Monthly Archives: March 2014

Air Canada Aircraft: Thirty Years of Change

In 1986, Former Liberal Transport Minister and the first Chairman of the Canadian Transport  Commission, Jack W. Pickersgill wrote that “When war broke out in 1939, seven days were needed to assemble Parliament to deal with the crisis; today Parliament can be brought together in 48 hours thanks to air travel.”

Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) began operation in 1938 under the control of Canadian National Railways (CNR).  Prior to WWII, TCA focused on Trans-continental air travel.  But during and after the war, the company’s attention turned to trans-Atlantic routes as well as the Caribbean.  After WWII the airline flew several aircraft, including Lockheed Lodestars, Canadair DC-4M North Stars, and Douglas DC-3s.   But the Lodestar had a tendency to stall and nosedive in mid-flight.  The North Stars were loud, even after the introduction of the “Noiseless” North Star in the 1950s.

The DC-3, which is still in use by numerous airlines today, made its first flight in 1935.  Over the years of its use, it underwent many re-configurations.  During the war, it was configured as an American military troop carrier, called a C-47, and was able to carry up to 75 military personnel.  So popular was this aircraft that it was bought by the militaries of China, Japan, and Russia, in addition to those of Canada and the U.S.

1946 - DC-3 - exterior - stairs - people - luggage bay1946 Douglas DC-3

1972 - Lockheed Tristar L-1011 - AC - first one off the assembly line in Palmdale California

1972 Lockheed TriStar L-1011 with the recognizable triple- jet engine configuration, with the center tail-mounted third engine.

By the 1970s, aircraft had evolved to become behemoths that were barely identifiable in relation to their earlier flight incarnations.  The Lockheed L-1011 emerged as a step up from the 1960s DC-8s.   The first Lockheed L-1011 was built in 1970 with three Rolls Royce engines, a choice that Lockheed may have regretted when Rolls Royce declared bankruptcy a year later.  Air Canada, as the former TCA was renamed in 1965, ordered ten L-1011s, called Tristars, in 1972 and they went into operation for Air Canada starting in 1973.

The L-1011 could carry more than 250 passengers, with six abreast in first class and eight abreast in economy.  The L-1011 also preserved space for the travelling public by having the galley area under the floor of the main cabin. The DC-3, by comparison, seated 3 people abreast with a total seating capacity of approximately 75.

1946 - DC-3 - interior - people in seats with hostess

1946 – DC-3 Cabin with one and two seat split.

1973 - Lockheed Tristar L-1011 - 6 abreast - 1st class - 4 seats facing

1973 Lockheed Tristar L-1011 first class lounge with six seats abreast, and facing pairs of seats with coffee tables.

DC-3 passenger seating was equipped with seat belts and in front of each seat, airsickness bags could be found in the pocket of the seat in front.  This was a necessary offering given the frequent low-altitude turbulence.   Despite references by aviation author Peter Pigott to the “immortal” and “legendary” DC-3, this plane could not maintain consistent interior air pressure in the 1940s. Passengers had to don oxygen masks when crossing the Rockies or any time that the plane rose above 10,000 feet.  The passenger’s oxygen masks connected to ports above the seats.  The airline hostess, however, had to connect hers to a port at the back of the cabin and assist passengers while dragging a long “vacuum cleaner-style” hose behind her.      

1946 - DC-3 - interior - cockpit pilot and copilot

1946 – DC-3, Cockpit with pilot and co-pilot

1973 - Lockheed TriStar - L-1011 - cockpit with 3 pilots

1973 Lockheed Tristar L-1011 Cockpit with 3 crew members.

Over the years the DC-3 has been overtaken in capacity and speed by planes like the DC-8 and the L-1011.  However, it remains in use today around the world.  The DC-3 was referred to as recently as 2012 in the Washington Post as a “workhorse” even today.  In his Wings Across Canada, Pigott says “Arthur Raymond, the man responsible for [this] immortal aircraft, died on March 22, 1999, two months short of his one hundredth birthday.”  And he goes on to say that, “On that date, it was estimated there were still two thousand of his DC3s in the air.”

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Women Workers in Aircraft Maintenance and Manufacturing in the 1940s

After the war, the airline industry appeared to advance in leaps and bounds.  The technology improved.  The numbers of routes expanded.  The market for air travel grew.  But there was one component of the aircraft industry that shrank dramatically after the war:  that of the role of women in aircraft manufacturing jobs.

Take a close look at the picture below…especially the front rows of people, but also those at the back.  If this picture reminds you of “Rosie the Riveter,” it’s not surprising.  First identified in a song by the same name, “Rosie” was a fictional female WWII aircraft manufacturing employee in the U.S. whose character is thought to have been modelled after a range of American women workers.  These American women workers responded to the call for their labour during a wartime shortage of labour and simultaneous increase in demand for workers.

1940s - TCA - CF-TCN - a lot of female groundcrew - Lockheed Lodestars

1940s-era workers with two Lockheed Lodestars in the TCA hangar.  Notice the large number of women workers in dirty white coveralls.

Canada equally required increased numbers of workers in the aircraft manufacturing sector.  During the war, a growing demand for both military and commercial aircraft created an increased demand for workers at a time when there were fewer men available to fill this need.  Women stepped in to fill these positions during the war, both as an opportunity to do their duty for the war effort, but also to have the chance to work outside of the home.  But when the war ended, most of these women were dismissed from their positions.

Two of the justifications for dismissing women after the war arose from fears that mixing male and female workers would lead to inappropriate sexual contact, as well as worries about a “masculinising” of women.  But the opportunities that women workers obtained in the 1940s, even if short-lived, gave rise to a greater sense of self-confidence among these women, and set an example for their daughters.  As well, it led them to support advancements for women during the 1960s and onwards.

As indicated in the picture, TCA indeed began hiring women in considerable numbers, and in a wide range of roles after the start of WWII.  But what is unclear, from the picture above, is whether these particular women were working in manufacturing or in aircraft maintenance.  What is also unclear is whether these particular women were dismissed from their jobs or not, but the industry trend was to do so.

The link below is to a music video of the Four Vagabonds version of the 1942 song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb that made the first reference to “Rosie the Riveter.”  The video uses 1940s-era footage of women working on WWII aircraft. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CQ0M0wx00s

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