Canadair, Inc. History

Address:
400 Cote-Vertu Road
Dorval, Quebec H4S 1Y9
Canada

Telephone: (514) 744-1511
Fax: (514) 744-6586

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Bombardier, Inc.
Incorporated: 1944
Employees:6,200
Sales: $300 million (1995 est.)
SICs: 3721 Regional and Corporate Jets

Company Perspectives:

Canadair has accumulated a wealth of experience in the design and development of complex aviation systems. Now as a member of Bombardier's aerospace group which includes de Havilland, Learjet, and Short Brothers, Canadair is committed to investing in its people, systems and facilities to remain competitive and at the leading edge of world aerospace.

Company History:

Canadair, Inc. is one of the preeminent manufacturers of commercial and military aircraft in the world. Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, the company has built its fame on the ability to modify and improve upon existing designs and then customize aircraft to fit the specific needs of both domestic and foreign operators. Canadair is known for producing the CL-44 swing-tail cargo plane, one of the genuine workhorse transport aircraft used by NATO forces during the tense years of the Cold War in the 1950s, the CL-415 turboprop water bomber, designed to scoop up water from rivers and lakes and deliver it to areas besieged with forest fires, and the Global Express intercontinental business jet, one of the company's most successful aircraft designs.

Early History

The history of Canadair starts in June of 1911. Vickers Sons & Maxim, a well-established and highly profitable British shipbuilder long associated with manufacturing ships of the line for the Royal Navy, decided to open a subsidiary in Canada to begin business with the Royal Canadian Navy. At its headquarters in Montreal, Canada, the company soon commenced large shipbuilding operations for the government and, during the First World War, built many ships used both by Canada and Britain to sustain the Allied war effort.

At the end of World War I, the management and engineers at the Canadian shipyard of Vickers Sons began to design and make flying boats for use by the Royal Canadian police on the numerous lakes and inlets throughout Canada. In 1924, demand for the manufacture of flying boats was increasing at such a rate that management decided to hire and organize an aircraft design staff. The staff immediately went to work and designed a forestry patrol plane that became the staple of the Canadian forestry department. The Vedette, a three-seater flying boat with a powerful Rolls-Royce engine, made its maiden flight in November of 1924. Over the next six years, Vickers Sons designed and manufactured 60 of these flying boats for the Canadian government.

During the 1930s, the company naturally focused on the production of ships for both commercial and military use. Yet the small aircraft design staff was kept busy throughout this period. Most important, the staff was put to work on improving the designs of models from such famous companies as Fokker, Northrop, Avro, Bellanca, Fairchild, and Vickers-Supermarine in England. Under license from the companies to produce a variety of models, the aircraft design staff at Canadian Vickers Sons soon garnered a reputation for high quality work. Although the company produced only about 100 aircraft from 1930 to the beginning of World War II, the reputation of Vickers Sons as an airplane designer and manufacturer was acknowledged throughout the aviation industry.

The World War II Period

When the Second World War started in September of 1939, an increased demand for aircraft production was made clear both by the British and Canadian governments. As a country in the Commonwealth, Canada supported the British resistance to the Nazi conquest of Europe. Vickers Sons, now commonly known as Canadian Vickers, began manufacturing large numbers of aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England. When the United States entered the war in December of 1941, the U.S. Navy contracted Canadian Vickers to produce Consolidated PBY-5 amphibians, flying boats that were instrumental to the American war effort against the Japanese in the islands of the South Pacific.

With more and more contracts arriving for the manufacture of ships, and the Consolidated PBY-5 in the middle of its production run, management at Canadian Vickers was forced to inform the Canadian, British, and American governments that the capital investment required to concentrate on shipbuilding was so large the company could not continue to build aircraft at the same time. Therefore, within a short period of time, Canadian Vickers would be forced to cease the manufacture of all aircraft. This decision was, of course, unacceptable to the Allied governments in the midst of fighting a global war against Japan and Germany. As a result, the American, Canadian, and British governments convinced Canadian Vickers to divest its division for aircraft design and production. On October 3, 1944, a new company, Canadair, was formed as a separate entity from Canadian Vickers. Under this arrangement, with funding provided by contracts from the Allied governments, Canadair was able to complete its production of military aircraft for the duration of the war.

