story. Oh yes, the AEA was mentioned several / many times yadda yadda since October 2018 and Curtiss Aeroplane was mentioned in September 2017, September 2020 and July 2021 issues of our yadda yadda too.
In early 1915, Curtiss Aeroplane signed a contract with the British Royal Navy’s air force, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), to train pilots in Canada. The Curtiss Flying School opened in Toronto, in May 1915. It provided training on airplanes and seaplanes. Hoping that the RNAS would order airplanes or seaplanes, Curtiss Aeroplane founded Curtiss Aeroplanes & Motors Limited in Toronto, in February 1915. And in fact, the RNAS was not long in ordering 50 Curtiss JN-3s aeroplanes from the new firm. For one reason or other, however, just 18 were produced, in 1915.
This being said (typed?), these 2-seat biplanes were the first aircraft to be series-produced in Canada, as well as the first aircraft series-produced for a foreign customer. Indeed, 12 of the 18 JN-3 were exported to the United Kingdom, the 6 others flying with the Curtiss Flying School.
It should be noted that 80 to 85 JN-3 manufactured by Curtiss Aeroplane were exported to the United Kingdom. Indeed, barely 2 of the hundred or so JN-3s produced in the United States and Canada bore American colours. They served in the Aviation Section of the USASC.
In the spring of 1916, Canadian and, above all, British officials considered proposals based on a project put forward by British-born Toronto financier Augustus George Cuthbert Dinnick. That project could be summed up in two shakes of a lamb’s tail: training crews in a school under the control of the Royal Navy and British Army, and manufacturing training aeroplanes in a factory which, too, would belong to the British. These bilateral discussions stemmed from the interest shown by the Imperial Munitions Board (IMB), a British body created in November 1915 by the British Ministry of munitions and Canadian businessmen to oversee the production of war material in Canada.
And why was a British body created in 1915 to oversee the production of war material in Canada, you ask? Well, very soon after the onset of the First World War, the War Office, in other words the British department / ministry in charge of the British Army, approached the Canadian Department of Militia and Defence to see if artillery shells could be produced in Canada.
The talented and charismatic Minister of Militia and Defence, Samuel “Sam” Hughes, appointed a Shell Committee in September 1914 to supervise this production on behalf of the War Office. When Hughes’ serious inclination toward patronage and cronyism led to widespread profiteering, a worried British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, sent a trusted friend to Canada to investigate. The news was baaad.
The British pushed for the creation of what became the IMB, a move approved by a worried Canadian Prime Minister. Robert Laird Borden was very much aware that his minister had mismanaged and was still mismanaging Canada’s war effort. Hughes, increasingly isolated and unpopular, especially in Québec where that Orangeman was rightly seen as an anticatholic francophobe, was pretty well forced to resign in November 1916, but back to our story – and to aeroplanes.
Unfortunately, and despite the efforts mentioned before our Hughes-ian digression, the parties remained very distant. The British military were skeptical and the federal government, still headed by Borden, politely refused to get involved financially.
At the end of the summer of 1916, the situation gradually began to change. The RFC’s losses had indeed reached a critical threshold. Fact action was required and staffing had to be enlarged. The school and factory projects in Canada were now of vital importance, especially as many young Canadians, especially Anglophones, seemed eager to come to the aid of the motherland. In October, Borden and his government finally accepted the implementation of the British training program. From that moment on, progress came fast.
The IMB purchased all of Curtiss Aeroplanes & Motors’ property and assets and a National Factory, the aforementioned Canadian Aeroplanes, came into being in December. It could already count on a very important contract: 200 JN-3s.
The RFC (Canada) / Imperial RFC, which became the Royal Air Force (Canada), or RAF (Canada), in April 1918, also came into being, to oversee the training program.
Canadian Aeroplanes was one of the 7 National Factories established in Canada by the IMB. That organisation wanted to use these factories to attract orders to Canada which would otherwise have gone only to the United States, still a neutral country at that time.
As the small Curtiss Aeroplanes & Motors factory did not meet the needs of the extensive training program envisioned by the British, Canadian Aeroplanes began construction of a state-of-the-art factory elsewhere in Toronto. Heavily monopolised by many files, the federal government preferred not to participate in the pilot training program set up in Canada by the United Kingdom. At the most, it agreed to finance the construction of the Canadian Aeroplanes factory.
Responding to a wish expressed by its client, the RFC, Canadian Aeroplanes modified the plans of the JN-3 a little bit. The first Curtiss JN-4 Canuck trainer flew in January 1917. Production began quickly and contracts quickly began to add up.
