In the early 1950s it was apparent that the Cold War would continue into the foreseeable future. Submarines of the Soviet Navy were increasingly becoming a major threat to countries of the NATO alliance, and it was urgent that Canada's maritime forces be strengthened and provided with up-to-date equipment. This proved to be a period when Canada's defence expenditures increased dramatically; airfields were modernized, squadrons reactivated, and new aircraft ordered.
In 1952,the existing MP squadrons: 404, 405, and the recently-reactivated 407 in Comox, B.C. were all equipped with the Lancaster Mark 10. This aircraft, which had been a mainstay of Bomber Command during the war, was still equipped with its wartime H2S radar, which had been augmented by the CRT-1 sonobuoy system. The aging Lancasters were becoming harder and harder to maintain, and the supply of spares from farmers' fields was drying up. Their crews were at a distinct disadvantage when exercising with other forces, let alone when attempting to carry out their own operational commitments.
In 1952, the RCAF issued a requirement for an aircraft to replace the aging bombers and, realizing that the Lancasters could not be expected to soldier on until the arrival of their replacements, ordered Lockheed P2V-7 Neptunes "off the line" to act as a modern stand-in until the arrival of the new aircraft.
It was necessary to provide new design concepts if the full potential of the replacement aircraft was to be met. A large machine was needed, one that would have a very long range and that could, without compromising its performance, carry a wide selection of the new detection and weapons systems that were coming on line. These considerations led to discussion about crew size, and the consequent need for facilities to keep up their efficiency throughout the long hours of flight. Because a country of Canada's size could not afford to build new aircraft frequently, the machine had to be designed for long life and have the potential to accept equipment increases and improvements which would certainly occur in the future. The aircraft also had to be compatible with existing airfields, and the potential capabilities of aircrew who would fly it. The final requirements that would affect the subsequent characteristics of the aircraft were that the lead-time be shortened by developing the aircraft from a proven airframe which was already in service, and that it would be powered by the Wright Type 981, turbo-compound engine which would provide the required power along with a low specific fuel consumption. The task of building the new aircraft within these parameters was given to Canadair Limited of Montreal, and work began. Proposals for an appropriate airframe on which to base the construction of the CL-28, as Canadair called it, were received , and it was decided that the Bristol Britannia had a large number of the characteristics required for the conversion. The modification turned out to be an enormous undertaking. All Imperial specifications had to be converted to North American standards, the fuselage was shortened and provided with two bomb bays, and the turbo-prop engines were replaced by piston engines. At one stage, provision was made for the aircraft to carry two Pelican ASMs on outer-wing strongpoints but this idea was later discarded.
The RCAF designation for the aircraft was CP-107, but it now received its more familiar name: the Argus. There are at least six Arguses in Greek mythology, but the aircraft is named after Argus Panoptes. He was born of Gaea (Earth), and had one hundred eyes, only two of which would close at any one time. The latter were probably in the rest positions. Sadly, Argus become bored with his watchkeeping, and was slain by Hermes. However, his eyes are preserved in the tail of the peacock.
On March 28, 1957, the first flight of the new aircraft took place, lasting seventy-five minutes. It had taken three years to reach this stage, and a long period of testing still lay ahead. Jack Woods, formerly of 404 Squadron, was the project officer for trials by Central Experimental and Proving Establishment conducted at RCAF Uplands and RCAF Cold Lake. John Waldy was the Performance Pilot, A.F. Bjornstad looked after airframe matters, and Pierre Bussieres the engines and aeronautical engineering. All aspects of the new aircraft were tested, and flights conducted to see if it met the design specifications for speed, range and so forth. Cold-weather trials were done at Namao, and armament systems were checked out at Cold Lake.
Woods recalls that the first of many calls from alarmed control tower operators began to come in: one elevator was up and one down, both ailerons were down, etc. These phenomena were, of course, manifestations of the Argus' "floating" control system, in which small tabs on the training edges were actuated to move the control surfaces, which were not directly connected to the pilot's control column and rudder pedals. Unless locked, they were free to assume any position they liked while the aircraft was on the ground.
There were, naturally, problems with some systems that had to be corrected but, on the whole, the test program proceeded smoothly. At this time the Argus still had the old Britannia "sheep's horn" yoke, which was superseded by a control wheel. Jack Woods found the aircraft to be a bit dull to fly after the Neptune and, in retrospect, feels that it was a pity that a pressurized aircraft with prop-jets was not felt to be feasible at the time. The Wright 3350-32W, as the Type 981 was called in the services, with its power recovery turbines and anti-detonant fluid injection, produced 3700 hp and had just about reached the end of development of that type of engine. Naturally, it was very finely tuned and required careful maintenance and handling. Flight engineers point out that it was one of few piston engines that delivered more horsepower than its cubic capacity.3700 vs 3350.