The Postwar Period

Before World War II ended, the Canadair factory supervisor traveled to Santa Monica, California to study the production techniques for the DC-4, a military transport plane made by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Canadair had already reached an agreement with Douglas to co-produce a modified version of the DC-4 for use in Canada. While at the Douglas plant, the supervisor discovered that Douglas was going to dispose of all the tooling and spare parts for the civilian DC-3 and the military C-47 and focus on the design and manufacture of a newer model once the war was over.

Presented with what he thought was a grand opportunity, the Canadair supervisor first convinced his superiors to purchase more than 600 railroad cars of spare parts and equipment from Douglas. He further advised them to acquire as many C-47 transport planes as possible. When the war ended, thanks to the foresight of one enterprising supervisor, the 9,000 employees at Canadair's plant in Montreal were doing a large volume of business supplying spare parts and modifying C-47 transport planes for the new demands of the military and civilian markets. The close working relationship with Douglas also helped Canadair reach an agreement with the American company to develop modified versions of the DC-4 for both the military and civilian markets in Canada. Designated the North Star, more than 70 of these aircraft were built by Canadair.

Canadair was purchased by the Electric Boat Company in 1947. The most famous manufacturer of submarines for the U.S. Navy during World War II, the Groton, Connecticut firm reorganized into a single corporate entity in 1952, calling itself General Dynamics. Canadair thrived under the auspices of its new parent company. During the period from 1949 to 1958, the single most important aircraft design and development program at Canadair involved the production of North American F-86 Sabre Jets. The contract to design and build the Sabre Jet assured Canadair of a stable income for the entire decade of the 1950s, and many related subcontracts assisted other Canadian companies as well.

It is a well-known fact that Canadair's production of the Sabre F-86 made aviation history. In August of 1950, a company test pilot, Al Lilly, was the first man in Canada to surpass the speed of sound in an F-86. In 1952, Jacqueline Cochran, unsuccessful in convincing the United States Air Force to allow her use of an F-86 to become the first woman to break the sound barrier, finally persuaded the Royal Canadian Air Force to lend her one of its Sabre Jets. The only condition was that she become an employee of a Canadian firm. Canadair hired her as a consultant, and Ms. Cochran broke the sound barrier flying an F-86 in May of 1953, becoming the first woman in the world to achieve the feat. During the 10-year period of its contract, Canadair built 1,815 F-86 Sabre Jets, primarily for the American, Canadian, and British Air Forces.

Along with the modification and construction of military aircraft, Canadair built many commercial models as well during the 1950s. Canadair redesigned and manufactured the Bristol Britannia, transforming it from a highly successful commercial airliner into a military transport, the CL 44-Yukon. Another well-known redesign during this period was the maritime patrol/antisubmarine warfare aircraft, the CL-28 Argus. The reconfiguration of the Argus by Canadair involved a fully parallel AC electrical system and was revolutionary in the materials used for its construction, including for the very first time in aviation history the extensive use of titanium, metal-to-metal bonding, and a high-strength, extremely durable aluminum alloy. Although the CL 44-Yukon was initially designed exclusively for military use, after Canadair's redesign the aircraft gained a huge following from cargo airlines that resulted in numerous orders. The CL 44-Yukon was redesigned with a unique swing-tail cargo door, which allowed customers to load material straight in up to 87 feet in length. Canadair's policy of redesigning aircraft to meet the specific needs of its customers found expression in one of the CL 44-Yukons, which had its fuselage enlarged to transport Rolls-Royce engines from its plant in Britain to the production line at Lockheed's plant in California.

Strategic Changes in the 1960s

During the 1960s, Canadair experienced one of the most successful periods in its history. The company completed the first aircraft design of its own in 1961, the CL-41 Tutor Jet trainer, which became famous for its agility in the air. The company manufactured more than 200 of these aircraft during the decade. The CL-41 remains in service at the Canadian Royal Air Force and is used by its precision flying team, the "Snowbirds." One of the most innovative designs to come out of Canadair at this time was the CL-84, tilt-wing aircraft. The CL-84 was the first airplane to make the transition from conventional to hovering flight in mid-air, which was revolutionary in the aviation industry. Although the CL-84 was extensively tested by the U.S. Navy, Canadair never received a contract for its production. Nonetheless, the design served as the precursor to Britain's famous Harrier Jump-Jet, the first military aircraft incorporating Canadair's "hover" technique to be produced.

