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Journalist:June Callwood:The Day the Iroquois Flew

The Day The Iroquois Flew pg2

The Arrow Truth!

Originally published February 1, 1958, this is the story of the first flight test of the Iroquois engine, on it's B-47 flying testbed.
Republished with permission June Callwood and thanks to
Macleans Magazine.
Iroquois B-47
photo credit: David MacKechnie
"There's the light! We can go!" called the pilot. Crews hustled, engineers stepped back. Take off....
     "What's there to worry about?" Hobbs had said on this point the day before. "The worst thing that can happen is an explosion that blows off the tail. Right?" Well, we've got ejection seats and we'll have plenty of altitude. Just a bit chilly on the way down, thats all."
      The plane left the ground five minutes after twelve, climbing eastward over Toronto. Christopher Cooper-Slipper, eleven-year-old son of the pilot, looked up on his way home from school and recognized the B-47. When he saw his mother a few minutes later, he wore a look of delight and thumbed in the direction of the sky. She knew with a sinking heart,what he meant.Though her husband has been a pilot for all the sixteen years of their marriage, this was the first time she had been afraid. The night before she had cried.
      "What's wrong?" Mike had asked. Her sobs increased."What do you think?" she wailed. Len Hobbs' wife felt equal dread. "I hate that plane" she had said on the phone to Rita Cooper-Slipper that day. "I wish they could test that engine on the ground."
       In a small control tower on the roof of a building of Avro Aircraft , a sister company to Orenda, an operator was informing the B-47 that a toy looking CF-100 was following as a chase plane to observe it through the test.
      "Reg is air-borne right behind you said the operator, referring to Reg Kersey, an RCAF acceptance pilot who tests CF-100s off the A. V. Roe assembly line.
      "Hi, Reg," said Cooper-Slipper, amiably.
      "Do you mind if I tag along?" asked Kersey, politely. "I'll stay wide of you." "Appreciate having you along replied Cooper-Slipper, formally. A moment later he reported casually "I had a momentary fire warning on Number Three just at take off, but it's all right now."
Mrs. Cooper-Slipper and son Christopher watch. For the first time in 16 years she knew the ache of fear.