The first squadron to receive the Argus was 405, at RCAF Station Greenwood. Along with other aircrew and staff officers, the Squadron's crews had been consulted frequently at various stages of construction, and were delighted to welcome the first of the new aircraft on 1 May, 1958. The aircraft was officially handed over to Maritime Air Command on 17 May, which was proclaimed "Argus Day" at Greenwood.
As the new aircraft reached the eyes of the public, editors vied in giving their readers some idea of the size and power of the Argus. Press releases of the time stated that it generated enough electricity to power a sixty-room house, had a useable floor equal to that of a small house, that its heating system supplied enough heat to service twenty eight, six-room houses during a cold winter, and that it came supplied with electric refrigeration, electric stove and bunks.
With its wingspan of 143 feet, 3 and 1/2 inches, length of 128 feet, 9 and 1/2 inches, overall height of 38 feet, 8 and 5/8 inches, and all-up weight of 157,000 pounds, it was a giant among ASW aircraft of its time. The Argus' endurance, which allowed it to carry a full offensive load of 8000 pounds in two eighteen- foot weapons bays to a patrol area 1000 miles away, patrol for ten hours, return the 1000 miles to base, and be capable of a 500 mile diversion, is impressive even today.
On 19 Sep 1958, Argus 719 was flown to USNAS Norfolk, to demonstrate its capabilities to SACLANT and his senior staff. Here the aircraft is
seen taxing towards the Breezy Point parking area after its arrival with
Air Commodore W. Clements, Air Officer Commanding, Maritime Air Command on board.
In March of 1958, an Argus Conversion Unit had been established at Greenwood with the responsibility of studying the new aircraft's systems and procedures, and preparing a syllabus and lesson plans for future students. Members of the unit, who had been training at Canadair, ferried the first aircraft to its new home. By mid-September five crews had been trained. In 405 Squadron History, Flight Engineer Carl Ryan, a Gold Pin member of VPI, recalls that the landing approach of the Argus differed from that of the Neptune, which had a variable-camber tailplane, giving it full-range control at low speeds, "(The pilots)...used to dive the Argus straight down at the button of the runway and at the last minute, flare out, scaring the hell out of everybody."
In spite of exhaustive trials having been done by the manufacturer, and by CEPE, they were to continue on the squadron, driving the unfortunate engineers to distraction. Carl Ryan recalls, "...We had to do trials. They had papers and books of things that you had to take readings for. By the time you filled in all the papers for the trials, you didn't have time to do your log. There were times you had to leave your log just to do fuel, maybe so you wouldn't crash or something." For Flight Engineers like Carl Ryan the conversion to the Argus meant a great increase in their responsibilities. With the engineer's panel now behind the pilots and , at night, fully out of sight, only the FE had direct control of the engines, and electrical and hydraulic systems, and only he knew what was going on. For some pilots who had been used to controlling most things from the cockpit the conversion was somewhat difficult but, in time, most of them came to trust their engineers implicitly.
From a pilot's point of view, the Argus was quite acceptable. Ray Nakonechny, in 405 Squadron History, remembers," It had an excellent control system...it was extremely light, so light in fact that they had hydraulic resistance built into the system so you couldn't snap the thing. When you took the artificial feel out, it was extremely sensitive....The only time it really became a disadvantage was on short final when you started slowing down". Ray also had some comments about the engines."...the 3350 was about as refined as you could get...I think the engine on takeoff produced one horsepower for every 0.85 pounds of metal."
As we have seen, one of the concerns raised during the initial design stage was the necessity of providing facilities, and procedures, that would allow crews to cope with the vastly increased flight times of the Argus. On 405 Squadron ,as flights of sixteen to twenty hours became common, crew fatigue became a matter of concern. As Major Al Mac Neill noted in the squadron history, " I always maintained that you shouldn't be airborne after 12 hours....I often wondered about the pilots...generally speaking they weren't that busy and they probably could relax, but coming back at night from some of those trips for a landing in marginal weather conditions, one often wondered if they were up to it....It was a good move when they went to a faster aircraft and shorter tasking. When they designed the Argus...the concept was to put it out with two crews....We never did work that way,...you did two hours in the nose, two hours on routine navigation, two hours at the TacNav station, and then two hours off."