A brief digression if I may. The very designation of the Canuck was / is confusing. You see, Curtiss Aeroplane designed its own modified version of the JN-3, called, you guessed it, the JN-4. That machine was nicknamed Jenny, as was said (typed?) at the beginning of this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Historians and aviation enthusiasts examining photographs of Canucks and Jennies have been pulling their hair out for a century as it could / can be difficult to identify which of the two machines was in front of them. Yours truly does not, however, give in to that exasperation. Nay. No Canuck-ian conniption for me. Nay. My Olympian calm and androgenetic alopecia prevent me from going there and ...
What is wrong with you, my reading friend? The meaning of that terroir / homegrown expression escapes you? Sigh… The quality of education offered in this world has declined significantly since my early years. Well, know then that androgenetic alopecia means male pattern baldness. Cur simplici vocabulo uti si tam bene complicatum verbum facit officium? In other words, why use a simple word if a complicated word does its job so well? Is that not the motto of museum curators around the world? (Hello EG, EP, etc.!) Sorry.
Please note that the Canuck was / is sometimes / often referred to as JN-4 (Can.) to distinguish it from its American quasi homonym, but I digress.
The Aviation Section of the USASC closely followed the progress of Canadian Aeroplanes. Indeed, the American President, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, had declared war on the German Empire in April 1917. As a result, the USASC was in dire need of aeroplanes. In July 1917 and, a second time, in 1918, it ordered Canucks. The USASC obviously ordered Jennies. In fact, that service and the United States Navy ordered more than 6 000 examples of that machine. According to some, more than 90 % of the military pilots trained in the United States during the First World War learned to fly aboard Jennies or Canucks.
RFC (Canada) / RAF (Canada) schools ultimately received around 530 Canucks. More than half of the 1 210 aeroplanes produced, or 680 Canucks, were delivered to the Aviation Section of the USASC. That was the first example of a significant export of aircraft series-produced in Canada.
A brief digression if I may. Captain Brian Peck and Corporal C.W. Mathers, both members of the Royal Air Force (RAF), made the first official air mail flight in Canada aboard a Canuck, carrying approximately 120 letters from Montréal, Québec, to Toronto, on 24 June 1918. And yes, yours truly knows that the postmark on the envelopes said 23 June. Indeed, that historic flight was almost accidental.
You see, Peck (and Mathers?) had initially planned to fly from Toronto to Montréal to bring back a case of whiskey meant to lubricate a colleague’s wedding. You see, again, the government led by William Howard Hearst had imposed prohibition on Ontario in 1916, in order to aid Canada’s war effort. The wineries as well as the various breweries and distilleries in Ontario remained open, however, in order to serve the export market, mainly American, but not the local market. Hearst, by the way, was mentioned in a December 2020 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Peck obtained permission to travel to Montréal under the pretext of performing an aerobatic demonstration and dropping leaflets to encourage recruiting into the RAF. Representatives of the Canadian Division of the Aerial League of the British Empire heard about the matter, however. Peck’s flight would be a good way to demonstrate the use of aeroplanes to deliver mail, they said. The RAF (Canada) thought the idea excellent. Peck might or might not have agreed with that assessment.
And yes, the Aerial League of the British Empire was mentioned in a January 2022 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. You will of course remember that this organisation was known as the Air League as of 2022, the word empire sticking in the craw of countless people whose lands had been ravaged / pillaged / occupied / invaded / exploited by the United Kingdom.
Incidentally, do you know why the Sun never set on the British Empire? Quite simply because God herself did not trust the English in the dark. Sorry. Interestingly enough, one of the first versions, if not the first version, of that bon mot may, I repeat may, have originated in Québec. I kid you not.
In Montréal, Québec, during an acrimonious debate during the Anglo–Boer War / Boer War / Second Boer War / South African War of 1899-1902, a well-known Québec independent member of parliament, Joseph Napoléon Henri Bourassa, was trying to explain, in good English, his opposition to that dreadful conflict when a heckler, who probably could not have ordered a cup of tea in French had his life had depended on it, shouted that, you guessed it, the sun never set on the glory of the British Empire. The quick-witted Bourassa allegedly shot back that this only went to prove that, you guessed it again, not even God trusted the British in the dark.
Warning – The following digression could be very disturbing.
Did you know that, between June 1901 and May 1902, 24 000 or so black South African civilians and 28 000 or so Boers civilians, 22 000 or so of them children, died from various causes, especially disease and hunger, in British concentration camps. Yes, yes, British concentration camps. Very, very respectfully, who do you think seemingly invented that type of camp? The aim of the exercise was to force the surrender of Boer soldiers who were still fighting. In other words, if they refused to surrender, their families would be imprisoned in the camps, after their farms got destroyed.
The 28 000 Boer deaths represented about 10 % of the Boer population – and a much larger percentage (20 to 25 % perhaps, or even more?) of the child population. Put in 2022 terms, these percentages represent 6 700 000 or so dead British civilians, including 2 800 000 to 3 500 000 dead British children, if not more.
