By Greg Clark, September 19, 1925

Quietly, Canada Is Developing Commercial Flying On a Big Basis – Some of These Days Spectacular Things Will Be Done in The Dominion Air – Already Much Work Is Done of Which The Public Knows Nothing – The Intricate Building of Air Machines

One officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force perched out on the nose of a flying boat behind a big aero camera surveyed in six weeks 15,000 square miles of unexplored Canada.

A single survey party would have taken twenty years to complete the same map.

The past two years, Canada’s permanent air force, working with the Dominion Topographical Survey, have mapped in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand square miles of Canada’s last wilderness. Next year plans are laid to map another hundred thousand.

Hitting a hundred miles an hour pilots of the R. C. A. F. patrol the fisheries of the Pacific coast, guarding hundreds of miles of closed ground against poachers, checking fishery licenses and marking smugglers.

It would take ten patrol boats, fifteen-mile-an-hour craft, with crews, to cover the same ground. And at that more than half the offenders would escape.

The dominion government still retains possession of vast forests in British Columbia, Alberta, northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Hundreds of miles remote from railways, these untouched treasures are patrolled by officers of Canada’s active air force. Armies of rangers could not do it.

Because the cities do not see aeroplanes except as entertainment during fairs and exhibitions, the larger part of Canada is unaware of the fact that the dominion, which contributed so large a proportion of British fliers in the war and which possesses in Bishop the champion air duelist of all the armies in the war, is still one of the leading nations in the world in the matter of active aviation.

“Canada,” states an Englishman now visiting the country for the purpose of investigating aircraft possibilities, “has every qualification to be the foremost flying nation on earth in the course of time. She has long distances between her major centres of population. She has, I find, a continuous water-course for flying boats from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which is of enormous importance. The United States lacks this feature. And Canada has uncounted resources in timber, minerals and fisheries that will require to be guarded, explored and made available by aircraft.

“Fortunately, Canada has thousands of ex-airmen amongst her population who, as they grow older and into positions of greater weight in the business world, will accelerate the general recognition that aircraft is the economical and logical solution of a number of Canada’s problems.”

Had flying boats made their extraordinary photographic maps forty years ago literally hundreds of millions of dollars would have been saved the nation in the building of railroads alone, for the selection of routes in those days depended upon survey parties on foot ranging the vast wildernesses like needles thrust through haystacks.

Possibilities of Near Future

One of Canada’s great banks has been investigating the matter of employing aeroplanes for carrying its officials and inspectors between principal cities, such as Toronto and Montreal, Winnipeg and the western fan of cities.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been in correspondence with the Royal Canadian Air Force with regard to co-operation, so that some of the vast patrols of the north country may be handled by air, in return for which the police would mush gasoline into remote bases in the winter.

The Hudson’s Bay Company has investigated the matter of flying boats for its inspecting officers in almost inaccessible regions of the north.

A half dozen of Canada’s wealthiest men have made enquiries of the cost of flying boats for their personal use. The cheapest small two-passenger flying boat costs $10,000 made in Canada. In Toronto alone are hundreds of motor cars which cost over $6,000.

These are indications that Canada is on the edge of great expansion in the use of aircraft. And the development of a flying boat specially adapted to Canadian needs is now under way.

There is only one firm manufacturing aircraft in Canada to-day, and that is the Canadian Vickers Company at Montreal. This is the Canadian branch of the famous British firm of shipbuilders, gunmakers, steel manufacturers and aircraft builders. Their huge plant in Montreal is also devoted to all these branches of manufacture. It is significant that their aircraft branch is one of the most active of their departments and is exceeded only by their structural steel works.

In the past two years Vickers have turned out twenty-four flying machines for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The most interesting of these twenty-four machines are the Vedette and the new Varuna, which are the new type of flying boat especially designed for Canada’s needs.

The Royal Canadian Air Force experts cooperated with Mr. W. T. Reid, an engineer whose specialty is aircraft design, formerly with the famous Bristol aircraft works, who was sent out by Vickers in England to meet the problem of Canada’s special needs.

The Vedette is a three-passenger flying boat with a five hour range of flight built to serve as a forest patrol or survey machine.

The new thing about it, the feature that makes it Canadian, is its power of swift and steep climb. The countless lakes which make simple the question of flying over Canada are usually timbered to the shore. To get into them is easy. To get out of them is the problem the Vedette was designed to solve. The Vedette, a tough, sturdy boat, whose long, elegant hull might have been actually modeled on the lines of a speckled trout, can hoick up into the wind in an astonishingly short run.

The Varuna is simply a larger Vedette. It will carry seven passengers, or, with three passengers, will support a large cargo of fire fighting equipment, including engine and hose, picks and shovels, or, with a cargo of fuel, has a flying range of five hours.

The Varuna is Canada’s design for combating forest fire. Her hull, made not of mahogany as aircraft are by tradition, but of Canadian cedar, copper-fastened like a Canadian canoe, is 35 feet long, and her top wing has a spread of 53 feet. She, too, is built on tight and sturdy lines, with a pair of powerful pusher engines, to shoot her steeply into the air.

“In her design,” said Mr. Reid, her designer, “we have of course included all the best principles of past experience, but we have added some features that are distinctly new. The design has proved a distinct success.”

Canada’s Will Be Water Force

Thus, while the United States goes forward with the development of fast mail planes of the land type, Canada’s air force is likely to be distinguished as a naval air force.

You have seen a small boy whittling sticks to make a kite. They make an aeroplane the same way: a lot of sticks, some glue and cloth, and there you are – an aeroplane.

The solid appearance of an aeroplane is most deceiving. In the Vickers works in Montreal you get an idea of the extreme delicacy and frailty of these engines that must ride on air.