405's sister squadron at Greenwood , 404, was the next unit to convert to the Argus, and its Commanding Officer, W/C Ian MacFarlane accepted 20730, on April 15, 1959. 404's history notes that few of the aircrew realized that, unlike its predecessors, the Argus would fly operationally for over twenty years.
With justifiable pride, the crews of 404 were more than pleased to carry out numerous demonstration flights over the next few years. Cited as a highlight was a trip tp Norfolk with two of the aircraft, to demonstrate its capabilities to SACLANT and his senior staff.
In the early sixties Soviet activity in the North Atlantic continued to increase. The tracking of "spy ship" trawlers became a prominent preoccupation, and some crews produced over 200 photographs per month. A momentary diversion from the Argus' ASW role came with a move to add another role to its repertoire by developing the capability of temporarily converting the aircraft to a transport role. A conversion kit was devised, and procedures were developed to convert the aircraft into forty-passenger airliners. On one of the demonstration flights from Dusseldorf, a 405 crew could muster up only six passengers, one of whom was a nursing sister, who promptly took over the galley and insisted on preparing filets with all the trimmings for the delighted crew.
Unhappily, 404 was to be the first squadron to suffer the loss of an Argus. On 23 March 1965,while deployed in Puerto Rico, aircraft 20727, with F/L Kaye Huet's crew aboard, disappeared about sixty miles north of the island. The fifteen aircrew on board were never found, and the cause of the disaster is still unknown. This event was a distinct shock to the whole Maritime community.
While the operational squadrons were steadily being supplied with the Argus, modification and testing was continued through the years. C.O. "Heff" Heffler, Armament Chief Warrant Officer at Greenwood in the late sixties, recalls being sent from the Air Armament Evaluation Detachment at Cold Lake in the Spring of 1963 to act as project engineer during the testing of a new system on the Argus. Fairey Aviation had carried out a modification on an Argus to adapt it for possible use of special weapons. Heffler met the aircraft, 20719, and its crew at Greenwood and accompanied them to a U.S.N. base in the desert near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the system would be evaluated. In addition to two USN liaison officers, the detachment consisted of a Canadair Rep, a Fairey Rep and nineteen RCAF Officers and NCOs. Gordon Fraser was Detachment Commander, and Earl Sinnett was Project Pilot. The tests were successful, but the special weapons were never acquired for use in the Argus.
In line with the expansion of the Canadian armed forces in the late fifties and early sixties, a former wartime maritime patrol squadron, 415, was reactivated on the first of June, 1961. It was based at RCAF Station Summerside, where it would remain for twenty years, moving to Greenwood in June, 1981. The crews of the Swordfish squadron also have a lot of memories of their days with the mighty Argus. The development of the concept of the closely-knit crew is thought by 415 to be the main reason why the Argus became so successful. Their squadron history comments on the novelty of flying such a huge aircraft in such a different environment. Pilots from other lines of work found the low-level flying and tactical manoeuvring to be exhilarating. For each aircrew trade there was a challenge: the Argus with its floating controls and seventeen-knot crosswind limitation gave the pilots something to think about on approach, the flight engineer had more than enough to keep him busy, as we have seen, and the Navs and ROs had a multiplicity of duties involving the operation of the many new sensor systems.
The long range of the Argus was a source of some pride, and its aircrew were known to mention to friends in other Commands that they wouldn't bother to start the engines unless they had a ten or twelve hour patrol to do. By the time the squadron had been formed for two months the crews were beginning to feel their oats, and Crew 1, under the leadership of Bill Misener undertook to set an endurance record. This new mark for endurance was established when the crew flew non-stop for thirty hours and twenty minutes. Far from being an exercise in boring holes in the sky, the record was established during an Arctic ASW reconnaissance flight. During the flight, Misener had a birthday which ,of course, was celebrated with an on-board party, complete with cake and trimmings. Although it was an epic feat, we shall see that their record was not to endure.
Although it was reactivated on 1 July 1952, 407 Squadron, in Comox, British Columbia was the last to receive the Argus. Their aircraft arrived in mid-1968, superseding the Neptune, which had been so successful, and had completed ten years of operations without loss of life.