Should one be surprised that a great many Boers, both female and male, fiercely hated the British and Anglo South Africans for years after the end of the Boer War?
Incidentally, young anglophone Canadians who had enthusiastically enlisted to fight in the Boer War were simply horrified by what the British Army’s high command ordered many of them to do. They had not enlisted to systematically destroy farms, confiscate animals, and force weeping and terrorised women, children and elderly people into concentration camps. The empire on which the Sun never set was perhaps not quite as glorious as these young Canadians had believed.
A thought if I may. One has to wonder if, when they were in school, these young Canadians were subjected to patriotic / jingoistic tirades similar to those that the German teacher known as Kantorek inflicted on his students in the classic 1929 German novel Im Westen nichts Neues, in English All Quiet on the Western Front, written by a First World War veteran, Erich Maria Remarque, born Erich Paul Remark. Just sayin’.
And yes, the British government headed by the Marquess of Salisbury, born Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, engaged in serious efforts to minimise / cover up the extent of what could be a crime against humanity. End of digression.
Peck and Mathers took off from the RAF (Canada) base in Leaside, Ontario, near Toronto, on June 20 and landed at the Montreal Polo Club, in Bois-Franc, Québec, near Cartierville – and Montréal. Heavy rain caused the aerobatic demonstration, on 22 June, to be canceled, and poor visibility prevented Peck and Mathers from flying the next day, 23 June – the scheduled date of the mail flight.
Peck and Mathers therefore took to the air on 24 June, with a bag of 120 letters – and a case of Scotch whiskey, Old Mull if you must know it, carried in defiance of Ontario’s prohibition legislation of course. Their Canuck was so overloaded that it had to fly at tree level all the way to Kingston, Ontario, to refuel. That stop being unplanned, Peck and Mathers had to fill the Canuck’s fuel tanks with automobile gasoline. The dynamic duo then landed at the RAF (Canada) base in Deseronto, Ontario, where they refueled with aviation gasoline. A landing at Leaside completed the expedition.
Peck then got into an automobile, in full view of everyone, with the mail bag, and went to the General Post Office in Toronto. Mathers got into another vehicle, much more quietly as you might imagine, and went to deliver the whiskey.
Oddly enough, the commemorative plaque erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation of the Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation to commemorate the historic flight of Peck and Mathers does not mention the case of whiskey, but I digress.
The shops of Canadian Aeroplanes, brand new and well equipped, operated at such a pace that the firm was soon recognised throughout North America for its speed and for the quality of its work. Indeed, Canadian Aeroplanes was arguably the best of the Canadian National Factories.
With the cost of each Toronto-made Canuck gradually dropping over the months, the RFC (Canada) saved considerable sums, a privilege the USASC did not appear to be entitled to. Too bad, so sad.
Canadian Aeroplanes produced in 1917 a unique example of the D.H.6, a British biplane designed by Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Some senior RFC officers based in the United Kingdom indeed wanted a second 2-seat trainer to be available in Canada, just in case. Canadian Aeroplanes, on the other hand, was concerned that this project would delay Canuck deliveries. The commander of the RFC (Canada), Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthbert Gurney Hoare, looked into the matter. The Canuck doing the job quite well, the D.H.6 was not mass-produced in Canada.
Other high-ranking officers, including Hoare, wondered if a slightly sprightlier single-seater, equipped with a rotary engine comparable to that of many combat aircraft used by the RFC, would not improve the training offered in the Canadian-based flying schools. The aeroplane chosen was the Sopwith Pup, a single-seat fighter biplane of excellent quality. The engine chosen for the Canadian version of this aircraft would be produced in the United States and therein lied the rub. The engine being perhaps unavailable, the Pup production program had to be abandoned.
Realising very well, in 1918, that the performance of the Canuck no longer corresponded to that of modern combat aircraft, the management of the RAF (Canada) decided to replace it with a more efficient trainer. In July 1918, Canadian Aeroplanes signed a contract for 500 examples of a somewhat modified version of the standard RAF trainer, the Avro Type 504. The new single-engine 2-seater was to gradually replace the Canuck. The British government agreed to deliver all the necessary engines, which would preserve its reserve of dollars, a precious commodity in those days. An additional order for 100 machines for the USAAS unfortunately did not materialise due to the unavailability of the chosen engine.
The first of the 2 Canadian Type 504s produced flew in October 1918, a tad later than expected. The signing of the Armistice, in November, led to the cancellation of the order.
And yes, the formidable collection of the Aviation and Space Museum includes a Pup and two Type 504s.
As you know, the Canuck and Jenny both had long careers after the end of the First World War. Barnstorming pilots and small American and Canadian operators used hundreds of these machines for many years, until the 1930s in some cases.
Have fun, my reading friend. This being said (typed?), moderation is not just for monks. Neither is respect for the law and simple decency.
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