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Aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Forces

Maritime & SAR

Grumman CS2F-2 Tracker,
Canadian Forces Base Borden,
Photo by J. Gray

Grumman CS2F-2 Tracker
Designed by Grumman, and built under license by DeHavilland in Canada, the Tracker was Canada's first multi-role aircraft. Ordered in 1956, to replace the aging Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, the first of an eventual 101 Trackers entered service in 1957. Flying with Royal Canadian Navy squadrons aboard the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, the Tracker had the capability to search out and destroy submarines with torpedoes or depth charges.  Its Wright Cyclone engines gave the Tracker a patrol speed of 140mph, a ceiling of 12,000 feet, and a range of 1,000 miles.  The Canadian built Trackers were constructed 18 inches shorter than their U.S. counterparts, to allow them to be stored in the Bonaventure's hangars. When the Bonaventure was removed from service in 1970, the Trackers were transferred to the air force shore bases in Shearwater and Comox, which limited their Anti-Submarine Warfare role.  A number of the aircraft were placed into storage in the late 1970s and 1980s, with the remaining Trackers flying anti-shipping and fisheries patrols. In 1990, the Tracker was retired from Canadian military service. 

Canadair CP-107 Argus,
National Air Force Museum of Canada,
Photo by J. Gray

CP-107 Argus

"The Argus will be missed by all who became accustomed to her deep-throated roar. She served us well"
-Colonel Al McLellan

During the Cold War era of the 1950s, the security of Canada and other NATO countries was at risk from Soviet spy trawlers and submarines.  The Canadian government realized that maritime security had to be modernized and the equipment updated, as the World War II era Lancaster bombers employed in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) roles were in need of replacement.  In 1954, Montreal based Canadair was awarded a contract to produce a new, long range ASW aircraft for the RCAF.  The result was the CP-107 "Argus", which was based on the Bristol Britannia airframe, and powered by American made Wright R-3350 engines.  The plane was the largest aircraft built in Canada, with a length of more than 128 feet, a wingspan of 143 feet, and a crew of fifteen.  The aircraft could reach a maximum speed of 315 mph, and had a range of nearly six thousand miles.  

Built at a cost of $5.5 million, the RCAF ordered 33 CP-107s, with the first one being delivered in 1958.  Eventually, the Argus replaced the P2V-7 Neptunes, which were temporarily filling the ASW role, entering service with No. 404 and No. 405 Maritime Patrol Squadrons, based out of Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and No. 415 Maritime Patrol Squadron in Summerside, P.E.I.  It wasn't until 1968 that the Argus saw service on the west coast, joining No. 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron in Comox.  The aircraft served the air force for 23 years, until they were retired in 1981, and replaced with the CP-140 Aurora.  In their 23 year career, the Argus aircraft logged more than 450,000 hours of flight time, in all weather conditions.  Of the 33 planes put into service, only 2 were lost.  The first incident occurred in 1965, when an Argus on training excercises crashed into the ocean north of Puerto Rico, killing all 15 crew members and a civilian scientist.  The second was lost in 1977, when it crashed at Summerside, claiming the life of 3 crew members.  Five of the aircraft were preserved, and gifted to museums throughout Canada, while the remainder were scrapped.


McDonnell-Douglas CF-18 Hornet,
National Air Force Museum of Canada,
Photo by J. Gray

CF-18 Hornet
The McDonnell-Douglas CF-18 Hornet is Canada's multi-role fighter aircraft, with the ability to operate at night and in all weather conditions.  Based on the American F/A-18 Hornet, in use by the U.S. Navy and Marines, the aircraft's roles include air defence, air superiority, tactical support, training and aerospace testing and evaluation.  Purchased at a cost of $35 million per unit, Canada became the first international customer for the aircraft in 1980, order 138 Hornets to replace the CF-104 Starfighter and the CF-101 Voodoo.  The CF-18s were delivered between 1982 and 1988, and cost less than the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle, which were also being considered.  The Hornet is equipped with twin engines, essential for operations in the arctic, and the radar onboard is considered state of the art.  Built for aircraft carrier operations, the Hornets are able to utilize smaller airfields, such as those found in the Canadian north.  The Canadian version of the CF-18 differs from its American counterpart in several small ways, including the addition of a powerful searchlight, survival equipment compatible for Canada's environment, and some cockpit modifications.  The CF-18 can reach a speed of Mach 1.8, has a range of 3,700 kilometers, and is armed with Sidewinder and Sparrow air to air missles, as well as Maverick air to ground missles, and a 20mm cannon.  It can also be fitted with an assortment of bombs and rockets.  Twenty-four Canadian Hornets saw action during Operation Desert Storm, several flew missions in the former Yugoslavia, and the aircraft and their pilots helped to provide round the clock air security over Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Since their inception, seventeen Hornets have been lost, with the deaths of nine pilots.  Upgrades to the aircraft began in 2001, and are expected to extend the life of the planes until at least 2017.  Currently, the Canadian Air Force maintains an inventory of 80 Hornets, which are assigned to No. 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron, CFB Bagotville Quebec, and No. 409 and No. 410 Tactical Fighter Squadrons, CFB Cold Lake, Alberta.  The Canadian government has recently announced that the CF-18 will be replaced with the F-35 Lightning II, with deliveries beginning in 2016.

