The Power of American Aviation comics in the 1950s (PDF document)

Research by Clarence Simonsen

The Power of American Aviation comics 1950

See the link to a F-22 video at the end…

Text version (no images)

The Power of American Aviation comics

in the 1950s

Born on the farm in rural Alberta, Canada, 24 March 1944, I had no idea young Canadian artists drew, and Toronto publishers printed ‘our’ own Canadian comic books titled “Whites.” On 6 December 1940, our government passed the “War Exchange Act,” which banned non-essential goods from being imported to Canada.  This in short prevented the import of American comic books and the Canadian “Whites” were born, named because they lacked the color associated with their American counterparts. Canadians could only afford to print the covers in color. Our comics had a similar theme based on fictional Canadian war heroes and patriotic Canadian attitudes towards the Second World War.

The artists were mostly young Toronto art students, who created their own adventures, the most famous became “Johnny Canuck” by Leo Bachle. The artist in fact created Johnny Canuck in his own image, fighting the evils of Germany and Japan.

By 1945, the Canadian whites had been printed in over 20 million copies, but their end was fast approaching. The War Exchange Act was dropped at the end of World War Two and soon the American publishing power, combined with the mighty U.S. dollar, moved in to destroy the Canadian “White “comics. During the war years 1940-45, Canadian youth enjoyed their American comic heroes, which were printed in Canada newspapers, while they read their new Canadian comic heroes from the newsstands. Canadians in fact had the best of two worlds. The original Canadian “Whites” survive today in Toronto, and University donated collections, while much more can be read online about our wartime lost comic book past.

In 1995, Canada Post released a set of five comic book superhero stamps and one immortalized for all time a modern superhero “Captain Canuck.” Created in the 1970’s by 19-year-old Canadian artist Ron Leishman and story line by Richard Comely, they restored a small part of our lost past. The original Captain Canuck art comic designs are now kept at the National Archives in Ottawa. In 1995, Ron Leishman was teaching art class at Woodman junior high school in Calgary, Alberta.

By the mid-1950’s, I was a normal Canadian farm boy, however, I was hooked on aviation and my first interest became Air Force comics, American comics, there was nothing else. These American ten cent comics were 99% Hollywood fiction in content, and these American heroes never lost a battle, and very few were ever killed. Then from time to time [very rare] a story appeared featuring the R.A.F. and British aircraft, but nothing Canadian. It took a while for the farm kid to learn we even had an Air Force and they were involved in WWII. I was growing up thinking like an American, being educated like an American, thanks to their domination of comics, and the total lack of anything Canadian or RCAF to educate me otherwise.

Original American comic – “Lucky Lady.”

The B-17 “Lucky Lady” was named after RAF Sgt. Ann Chambers, by the American pilot who loved her.

The best education I received from American comics was the fact they introduced me to WWII aircraft nose art’ and a special feature on military insignia, contained in many issues.

These simple pages were a very powerful inspiration, even today. [May 1958]

In 1958, I was fourteen years of age and beginning to separate fact from fiction, plus a powerful urge to learn more about our Canadian Aviation History. Somehow, I heard Canada had built a jetliner that was far ahead of its time, but it was cancelled by our government. Why? I sent a letter to the Toronto Star Weekly magazine and to my surprise they answered my question, for all Canadians to read.

This was the beginning of a long quest to save RCAF WWII nose art, and also learn what I could about our lost C102 Jetliner aircraft. In 1965, I graduated from the Metro. Toronto Police College and two years later found myself stationed at No. 23 Division in Etobicoke, just two miles from the Malton plant where the Jetliner was constructed. I joined the local Malton branch of the Canadian Legion and my research began, very slow but very serious. I toured the Malton plant [thanks to being a police officer] asked many questions, and recorded what I could. At Malton, I would first learn a very important research lesson, the hard way.

Born and raised on a quarter section of mixed farm land in southern Alberta featured lots of hard work and very little money, but growing up was good, and I learned the value of life and a full day’s work.  When John Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister of Canada, my father and his local Acme, Alberta, farmers were overjoyed with the Tory government victory. I believed all of Canada felt the same way, boy was I wrong.