Of all the squadrons that converted to the Argus, perhaps 407 had the most to gain. The acquisition of the long-legged aircraft opened up whole new areas of operation to the squadron. It was now possible to train and operate in Australian waters, and log books began to sport exotic ports of call like Fiji, Towmsville, the Philippines and Japan. A new endurance record was set by a 407 crew during the period May 30 - June 1, 1974. This record was for a Canadian aircraft, using normal fuel tanks, and without in-air refuelling. Argus 711 took off on a coastal surveillance patrol from CFB Comox at 11:12 on May 30 and Don Little, the the TACCO recalls that the first six hours were flown at 100 feet, "for the benefit of ground effect", and that the whole trip was flown at 500 feet. Little recollects that the trip could have been a little longer if it had not been for an actual search which came up shortly after the aircraft was airborne. The first two hours were spent shunting back and forth between Nanaimo and the mainland looking for an overdue pleasure boat which, it turned out, had been tied up at a wharf the whole time. But then, that lends more legitimacy to the stated purpose of the trip.
The crew, under the command of Stan Froehler, had two notable Navs, in addition to Don Little: the outgoing Squadron CO, Bill Hedges, and the incoming Squadron CO, Bruce Montgomery. Upon landing at Comox at 06:13 on June 1, Argus 711 and its crew had established a new endurance record, exceeding that of 415 Squadron by over half an hour.
Throughout its service, the Argus and its crews were the subjects of many unusual situations. Sometimes they were dangerous, some times laughable and sometimes merely bizarre. Many of the crews who flew the aircraft before the problems with airframe bonding were fully resolved recall the large fireballs of static electricity that used to roll down the aisle, brushing against cowering crew members, until they were dissipated through the tail cone. This usually involved damage to the tip of the MAD boom. The "line shooting" goes on:
F/L Normand, in charge of crew 5, lost complete control of his elevators, and landed on the long runway at Chatham, using power and trim tabs to execute a very long, low approach.
Shortly after take-off from Roosevelt Roads the TACCO of a 405 crew realized that they had no empty reel for the tape recorder. A quick-thinking crew member grabbed a full one, inserted a pen as an axle, and threaded the tape out the flare chute. As the tape departed with ever-increasing velocity, centrifugal force took over and the reel exploded. Pierre Boivan received facial lacerations, and the sortie was aborted to get him medical attention. Grounds for a disability pension?
415 had a candidate for "Greatest Home Videos." As number three engine was starting, the propeller dropped off and came to rest in front of number four.
Former engineer Jack Smith, now VP of Greenwood Flying Club, remembers going through seven aircraft before finding a serviceable one. As Jack says, "For that trip I started twenty-eight engines!"
Al Belliveau, for whom Belliveau's Bar in the Greenwood VPI lounge is named, recalls an errant store flying up and breaking a control rod leading to the empennage. Some quick-thinking crew member suggested using the cardboard core from a paper-towel roll to form a collar joining the two sections. The resulting joint was heavily taped, and the aircraft went home.
For the first number of years the typical Argus crew consisted of three Pilots, two Flight Engineers, three Navigators, seven Radio Officers. In 1968 the Radio Officer classification was phased out when the first “Pipeline” Observer course commenced training at ANS Winnipeg. The transition took a to replace the Radio Officers with NCO Observers took several years.
As the years went on, the Argus became more and more difficult to maintain, fuel for the Wrights became more difficult to obtain, and it was obvious that the aircraft was badly in need of a replacement. Finally it came time for CFB Greenwood to say good-bye. The testimonials to the aircraft are recorded in a special issue of The Argus.
The Base Commander, Colonel Al McLellan, said , in part:
"The Argus will always have a special place in the hearts of those who maintained and flew her. Stubborn and cantankerous, she was also faithful and formidable. For the better part of 23 years, we operated 32 Argus, amassing some 450,000 flying hours. Much of this time was low-level over the North Atlantic under adverse weather conditions. Only two aircraft were lost, with 22 people, despite these conditions... The Argus will be missed by all who became accustomed to her deep- throated roar; she served us well."
On the afternoon of July 24, 1981, Argus 736 of 415 Squadron conducted the last official flight, at a farewell ceremony at Greenwood. In February, 1982, Argus 742 was flown to the National Air Museum at Rockcliffe
Argus Mk.II Maritime Patrol Aircraft.Montreal: Canadair 1962.
404 Sqn-Ready to Fight. Greenwood: 1972.
405 Squadron History.Winnipeg: Craig Kelman & Associates Ltd. 1989.
Swordfish - The Story of 415 Squadron. Greenwood:1983.
The Argus. "Goodbye Argus", Nov 12,1980.
The Demon Squadron. Comox: Bickle 1981.