      "Both Three and four looked hot on take-off," the operator in a mobile radio truck announced. There was no reply. In the dim noise of the plane, McLachlan was scribbling reports, his eyes flying over the confusion of dials and indicators. Hobbs was fingering the red lonely throttle of the Iroquois, located near the cozy row of six throttles for the other six engines. Cooper-Slipper watched the sky keeping away from cloud as test flying regulations demand. At his signal Hobbs moved the switch that opened the superbly machined round door covering the opening of the Iroquois. Air rushing through the engine started the hundreds of compressor blades spinning. The process is called windmilling: the Iroquois cannot be started by itself, it requires either a portable ground starting motor or fast-flowing air.
      "I'm going to level off at fourteen thousand, increase the speed to three-ten (three hundred and ten knots) and try to light," Copper-Slipper announced to the control tower.
      McLachlan moaned, watching the indicators. "It won't light, we need twenty five to light," he complained. Flying crews always speak of "lighting" a jet machine rather then starting it. When McLachlan spoke of "Twenty-five" he was reminding Cooper-Slipper of the estimate of engineers that the Iroquois wouldn't start until the rushing air windmilled its blades at twenty-five percent of their potential revolutions per minute.
      "It'll light", said Cooper-Slipper grimly,edging the speed of the flying test bed up to three hundred and twenty knots.
      At eighteen minutes past twelve he advised the tower, "We're setting up now. Getting ready for a light."
     "Mike," protested McLachlan. "It won't light. We're only getting eighteen-point-eight!"
     "Listen to ole misery," chided Cooper-Slipper, fondly. "Light it, Lennie." He inched the throttles open, and the speed indicator read three hundred and twenty eight knots.
     Hobbs pushed the red button and pulled the red throttle. All three watched the instrument panels, and the moment hung. On the third time Hobbs tried it, all the indicators jumped. A shout tinged with awe filled the aircraft. There was no sound from the giant on the tail, and no sensation at all. Copper-Slipper moved the other six throttles back imperceptibly, so the forward speed of the plane was unchanged. The ungainly B-47 glided silently through space on seven engines. As with all jet aircraft, the only noise was the wind whistling over the canopy.
     McLachlan, feeling an elation that brought him close to tears, made rapid notes and kept watch on temperature indicators. If the Iroquois registered too much heat he had switch to shut it down immediately. Both pilots have such switches as well and jovially call them panic buttons. "Don't get too close"      At twenty-seven minutes after twelve, Cooper-Slipper laconically announced,
    "Okay, Reg. We're lit."
     The small audience in the control tower tensed. "I don't see a thing," Kersey reported, sounding disappointed. Listening in the lower, the flight lest supervisor, Jack Jones, mopped his forehead and muttered, "You're not supposed to see anything."
     Six minutes later Cooper-Slipper announced, "I'm throttling back now, Reg, to descend and shut it down during the descent." This was a precaution, agreed upon before the flight, to ensure that loose oil from the oil leak would circulate all through the down-tipped engine, instead of collecting in a highly inflammable puddle. In the tower Jones said abruptly, "Tell Reg to drop back and see if there is any flame in the back. Tell him not to go too close."
      Kersey received this and a moment later reported, "I'm seventy-five yards behind you and I can't see a thing. It's all dark."
      With heartfelt emphasis that made the Control-tower operator grin, Cooper-Slipper replied, "Thank you very much." Only half an hour had elapsed from the time of take-off; it seemed much longer.
      All three said afterward that they had not been afraid and it seems likely, in view of the harassing detail of their responsibilities, that this might have been true.
     It had occurred to the ground crew to study the emergency-procedure manual only that morning, when the chief complained that he hadn't been informed where in the fuselage it was safe to sink a rescuing axe "in case you fellows pack up." The B-47 leaves nothing to chance; there is a thick text for ground crews in such an emergency. Hobbs and Cooper-Slipper, thus reminded, opened their own manuals.
    "I love this, Mike, observed Hobbs easily. Everything ends with "abandon aircraft and assemble upwind!"
    "Wonder what it says if we have to ditch in Lake Ontario," murmured Cooper-Slipper. "Probably abandon aircraft and assemble upstream.'"
     "Both men are on friendly terms with fear and have made the valuable discovery that panic doesn't congeal their reflexes. Cooper-Slipper found in the Battle of Britain that terrible danger turned everything around him into slow motion; the enemy on his tail flew sluggishly and lazy-moving bullets gave him an infinity of time to elude. In a slit trench in Singapore he got a good look at courage, watching a handful of survivors of a Highland regiment lacerated by Japanese machine-gun fire rise and march, in formal parade order, across a causeway through cross fire that missed every man.
     Hobbs had been terrified only once, on his first mission, a ground-strafing one over a Sumatra airfield. The RAF plane in front of him suddenly turned into a bonfire and plunged down. He was next through a lacy cascade of tracer bullets. The thought of death, which had never occurred to him before, turned his bones to water. He continued steadily on, through the tracers. He later recalled an air-force saying: "Flying is sheer boredom, punctuated by moments, of stark terror."
    Both men are among some thirty test pilots who make a high-salaried living in Canada's young aircraft industry. Most of them are production line test pilots, checking new aircraft off the assembly lines. Only a few are experimental test pilots. All are meticulous, controlled men with watchful eyes and the facility for patience. The noble test pilot Clark Gable used to portray, a jaunty rake in a leather jacket, goggles and a scarf fluttering from his throat, either was killed twenty years ago or left flying through sheer unemployment. Modern test pilots often calibrate into the sky an aircraft worth more in dollars than many a small town. Their chief value to their employers is in keeping the risk factor at a calculated minimum.
     Insurance companies don't agree with the pilots, who like to protest that their occupation is safer than driving a bus. Premiums on twenty thousand dollars' worth of insurance are more than fifteen hundred dollars a year and few companies will accept the risk. The aircraft and engine companies pay pilots' coverage.
     Rather weirdly, pilots describe other pilots who have died in accidents as having killed themselves. "He killed himself in a CF-100," a test pilot will remark idly. "The thing caught fire and the ejection seat jammed. Just wasn't his day." Some people suspect that the expression is meant to convey that death by flying isn't involuntary; pilots are reluctant to admit they have lost any measure of control over their own destiny. As a protective device, however, they rarely make a close friend of another pilot.
     As they turned the B-47 back to Malton, Cooper-Slipper and Hobbs were aware that the passenger on the tail had just taken a giant step closer to making them obsolete. The Iroquois can provide more power than any present airplane can use without melting. (It is normal for modern engines to have outstripped planes: even the outmoded B-47 has never been able to use the full power of its engines.) An Arrow will not dare use all the speed that its two Iroquois could provide. At twice the speed of sound, which is well under the Iroquois' capabilities, air friction raises the temperature of the plane's outside skin to better than 250 degrees F. At three times the speed of sound the outside temperature goes to 600 F. Refrigeration equipment, to keep the pilot from cooking, is bulky. Manufacturers all over the world are balancing costs. Is it cheaper to keep the man in the plane and spend a fortune on machinery to keep him alive, or is it cheaper to put in a robot pilot and risk losing the aircraft?

