June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Historical Perspective

Toronto's long history of aerospace achievement

Toronto's long history of aerospace achievement


The Boeing plant on the outskirts of Toronto boasts a long and rich history. That history includes several name changes that reflect previous owners and involvement in some of the most important—and some of the most unusual—aerospace programs of the last 65 years.

The National Steel Car Corporation of Malton, Ontario, built the plant in 1938. When Great Britain needed an aircraft factory out of reach of German air attack during World War II, the plant was declared a Crown Corporation and renamed "Victory Aircraft." During the war, its employees turned out 430 Lancaster bombers and more than 3,000 Anson utility aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

In late 1945, A.V. Roe of Canada Ltd. acquired the facility from the British government. In 1949 the plant produced the first commercial jet transport to fly in North America—the Avro XC-102 Jetliner. Although the plane had a successful flight-test program, pressure to increase production of military aircraft during the Korean War forced the commercial jetliner off the production line.

The plant quickly moved into high gear to build the Avro CF-100 Canuck. A twin-engine all-weather interceptor, the CF-100 made its first flight in 1950 and entered service with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1952. Over eight years, the plant produced 692 Canucks in five major versions.

As CF-100 production declined, A.V. Roe's plant designed and built two prototypes of one of the most unusual experimental aircraft ever to fly: the VZ-9AV Avrocar. This flying-saucer-shaped vehicle promised a major breakthrough in vertical takeoff and landing technology. But after two years of tests, the Avrocars proved they could hover only two feet (61 centimeters) off the ground and move forward and backward at 35 mph (56 kilometers per hour). Because they were aerodynamically unstable, the program was canceled in 1961.

Between the Canuck and the Avrocar, the plant embarked on an ambitious project and the development of one of the most technologically advanced aircraft of its time.

After failing to find a suitable fighter in the United States or Europe capable of defending Canada's vast airspace, the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1953 awarded Avro's Toronto plant the contract to develop the airframe and engines for the CF-105 Arrow.

A twin-engine, long-range, all-weather, supersonic interceptor, the Arrow featured a large delta-shaped wing. It flew with a crew of two and could carry eight Hughes Aircraft Falcon infrared-guided or four radar-guided Sparrow air-to-air missiles in its huge internal weapons bay.

After four years of development, the Arrow made its first flight in 1958. The plane placed the plant at the forefront of supersonic flight technology and became a source of Canadian national pride. Chief design engineer Doug Moore was responsible for the structural design of the forward fuselage of the Arrow. "The Arrow was very sophisticated for its time," recalled Moore, now retired. "We were doing things with that plane aerodynamically that hadn't been done before."

Financial and military realities, however, soon began working against the plane.

As modern military aircraft became more technologically advanced, and thus more expensive, they needed to be capable of carrying out multiple missions to justify costs.

Unfortunately, the Arrow was designed and built for one mission: to intercept Soviet bombers. As the Arrow's development costs rose, Canadian military planners decided the Soviet bomber threat could be more economically countered by surface-to-air missiles, such as Boeing's Bomarc, and by less expensive multimission aircraft that were initially passed over in favor of the Arrow, including the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo.

In 1959, after only one year of flight tests and production, the Arrow program was canceled. Five aircraft had been completed and had flown 66 flights; more than a dozen were on the production line. All the Arrows were scrapped. Only a single forward fuselage section and one main landing gear remain; they're on display at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

Ironically, the decline of the Arrow proved a boon for aerospace companies south of the Canadian border. Many of the company's talented engineers accepted jobs with Boeing, North American Aviation, Hughes and McDonnell. More than 30 joined NASA and played key roles on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs.

The opportunity to manufacture aircraft components for Douglas Aircraft brought new life to the plant in 1963. DeHavilland Aircraft of Canada, the fourth owner of the facility, entered into a joint venture with Douglas to manufacture wings and tail assemblies for the DC-9 jetliner. Douglas Aircraft of Canada was formed in 1965, and in 1968 the company purchased DeHavilland's buildings and surrounding property.

The plant was modernized extensively and enlarged in 1970 to accommodate wing assembly for the DC-10. The expansion made the Toronto plant the largest aerospace manufacturing facility in Canada at that time.

In 1981 the plant became known as McDonnell Douglas Canada (MDCAN) and expanded its production to include KC-10 and MD-11 wings, MD-80 wings, empennage and cabin floors, and F/A-18 side panels and pylons.

During this time, MDCAN was at the forefront of change as it developed several continuous improvement process programs. One program decentralized the fabrication shop, dividing it into product groups composed of self-managed employees who were individually responsible for performing most of their tasks. Other programs involved the formation of strategic business units and a "just-in-time" inventory system. Many of these innovations later served as models for similar programs at other McDonnell Douglas locations.

The plant became Boeing Toronto Ltd. in 1997, after the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing. As Boeing Toronto, it was the sole provider of 717 wings. The facility also fabricated parts for the Delta rocket, the C-17 airlifter and 737 jetliners.

Now, the plant's 42-year history with heritage Boeing companies is ending. The plant will cease operations as a Boeing facility following shipment of the last 717 wing.

"The accomplishments of the people here have had a significant impact on the world we live in today," said Stephen J. Fisher, president of Boeing Toronto. "From wartime production, to the pioneering development of supersonic flight and the building of wings and assemblies for one of the most successful commercial jet families, the people at this facility faced immense challenges and opportunities. A lot of people can be very proud of the job they have done here."




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