Old bushplanes never die, they just fade away: A few lines, all right, many lines on the remarkable career of a Junkers Ju 52 “flying box car” named CF-ARM, part 2

The Junkers Ju 52 bushplane registered as CF-ARM of Canadian Airways Limited of Montréal, Québec, under repair, Arviat, Nunavut (Eskimo Point, Northwest Territories), September 1932. CASM, 1208.

Welcome back, my reading friend. I am pleased to welcome you yet again to the wonderful world of aviation. You will undoubtedly remember that, when we flew off last week, we were in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in late December 1931, with the crew of a Junkers Ju 52 cargo plane bought a few months before by Canadian Airways Limited of Montréal, Québec.

As you may well imagine, said crew took a few days off during the holiday season. Mind you, it was very likely that these gentlemen joined Canadian Airways ground personnel to figure out what was wrong with the BMW VII engine and tail section of the firm’s brand new acquisition.

The crew of the “flying box car,” as CF-ARM began to be called, from January 1932 onward, began its first commercial flight in mid-January of that year. Its northern destination was Cold Lake, Manitoba, where a train operated by a crown corporation, Canadian National Railway Company, had left some supplies the aircraft was to carry to trading posts further north which were operated by Hudson’s Bay Company of London, England.

At the time, the aircraft may, I repeat may, have been equipped with skis rather than wheels. Manufactured by Canadian Vickers Limited of Montréal, a well known shipyard and aircraft manufacturing firm mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since February 2019, said skis were larger than any other set of skis made in Canada prior to that date. Indeed, they were probably among the largest skis ever made on our big blue marble prior to that date.

Sadly, a pair of major components of the engine seized up not too long before the aircraft landed at Cold Lake. As you may well imagine, the crew did not have a pair of camshafts in their tool box. Indeed, replacement parts only arrived in late February or early March. CF-ARM was back in Winnipeg by early March but soon went back north. Indeed, the aircraft was at Norway House, Manitoba, on the far north shore of Lake Winnipeg, until early April, when it returned to Winnipeg.

In May, a metal fitting on the left leg of the Ju 52’s landing gear failed during a practice takeoff at some location (Winnipeg?) yours truly has yet to identify for sure. The collapse of that leg caused the trailing edge of the left wing to scrape (slightly?) along the ground.

The management of Canadian Airways thought this was as good a time as any to remove the wheeled undercarriage of the Ju 52 and install a pair of very large floats on the aircraft.

In late June 1932, a new chapter in the history of mineral development in Canada began when the crew of the Ju 52 took off from the Red River, in Winnipeg, with a group of 10 prospectors and all their equipment, including 5 canoes. The expedition, which also included a trio of Canadian Airways employees, made a stop at Lac du Bonnet, north east of Winnipeg, so that a small team from the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of National Defence could conduct some tests.

CF-ARM then proceeded north, to the gold fields discovered at Island Lake, near the Manitoba-Ontario border, where the prospectors seemingly went their own way. By the way, each member of that expedition, which had been chartered by the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, had paid the modest sum of $ 60, which corresponded to more than $ 1 250 in 2023 currency.

The Ju 52, its crew and, perhaps, the Canadian Airways employees, on the other hand, flew on to Churchill, Manitoba, on the shore of Hudson Bay, to deliver supplies to an isolated settlement on the shore of Nueltin Lake, a body of water located in the Northwest Territories in 1932 but located in Nunavut in 2023. Finding said settlement proved difficult however, given the inaccuracy of the maps the crew had access to and the sheer number of lakes in that part of the world. Locating a settlement known as Caribou Post, between Nueltin Lake and Churchill, was seemingly easier.

The Ju 52 and its crew then flew north, to Eskimo Point, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, in the Northwest Territories, today’s Arviat, Nunavut, where a small mission and a trading post were located. The crew then made several trips to Padlei, near the shore of Kinga Lake, a body of water located in the Northwest Territories in 1932 but located in Nunavut in 2023.

The supplies it was delivering had been delivered by a Hudson’s Bay ship, the famous icebreaking supply ship RMS Nascopie.

The weather was often bad, however, which limited the efforts of CF-ARM’s crew. To ensure that all the supplies needed by the people of the area got to them before freeze up, the management of Canadian Airways sent two additional aircraft up north.

And yes, that flying duo consisted of a Junkers W 33 and a Junkers W 34. The latter type of aircraft is, as you undoubtedly know, present in the world class collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario.

In mid September, the crew of CF-ARM made its final delivery. It was now ready to fly south – and home. The pilot of one of the smaller aircraft, also out on its final delivery flight that day, could not find Padlei, however, even though he had been given directions. In other words, the pilot could not spot the only landmark near the settlement, a sextet of spruce trees near the shore of the snow covered lake. This, of course, meant that the journey south of the 3 aircraft would be delayed by one day, so that the final delivery flight could be made, which was no problem.

Yeah. Right.

As luck would have it, a gale lashed Arviat that very night. The anchor chain of the Ju 52 broke as the Canadian Airways crews arrived at the scene. They could only watch as the aircraft was forced into the rocky shore. Accompanied by one or more people, CF-ARM’s pilot, W.J. “Buck” Buchanan, took to the water, climbed aboard the aircraft, started its engine and taxied it to a sheltered area of the shore. The lifting force provided by the strong wind and the speed of the aircraft moving through the water arguably saved the Ju 52, and the people which were on board, from a watery grave.