As one Iroquois is about to be flown, another (mounted on platform) is checked in test vault by engineer Harry Keast

    "An automatic pilot is a moron," Burt Avery, one of Iroquois' designers, once commented. "We have to decide, how much is the human ability to make a decision worth?"
     Many experts feel that military aviation has reached its final manned stage, that such engines as the Iroquois will never reach their highest potential with a living hand on the throttle. The Arrow, the fighter-interceptor for which the Iroquois was designed, may be among the last of the manned fighters.
     Symptoms of the brink flying now teeters on appear daily in newspapers. A U.S. Navy fighter, diving at about eight hundred and eighty miles an hour, overtook its own cannon shells and shot itself down. Jet pilots, flying toward one another and a mile apart, would not have time for the signal of danger to reach their brains before the collision occurred. The fire control of modern fighters is steadily becoming more complicated because pilots will never see the enemy, only an after-image that is approximately eighty-eight feet behind the real plane. Fighters, such as recent versions of the CF-100, are mainly portable launching platforms for air-to-air missiles.
     "The speed of aircraft has almost exceeded the capability of the human to react quickly enough to carry out necessary motions," the former chief of air staff, Air Marshal Roy Slemon, said a year ago. "It is necessary for the air force to get into automation."
      Said Mikita Khrushchev a few months ago: "We are standing at this moment at a turning point regarding the use of airplanes in a future war. They are in decline."
     Even the greatest supporters believe the manned aircraft faces extinction. Many estimates give it less than eight years' existence and the most optimistic figure no more than twenty years.
    "We are not yet obsolete," Cooper-Slipper once observed somberly, "only obsolescent."
     Preparing to land the B-47, Cooper-Slipper was receiving orders from Malton tower, which referred to his aircraft variously as "X-Zero-Five-Nine," its serial number, and "Baker-Forty-Seven."
    "Are we going to stream the approach chute?" asked Hobbs.
     The B-47 is equipped with two parachutes to slow its landing speed, which would otherwise threaten to take the plane off the end of a two-mile runway. One, an approach chute, can be streamed on approach and the other, a brake chute, on landing. When the B-47 landed in Cartierville, near Montreal, for its installation work at Canadair, the tower was deluged with more than a hundred calls, wildly warning that the plane about to land had a man with a parachute clinging to its tail.
     With his eye on the airliner drifting on his left, Cooper-Slipper replied to Hobbs, "No, I don't think we'll need the approach chute."
     Hobbs sighed softly. "Oh dear," he said jocularly, almost to himself, "it looks so lovely."
     Cooper-Slipper grinned and began, as is his custom, taking his plane into landing with a mixture of endearments and blue profanity. As the big plane hovered over the landing strip for a thousand feet and then a few hundred more, he coaxed and swore steadily. It touched down at two minutes after one, rolled a distance and then blossomed a brake chute from its tail.
     In the Avro tower the operator switched on a radio and heard a news commentator say, "It is clear that the Russians do not visualize a short war." He turned it off hastily. The bomber had turned with the whiteness of the parachute billowing behind and was taxiing toward Avro. It moved rather gaily, and the down-sloping wings were preening. "You're a good bitch," Cooper-Slipper was crooning ecstatically.
     As the crew climbed out stiffly, with the bone weariness that even unsuspected tension leaves behind, the ground crew and some engineers collected around.
    "She wouldn't start for about four seconds," Hobbs began explaining to Jack Jones, "and then she went as smooth as a bird."
    "It's probably the easiest test flight we'll ever have," agreed Cooper-Slipper lighting his cigarette with a steady hand.