The making of an aeroplane is probably the most delicate piece of scientific manufacture in the whole world. Watch-making and fine jewelry is not to be compared with it.

“An aeroplane,” says an engineer in the Vickers plant, “is ninety-eight parts figuring on paper, one part engine and one part wood, wire and canvas.”

The designing engineers, men experienced in one of the least known sciences, get to work with pencil and paper and make the design of the shape of the machine, all the delicate curves, stresses, pressures and so forth, which are in the realm of the remotest mathematics. Then they translate this design into terms of materials, to stand these tremendous pressures and weights. To the last delicate stitch in the fabric these written plans are complete.

Then they make a model of the machine. These models would delight the heart and soul of boydom. They are made with infinite care, to be a perfect boy size replica of the finished machine, in weights and proportions exact. The model is then submitted to tests in water channels, to test its exact resistance and buoyancy in water. Then it is tested in the wind tunnel at the University of Toronto, to see that Its curves offer the very minimum of resistance to air. Back of these engineers playing with the toy, of course, is all the experience of all the nations in the manufacture of thousands upon thousands of life-and-death aeroplanes in the great war.

We saw the Varuna being built at Montreal. She will weigh with her engines nearly three tons, and she will carry more than a ton besides. Yet she was being laid together as delicately as a watch, and as frailly as a kite.

Her hull, to hold those engines and that cargo over the skies, is made of three-sixteenth inch cedar laid on elm ribs. One layer of fabric – a sort of very high grade light canvas – is glued over this hull that is lighter in build than a little canoe.

The wings – those wide, spreading, substantial-looking pinions – are nothing but kites. A couple of light spruce beams, scooped out to the shape of a steel I-beam, are the main supports of the wing. Two hollow steel tubes act as the short cross beams. The rest of the wing consists of an infinite number of sticks. Little spruce sticks of the sort a child’s toy is made of.

This is the wing that has to stand the strain of a weight of four tons borne through the air at a speed of a hundred miles an hour.

Amongst the workmen of the Vickers aircraft plant walked an officer of the R. C. A. F. He is an inspector. Every stick, every brad that goes into the machine is first inspected by him. Every small rib of spruce is weighed – actually weighed – in the presence of this officer. Each assembled section bears his stamp. Each wire – its breaking point 2,000 pounds, though it is no wider than a lead pencil and no thicker than a table knife – each joint, is fitted under this officer’s eye and marked by him. Here you begin to see the infinite care and pains taken in the building of an aeroplane so that, be it built of sticks and cloth, it will stand the tremendous buffeting of air, land or water.

Stern Test for Machines

And the finished Vedette without its engine costs $15,000. The engine runs all the way from $2,000 to $7,000 more, in the finished machine, there is probably not a hundred dollars’ worth of raw material, wood, wire and cloth. The huge expense is in the designing and the making.

Over the trail framework of the wing is sewn one thickness of fabric. It then receives a number of coats of a celluloid compound or “dope.” This stiffens and reinforces the fabric.

R. C. A. F. officers come and test each machine when it is assembled. They give it a stern test. It has to take them into perilous and remote wildernesses. Every part of the machine, except the engine, is made in Vickers. The propellers, the metal parts, the wooden trifles lighter than lend pencils, are all manufactured under inspection, in rooms kept at strict temperatures and stricter moisture content.

The Pacific stations of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the forestry stations at High River, Alberta, have got most of the new machines so far. Camp Borden has mostly training machines for cadets of the RCAF.

On the permanent air force Canada has sixty officers and three hundred and seventy men. This number includes not only fliers but all the headquarters and base details, riggers and mechanics employed at the air stations of the dominion, Vancouver, High River, Winnipeg, Camp Borden, Ottawa and Dartmouth, N. S.

The number of flying machines in the service cannot be announced by the ministry because it is secret and confidential, but besides the machines in actual use on patrols for the different departments of the government, there are a large number of war machines in storage that have never been flown.

Last year, the force did over 2,000 hours of flying, the largest single item of that being 750 hours in forestry protection, the next, 681 in cadet training and 268 hours in survey and photography,

Naturally, the survey work is the one that is showing most promisingly. For photographic survey from the air is the greatest advance in engineering in recent times. The machine simply flies in a series of straight parallel lines, shooting vertical downward pictures at a known height as it goes. These photos are then taken by experts, who join them together to scale. And there is a perfect map, showing everything in detail, every watercourse, every lake, every forest and outcrop of rock-everything but ground levels. These are obtained roughly by the fliers landing on lakes at different points and taking levels. By this method, regions that are practically inaccessible are easily mapped at a rate that has advanced the knowledge of Canada’s wilderness twenty years. The experts, of course, can read these photographic maps so skillfully that they can tell the type of trees in the forests shown.

The R. C. A. F. proposes to photograph a hundred thousand square miles of northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan the coming season. The winter will be spent getting gasoline bases established on lakes scattered through the country they are going to map.

This activity in the air is quite aside from Ontario’s own forestry protection and survey air force that has flown an equal sum of hours exclusively in Ontario. Quebec is doing a little in forestry aviation, but has not yet taken it up on a serious scale.

Canada has its factory. Its permanent military air force, at least a thousand men engaged in the flying enterprise, and perhaps ten thousand young men qualified fliers – who still fly in their dreams.

Flying is on a practical going basis in the dominion, with a bright outlook.

Editor’s Notes: When he mentions Bishop, he means, Billy Bishop, Canada’s most famous flier from the First World War. No first name would be needed as everyone would know who he is writing about.

Canadian Vickers existed from 1911 to 1944 when the airpalne business was taken over by Canadair. Different ownership over the years has culminated in Bombardier today.

More information on the Vedette and Varuna are available through the links.

Wilfrid T. Reid was a famous airplane designer and engineer.