Strong winds prevented the Canadian Airways people from reaching the Ju 52 for a day or two, to start repairs – and send a radio message to Winnipeg. Both floats were indeed grievously damaged. Would you believe that one of them sheltered a boulder weighing almost 70 kilogrammes (150 pounds)?

The situation seemed hopeless but the Canadian Airways people were strongly motivated. Winter was coming. If the Ju 52 was not flown south in time, it would have to spend the winter at Arviat – and risk further damage. And yes, yours truly also thinks that its crew would not have spent the winter in Arviat. It would have flown south in a Canadian Airways aircraft.

Unable to lift or move the huge aircraft, the Canadian Airways team had to dig large holes in order to reach the lower sections of the floats. It did so with the help of the local Inuit population. As one of the Canadian Airways people secured a patch on each hole, another scooped out the frigid water which constantly seeped in. Even then, the small team could work only at low tide. It was truly dreadful work.

It went without saying, but yours truly shall say it anyway, that the limited repair supplies carried in the 3 Canadian Airways machines were woefully insufficient for such an extensive repair project. In the end, pretty much every piece of sheet metal and bolt found in the Hudson’s Bay post was put to use, including bits of stovepipe. Even so, the repairs proved very basic indeed and one hole proved too big to properly fix. And we both know which one that was, do we not?

As the days went on, it became clear that things were not going well. While the aircraft seemed able to float, moving it away from shore, in deep water, seemed far too risky.

Having concluded that the metal patches were not properly doing their job, the men decided to cover both floats with two layers of duck canvas and, perhaps, replace the metal patches with seal skins. Even then, moving the aircraft into deep water proved challenging. Dragging it on the rocky shore would certainly have damaged the duck canvas and / or the seal skins.

The Canadian Airways people therefore dug two 15 metre (50 feet) long trenches, both wide enough and deep enough to accommodate the very large floats of CF-ARM and float the aircraft out of its prison. They presumably did so with the help of the local Inuit population.

Fearing that taxiing the aircraft to the Hudson’s Bay post might damage the duck canvas and / or the seal skins, the Canadian Airways people pulled the huge machine along the shore over a distance of more than 3 kilometres (about 2 miles). They presumably did so with the help of the local Inuit population.

And yes, local Inuit populations often saved the bacon of embattled and / or clueless white bozos who had come up North in search of fame and / or fortune. Even so, they were often treated with precious little courtesy. Mind you, indigenous populations often saved the bacon of equally embattled and / or clueless white bozos who had gone to Africa, America, Asia and Oceania in search of fame and / or fortune. They too were often treated with precious little courtesy.

Now, if I may paraphrase a famous American children’s author and cartoonist mentioned in a November 2022 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, please do not ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be whitey’s head was not screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Anyway.

Speaking (typing?) of whitey, if you have never listened to a (February?) 1970 spoken word poem by African American singer / poet / musician / author Gilbert “Gil” Scott-Heron, I will respectfully argue that you cannot fully understand what has been going on in the United States since that time. Just sayin’.

But back to our story.

Six days after the repair work on the Ju 52 began, Buchanan tried to take off. The attempt failed. As the aircraft gathered speed, more and more water seeped through small tears in the duck canvas. Very much aware that it needed to leave as quickly as possible, the Canadian Airways team removed the duck canvas and added more patches. The big hole would have to remain uncovered.

The following day, Buchanan and an uncertain number of people lightened the aircraft as much as they could before settling in for take off. The attempt was successful, if barely, and the holed float spouted water for a good 30 minutes after take off.

Buchanan landed at Churchill parallel to the shore, and as close to it as he dared. Thanks to the assistance of the local Department of Railways and Canals team, and their much needed supplies, he and his colleagues patched up the Ju 52. Those repairs had to be repaired after the aircraft alighted further south, at The Pas, Manitoba. While there, the Canadian Airways asked the municipal authorities if its people could borrow a few water pumps, to empty the floats. This equipment was quickly made available. The final stage of the flight, from The Pas to Winnipeg, was uneventful. The return flight to Canadian Airways’ homebase in Western Canada had taken almost a week.

As September came to an end, the Winnipeg staff of Canadian airways began to repair the floats of CF-ARM.

It should be noted that one of the two smaller Canadian Airways machines moored with the Ju 52 when the gale hit was rammed by its sibling and so seriously damaged that it had to be partly dismantled, then hoisted on board a Department of Marine rescue tug. Part of the journey south to Churchill was done in the midst of a terrible storm. The aircraft was then loaded on a train and sent to Winnipeg for repairs.

The crew of the second machine flew south as expected, before freeze up.

As annoying as that turn of event was for the management of Canadian Airways, the difficulties faced by its crews during the fall of 1932 meant that some isolated settlements in the Arviat area did not receive all the supplies they usually received before winter closed in.

All in all, between November 1931 and November 1932, CF-ARM remained on terra firma for 295 or so of those 365 or days, in other words 4 days out of 5. Ow…

And yes, in many cases, the aircraft’s problems were engine-related. Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft did not have the climate of northern Canada in mind when it designed the engine of Canadian Airways’ Ju 52, and it showed.

One had to wonder if the president of Canadian Airways, James Armstrong Richardson, and his superintendent of maintenance, Thomas William “Tommy” Siers, were amused.

Speaking (typing?) of amusement, how thrilled would you be, my reading friend, if yours truly admitted that the remarkable career of the Junkers Ju 52 “flying box car” registered as CF-ARM was so remarkable that it can not be told in a two part article?

Sorry about that. I am really trying to be briefer, you know.


See you next week.

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Rénald Fortier