Chief test pilot Michael Cooper-Slipper eases last-minute tension with a smoke as he waits take-off clearance from the tower.

     McLachlan, the sleepy-faced, sad-eyed flight engineer, looked jubilant. "It lit at eighteen-point-eight power," he reported, exchanging a look with Cooper-Slipper. "I didn't think it would. Everything went beautifully."
     In the still-warm tailpipe of the Iroquois a large black velvet pool of oil had already collected. The faces of the men watching it were carefully expressionless. Turning away. Jones observed lightly "It keeps down squeaks."
     It had started to spit rain. In his subdued, deep-rugged office, Walter R. McLachlan, president and general manager of Orenda, surveyed news of the test with relish. Only he knew the temper of an impatient government, but it was apparent to most observers that there had considerable waspish comment. The company had decided it was more politic not to publicize the first flight: too many people were under the happy misconception that the Iroquois had flown long before.
     The next step would be to fly the B-47 to North Bay, where the Iroquois could be run on an open runway to get exact measurements of its staggering sound. It had already been run, with a muffler as big as a boxcar, on a runway at Malton. The noise, a roar with a high penetrating scream threaded through, could be heard ten miles. Observers in the immediate area had reported after-effects: dullness of hearing. nausea, over-all aching sensation, deep exhaustion. Orenda needed to know the dimension of its problem. One thing was certain: the engine designed for war and no sound-smothering equipment would ever be built into it, since its efficiency would then be down.
     The engine still has even greater problems than these. It needs markets. With emphasis switched from planes to guided missiles, the demand for a hand-operated plane is diminishing. At the time the Iroquois flew, the Royal Canadian Air Force had ordered a few of them, but recently had been demonstrating a facility for canceling orders. If any powerful plane engine was going to be saleable, Iroquois had a good chance. The best known production engine in the United States now is the J75, which weighs nearly three tons: the Iroquois, which potentially is twice as powerful as the J75, weighs little over two tons. Success in the aircraft-engine business is based on the best combination of lightness and performance. Walter McLachlan glared at the misting rain outside his window and wondered, as he had many times before, what would become of the Iroquois.
     Burt Avery, of the engineering team that designed the engine, who had also been told that the B-47 was safely down was wondering the same thing. With him that day were some men from Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a colossus that builds airplane engines in the United States and, had cut its development budget in half and gained a year on its two nearest competitors by obtaining the rights to manufacture and sell the Iroquois in the U. S. They wanted to know, among other details when the Iroquois would be in production. No one will say officially but educated guesses place it about autumn 1958.
    Harry Keast, true to his earlier observation that the best moment had been when the engine was first lit in the test cell, had gone casually off for lunch. Charles Grinyer, attempting to repair his health, was south on a vacation. Alex Muraszew waited restlessly in his office for the crew. When they arrived, still in their flying clothes, there was a moment when no one said anything. They just stood, smiling blissfully at one another.

    Leaning on the framework of the doorway, the flight-test supervisor, Jack Jones, remarked idly, "I just happened to think of a line from a song." He paused. "It goes, I think, 'We'll just lie down and bleed awhile, and then we'll get up and fight again."' He looked around at the faces measuring this. "Pretty good, eh?" he asked gently.

Copyright June Callwood ©

FYI: This engine is on display at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Scott McArthur.




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