CF-5 Freedom Fighter Presentation Aircraft in "Bruce the Moose" markings
of 419 Squadron. Photographed at Canadian Air Force
Museum, Trenton, Ontario.
Photo by J. Gray

CF-5 Freedom Fighter, Canadian Forces Base Borden
Photo by J. Gray

CF-5 Freedom Fighter
The CF-5 Freedom Fighter was a light weight, low cost fighter which served the Canadian Armed Forces for twenty-six years.  Built under license by Canadair, the CF-5 was a Canadian produced variant of Northrop's F-5 Freedom Fighter, which was developed in the early 1960s for export to favoured nations under the United States government's Military Assistance Plan (MAP).  Although the United States Air Force had no interest in acquiring the Freedom Fighter, aircraft shortages in the Vietnam war forced them to accept several for a short time.  Despite proving themselves a capable combat aircraft in Vietnam, the United States declined to add the F-5 to its air force inventory, but a number of foreign nations purchased the jets.  Canada and Spain both chose to build the aircraft under license.

In 1965, the Canadian government issued a requirement for a new tactical support fighter, which could equip squadrons in Mobile Command.  Although the air force expressed a preference for the larger Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the more economical Freedom Fighter was selected.  An order was placed in July for 115 aircraft, comprising 89 single seat fighters (designated CF-5A) and 26 dual seat trainers (CF-5D).  The aircraft were constructed at Canadair's plant near Montreal, while Malton, Ontario's Orenda was contracted to build the engines.  In addition to more powerful engines than the American version, other Canadian modifications included a probe for air-to-air refuelling, and more sophisticated avionics.  The first prototype rolled out in 1968, and was transported by Hercules to Edwards Air Force Base in California for test flights.  Delivery to Canadian fighter squadrons began in November, 1969. The Dutch air force, seeking a replacement for their fleet of F-84F Thunderstreaks, placed an order with Canadair for 120 aircraft in 1967, with delivery beginning in 1969.

Original plans called for four squadrons to be equipped with the CF-5 and, although stationed at bases in Canada, the planes would be available for rapid deployment overseas in the event of hostilities, and in support of Canada's NATO allies.  The primary role of the fighter was close support for ground forces, cooperating with the army to attack and destroy hostile targets, supply lines, and communications.  Secondary roles included surveillance and photographic reconnaissance.

Cutbacks in military budgets, as well as shifting defence policies by the Trudeau government in 1970, saw the role of the Canadian Forces change.  Priority moved from Canada's NATO and United Nations committments overseas, instead focusing on the defence of North America and protecting Canadian sovereignty.  Instead of equipping four squadrons with the CF-5, only 434 Squadron in Cold Lake and 433 Squadron in Bagotville would receive the fighters.  419 Squadron, also in Cold Lake, would be utilized for training.  These cutbacks and policy shifts saw many of the aircraft declared surplus, and placed in storage.  In 1971, a deal was reached with the government of Venezuela and twenty CF-5s were sold to the South American country.  This deal caused Northrop to launch a lawsuit against the government of Canada, claiming the licensing agreement had been violated by the sale.

By 1973, the CF-5 replaced the CT-133 Silver Star as the advanced pilot trainer in the Canadian Forces.  Pilots who were destined to fly the CF101B Voodoo and the CF-104 Starfighter began their training in the CF-5s.  By the 1980s, the CF-18 Hornet had taken over as the primary fighter in the Canadian Air Force, but the CF-5 was retained as lead in trainers for those pilots who would eventually fly the Hornet.  Many aircraft in the fleet were upgraded in 1987 and in 1990, where they continued to serve in a training capacity.  Finally, in 1995, the CF-5 was retired, with sixteen being sold to the Botswana air force, and the remainder being placed in storage.  Today, several CF-5s remain on display at museums and parks across the country.