I honestly had no real idea of what P.M. John Diefenbaker had done to thousands of families in Malton and Toronto, when he scrapped the $400 million Avro Arrow program in 1959.  I soon learned to keep my mouth shut about Calgary, Alberta, the Tory government, and most of all our ex-P.M. Diefenbaker. The Tory decision to kill the Avro Arrow and then demolish every last aircraft will always remain a subject of very bitter controversy, forever. I soon found it was still being passed on from family to family; anger appears in many eyes, along with tears as they still speak in disbelief. I fully understand the dirt of politics today, but again, this was just so stupid “Canadian.” Afraid to step forward and believe in something created by fellow Canadians. We could not even protect, or save, our WWII comic book industry, while our best artists were absorbed into the United States and their powerful American comics. Canadians can’t hang onto symbols like our American neighbors and we allow our Liberal government to change our national emblems every few decades because it was too British. In 1951, federal Liberal politicians decided to get rid of the first commercial jetliner in North America, built by Canadians [taxpayers] and created for government owned Trans-Canada Air Lines. It’s the people of Canada who make our country great, yet it is always the political class who impose their values on the people of Canada without asking. Canadians are too quiet, subtle, and just too political polite [uninformed] to prevent politicians from tinkering with our country. That’s why the Avro Canada Jetliner was cancelled and scrapped. Canadians had no idea until it was just too late, and today we only have two aircraft cockpit sections from our past.

In 1974, I met a lady named Betty Schofield and learned her [deceased] father had worked on the Lancaster Mk. X, Jetliner, and Avro Arrow at Malton. He was one of over 13,800 aircraft workers who lost his job and he never fully recovered from this heartbreaking Canadian history. Hundreds of top Avro employees were quickly absorbed into the United States space program and helped put Americans on the Moon, while others were taken by the American aircraft industry. It was a double win for the Americans, as these new bitter Canadians soon became citizens of the U.S.A. and our jet technology was gone forever. Betty Schofield was kind enough to pass on many photos from her father’s collection in 1980, and then six years later the best book on the Avro Jetliner was published by Jim Floyd. This book titled – “The Avro Canada C102 Jetliner” is the bible on the real story behind the demise of our one and only jet transport aircraft. Jim Floyd stated –

“The Jetliner is without a doubt the major fiasco in the whole sweep of the history of Canadian technology.”

This undated photo was taken in the Avro Experimental Department, where the wood sub-assembly of the C102 Jetliner sections all came together. The real prototype is almost complete and only needs her engines installed, fall of 1948.

  [Betty Schofield – 1980]

This special lunch was held in late 1948, and the first engine test run was conducted on 24 June 1949. The people in the photo are not identified other than Mr. Schofield, location pinpointed by daughter Betty in April 1980. Middle of the table wearing a sweater with black trim, right hand on left arm, man to his right is wearing a dark suit.

The marry-up of the various sections went very smooth and everything fit properly. Some of the names in the photo are – Eric Peckham, [General Foreman] George Cross, Elmer Taylor, Norm Wootton, Stan Gooden, Russ Dicken, Merv Honsinger, Tommy Thomson, Bob Johnson, Henry Garside, and Dave Wagner.

[Betty Schofield – 1980]              Crash landing 16 August 1949

The first flight of the Jetliner took place on a Wednesday morning, 10 August 1949, and is described in detail in the book by Jim Floyd. The honour of flying the first jet transport in the world went to Britain’s de Havilland Comet airliner just thirteen days earlier. While the British jet had only hopped a few feet into the air, if was obvious they had beaten the Canadians to their world record. This first flight took place during the plant vacation shutdown and most of the workers who built the Jetliner were not present to witness this special event.

Due to the fact the plant employees were away on vacation a second flight was conducted on 16 August 1949 and this provided a spectacular unexpected crash landing [photo]. The attached history sheet with the above crash photo gives the date as 17 August 1949. This came from the 1956 book titled “Vapour Trails” by Mike Lithgow and possibly gives the wrong date for the crash landing of Jetliner C102.

It is important to note the control tower at Malton wanted the Avro Chief test pilot Jimmy Orrell to ditch the one and only Jetliner in Lake Ontario, and he stated – “Not Bloody Likely.” The damage was soon repaired and the Jetliner made her third flight on 20 September 1949.

On 10 March 1950, a CF-100 fighter and the new Jetliner were flown to Ottawa for a special official demonstration at Rockcliffe airfield.

The normal flight time from Malton to Rockcliffe was one hour and 40 minutes, the Jetliner made it in 38 minutes. The best was still to come, when the Mayor of New York, [Joe Morley] invited the new aircraft to appear in an American air show scheduled for 20 April 1950.

Up until this date, the C102 jetliner had been painted as seen in above photo image. For the special appearance in New York, the lettering “Canada’ was painted above the name Jetliner.