During the mid-1960s, Canadair designed and manufactured the CL-215 water bomber, an aircraft made to scoop up thousands of gallons of water from rivers and lakes and then drop its load over forest fires. Many of these planes were built for the Canadian and U.S. forestry services to be used over the great expanses of woodlands in western North America. By the late 1960s, management had decided to reduce its reliance on contracts for military aircraft and to establish an extensive subcontracting business. Although the company continued to make parts for military aircraft used by the national air forces of such countries as Canada, Britain, and the United States, Canadair also began to make components for a variety of commercial airline manufacturers such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and, later, the consortium known as Airbus. Canadair also produced remotely piloted vehicles and drones, which were used in the national space programs of the United States and a few Western European nations.

Transition During the 1970s and 1980s

After nearly 30 years of reconfiguring aircraft for the military, as defense contracts declined the company was sold by General Dynamics to the Canadian government. Under new direction, management decided to make the bold move of entering the civilian aircraft market. In 1976, Canadair developed the Challenger 600, the first wide-bodied business jet. The Challenger 600 soon garnered a reputation within the aviation industry for its innovative design, including a revolutionary wide fuselage, a highly sophisticated airfoil, and high-bypass fanjet engines made by General Electric. The first Canadian civil jet to be produced, the Challenger 600 was an immediate success. During the late 1970s, at the request of the Canadian government, Canadair invested heavily in the manufacture of surveillance systems. One of the most influential designs of this kind included the CL-227 Sentinel, a rotary-winged remotely controlled vehicle system that could carry different types of payloads for either military or civilian use. The company also won major subcontracts for the Boeing 747SP and 767 aircrafts and for Lockheed's P-3C Orin antisubmarine airplane.

In spite of Canadair's ostensible success, the Canadian economy and the country's aviation industry experienced a downturn. As a result, the Canadian government decided to sell Canadair to Bombardier, Inc., a large, Montreal-based manufacturer specializing in transportation equipment and related products and services. With money invested by Bombardier, Canadair was able to establish a strong presence in the business jet market. New models of the Challenger corporate jet rolled off the production line and, at the same time, the company introduced the Canadair Regional Jet, a 50-passenger aircraft with state-of-the-art technology for the regional airline market. Additional subcontracts came from Airbus and, in an effort to take advantage again of the defense industry market, Canadair negotiated a contract with McDonnell Douglas to manufacture the nose barrel for the U.S. Navy's F/A-18A Hornet.

The 1990s and Beyond

In 1991, Canadair brought out an updated and enhanced turboprop version of the CL-215 fire-fighting aircraft. The CL-415 amphibian could also be reconfigured and used for maritime research and rescue, personnel transport, and surveillance. The company also began working on the design of an intercontinental business jet, the Global Express. Powered by BMW Rolls-Royce engines, the Global Express corporate jet was able to transport eight passengers nonstop from Paris to Hong Kong or from Dallas to Moscow, establishing it as the intercontinental business jet with the longest range capability. When the Global Express was introduced in late 1995, Canadair was immediately overwhelmed by orders from around the world.

Well prepared for the future, and growing rapidly, Canadair has taken its place alongside such esteemed companies as de Havilland, Learjet, and Short Brothers as one of the firms in Bombardier's aerospace group. Supplied with the ample financial resources of its parent organization, Canadair will continue to build upon its experience by designing and manufacturing some of the most innovative aviation systems in the world.

Further Reading:

  • "Austria's Lauda Air Luftfahrt," Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 4, 1993, p. 19.
  • "Canadair Training Center Uses Advanced Technology," Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 20, 1993, p. 75.
  • "First RJ Corporate Version Delivered To Xerox," Aviation Week & Space Technology, February 8, 1993, p. 55.
  • Hughes, David, "BMW Rolls-Royce Wins Global Express Competition," Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 22, 1993, p. 58.
  • ------, "Canadair Seeks Partner for Global Express Wing," Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 19, 1993, p. 52.
  • ------, "New Tooling Scheme Used for CL-415," Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 8, 1993, p. 46.
  • Lavitt, Michael O., "Cockpit by Collins," Aviation Week & Space Technology," July 26, 1993, p. 13.
  • Ott, James, "RJ Fuels Growth in Comair's Traffic," Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 12, 1994, p. 40.
  • Proctor, Paul, "Canadian Miser," Aviation Week & Space Technology, May 17, 1993, p. 21.
  • Searles, Robert, A., "Canadair: 50 Years of Finding a Niche," Business & Commercial Aviation, October 1994, pp. 128-134.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 16. St. James Press, 1997.