BY JOHN BOILEAU
Chronicle Herald Article
The Canadair Argus CL-28 CP-107: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Maritime Hunter, by Cary Baker and Bert Campbell, $59.95*
is a book for serious aviation fans, in particular those with an interest in
military aircraft. It tells the story of the Canadian-designed and -built Argus
maritime patrol aircraft, a key component of NATO’s response to the Soviet
submarine threat during most of the Cold War.
Based on the British Britannia, the Argus was the most technologically advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft of its time. Between 1958 and 1981, Argus crews flew thousands of hours on ASW patrols, many of them out of Greenwood and Summerside.
Powered by four giant piston engines, the Argus had an amazing capacity for endurance and could fly for up to 24 hours nonstop. It was also an invaluable search and rescue asset, and saved the lives of numerous sailors and mariners lost or in danger.
Many aspects of the important role the Argus played during the Cold War game of cat and mouse in the North Atlantic have never been fully told before. One of these involved an American chain of secret underwater listening devices, known as Sound System Underwater Surveillance, or SOSUS.
SOSUS consisted of hydrophones planted on the ocean floor to detect submarine sounds. The data was transmitted to shore stations (those in Canada — including a Nova Scotia site — were jointly manned by Canadian and American personnel), where the sounds were analyzed to direct a ship or an aircraft to the site. There was always an Argus crew on two-hour alert to react to such information, making the Argus/SOSUS combination “Canada’s most capable strategic ASW asset.”
This team “arguably prosecuted more Soviet penetrations of North American frontiers than their NORAD brethren,” but because of the secrecy surrounding the system, “Argus crews received none of the publicity or visibility of their NORAD contemporaries.”
Another Cold War tale describes the role of the Argus in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when American intelligence learned that Soviet ships were carrying ballistic missiles to Cuba.
Because Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was not convinced of the seriousness of the threat (and probably in part because he did not get along with president John Kennedy), he had to be forced to put RCAF NORAD assets on high alert. But he refused to do the same for Canada’s maritime naval and aviation assets.
These important resources did participate however, through the subterfuge of participation in an exercise, which had already been scheduled for November and was simply moved forward.
Argus crews provided essential assistance to the U.S. navy during the crisis, especially since the stalwart Canadian airplane was more capable than American ASW aircraft. Some of the other tales told in the book concern the supposed curse of several Argus aircraft carrying the number seven.
In 1965, Argus 727 crashed into the ocean and completely disappeared while deployed on an exercise in Puerto Rico, killing all 15 crewmen and one scientist aboard. A year later a flight sergeant disappeared from Argus 717 while flying over the Bay of Fundy, the only clue a door warning light illuminated on the cockpit instrument panel. Finally, in 1977, Argus 737 crashed while landing in bad weather at Summerside, killing three crewmen and injuring several others. The curse of the number seven continued with several non-fatal incidents. Between them, Argus aircraft 714, 739 and 740 experienced an extremely hard landing, a lost propeller, failed brakes and a landing gear failure.
The Argus story is well illustrated and contains black and white and colour photographs throughout, including the last chapter devoted to entirely to photographs. There are also some stunning paintings and profile drawings by aviation artist Rob Arsenault.
John Boileau only flew in an Argus once, from Greenwood to Dusseldorf, Germany, along with the other members of his Gagetown based tank squadron during a deployment to NATO exercises in 1967.