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter,
National Air Force Museum of Canada,
Photo by J. Gray

CF-104 Starfighter
The CF-104 Starfighter, nicknamed "the lawn dart", the "missle with the man in it" and the "widow maker", was built under license by Canadair to replace the RCAF's fleet of Sabres.  The contract for the Starfighters was signed in 1959, with the first flights taking place in 1961.  Canadair built a total of 340 aircraft, with 200 entering the RCAF's inventory, and the other 140 being exported to other NATO countries.  California based Lockheed built 38 dual seat CF-104Ds, which were sent to Cold Lake, Alberta, as training aircraft.  The engines were also built in Canada, under license to Orenda.  The Starfighter could reach a maximum speed of Mach 2.35 at 40,000 feet, Mach 1.2 at sea level, and was able to climb to 38,000 feet in a minute and a half. Although the aircraft had a ceiling of 58,000 feet, a USAF pilot reached 103,395 feet during a 1959 flight.  In 1962, Canada shipped 139 Starfighters to Europe, which formed eight squadrons based in Germany and France.  During the 1960s, the Starfighter was utilized as a nuclear strike aircraft, which could be armed with U.S. nuclear weapons if required.  In the 1970s, the role of the CF-104 had changed to that of low level attack and photo reconnaissance.  The dangers of these low level flights, often at high speed and in poor weather conditions, led to a total of 110 Starfighters being lost to accidents, with 37 pilot deaths.  Despite these numbers, airmen considered the plane to be trustworthy, and deemed the "widow maker" label unfair. Following downsizing of the air force, 22 Starfighters were sent to the Danish Air Force in 1971, followed by another 22 that went to Norway the following year.  Another 50 were transferred to the Turkish Air Force in the 1980s.  The last Starfighter was retired from Canadian operational service in 1987, when replaced by the CF-18 Hornet. 

McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo,
Canadian Forces Base North Bay,
Photo by J. Gray

CF-101 Voodoo
Following the termination of the Avro Arrow project in 1959, and in need of a replacement for the CF-100 Canuck, the Canadian air force purchased 66 Voodoo's from the United States in 1961.  Ten of the planes were used as trainers, and the remainder went into service as all weather interceptors, where they were used almost exclusively in a NORAD defence role.   The aircraft were built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, in St. Louis, and previously served with the USAF as the F-101.  The Voodoo went into Canadian service during the Cold War years, where it served with Air Defence squadrons on both the east and west coasts. As interceptors, the prescribed time for a Voodoo to get airborne was five minutes, although a record time of 57 seconds was set in 1963 at Chatham.  A supersonic aircraft, the Voodoo could be armed with Genie AIR-2A nuclear weapons, which caused a deal of controversy in Canada at the time.  They could also be equipped with Falcon infrared missles, carried a crew of two, had a ceiling of 51,000 feet, and could reach a maximum speed of 1,963 km/h.  The Voodoo's operated out of 409 Squadron (Comox), 414 Squadron (North Bay,Ontario), 410 Squadron (Ottawa), 425 Squadron (Bagotville) and 416 Squadron (Chatham, New Brunswick).  The Voodoo remained in active service until 1984, when they were replaced with the CF-18 Hornet.  However, North Bay's 414 Squadron continued to fly their Voodoo's until 1987.

Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck,
Lee Park, North Bay, Ontario,
Photo by J. Gray

CF-100 Canuck
Following the Second World War, in response to the threat of Soviet bombers, the Canadian government needed an all-weather, day and night fighter, capable of operations in the arctic.  No such aircraft existed at the time, and in 1946, Avro Canada began work on the Canuck.  The first jet fighter to be designed and built in Canada, the CF-100 first flew in January, 1950, becoming the world's first straight-winged combat aircraft to break the sound barrier.  Avro built 692 CF-100s, which went into service with 13 RCAF squadrons, and a further 53 were sold to the Belgian Air Force.  With a maximum speed of 552 mph, a range of 2000 miles, and a ceiling of 45,000 feet, the Canuck carried a crew of two, and was armed with wingtip rockets.  The CF-100 was retired in 1981, replaced by the CF-101 Voodoo. The last of the aircraft served with North Bay's 414 Squadron in reconnaissance, training and electronic warfare roles.

Canadair Sabre, National Air Force Museum of Canada,
Photo by J. Gray







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