The crew and passengers of the historic first flight of a jet transport aircraft to the United States. Left to right – Mario Pesando, Jim Floyd, Bill Baker, Don Rogers, Mike Cooper-Slipper [pilot], Fred Smye, and Gordon McGregor, President of Trans-Canada Airlines. Note new painted – “CANADA.”

On 18 April 1950, Mike Cooper-Slipper flew the C102 Canadian Jetliner from Toronto to Idlewild, [now called Kennedy] International airport in New York.  The flight time was 59 minutes and Americans were stunned. An American photographer hired a helicopter, and while position over the Hudson River, captured the arrival of the Canadian Jetliner, with the New York skyline in the background. This image appeared on hundreds of newspaper and the aviation magazines, including Canadian Aviation, June 1950.

The Jetliner carried a special cargo of 15,000 airmail letters addressed to people all over the world. Each letter was officially stamped – Canada Post, “First Official Airmail” Jetliner Toronto to New York, and Canada had pulled off a first for the Canadian post Office in the aviation world.                       [author collection original letter]

During the four days the Canadian Jetliner was in New York, it made several local demonstration flights, which attracted huge publicity in both Canada and the United States. While the average Canadian had no idea what was going on, the Americans understood at once, and “Uncle Sam” was not pleased.  Several American newspapers ran commentary that was very critical of their own American aircraft industry, questioning how a nobody country like Canada could build and fly a top of the world jet transport aircraft. The top-selling American Aviation magazine “Air Trails” featured a full page editorial in their August 1950 edition. There was no doubt that Canada, in 1950-51, were years ahead of any other country in the world in design and development of her medium-range jet transport commercial airliner.

Yes – CANADA had designed and constructed the first Jet Transport in “AMERICA.”

Never again will a Canadian designed and constructed aircraft dominate the front cover of so many American publications.

The Korean War began in June 1950, and that is one of the reasons the Canadian Government gave for the cancelled of the Jetliner project. This chapter in Jim Floyd’s book makes for long and traumatic reading, but it in fact is only to me another political fiasco that destroyed Canadian aviation technology forever. The Liberal Government of Canada did not have the guts to take advantage of our Canadian lead in Jet Transport aviation, and Mr. C.D. Howe abandoned the Jetliner, which he in fact created with his Liberal government support and financial backing. In the fall of 1952, all funding for the jetliner was cancelled and no further flying was authorized. The Jetliner appeared in the 1953 and 1954 air shows at the Canadian National Exhibition on Toronto waterfront and then on 23 November 1956, flew her last check flight. The Jetliner was grounded immediately after this flight, and then ordered to be dismantled, as quickly and quietly as possible. The complete aircraft had first been given to the National Research Council in Ottawa, but they had no place to store the aircraft, and no brains to understand it was a one-of-a-kind, so it was scrapped. Two engines, the landing gear, and the cockpit were saved, placed into storage in Ottawa and forgotten.

In three short years the new rigid, paranoid government of P.M. John Diefenbaker would kill the complete Avro Arrow program and scrap the five aircraft produced and tested. Unforgiveable as this still is, Diefenbaker also ordered every blueprint, photo, film, document and trace of the Avro Arrow to be systematically destroyed.

Sorry Dief, but I still have one original memo pad from the Avro Arrow, even if I have no idea what it means.

This is Boeing B-47B, serial 51-2059, which was loaned to the RCAF in 1956 for Iroquois engine testing. Given RCAF number X059 she flew 35 hours of test flight, [Project North Wind] the only American B-47 to be flown by a foreign country

Diefenbaker was surely the most dominant Canadian political leader of that decade, but for all the wrong reasons. When he killed the Avro Arrow program, it turned out to be Canada’s biggest contribution to getting Americans on the Moon. The most important being when Dr. Werner von Braun surrendered his brains and Nazi rocket research to the Americans in May 1945. Other top Avro engineers went to Britain and helped develop the supersonic Concorde jetliner. The political backlash divided Canada, the government, and southern Ontario turned against the Conservatives. The elections in 1963 and 1965 produced unstable and ineffective minority governments. Canada lost half of its aerospace industry and most of its technological edge at the same time, plus it rendered Canada totally dependent on the United States for 80% of its defence needs. Ottawa had to quietly purchase 66 used Voodoo fighters from the United States for $260 million, and they were totally inferior to the Avro Arrow. In 1959, it was estimated $335 million was required to complete the Avro Arrow project. The most insane waste of Canadian taxpayer money was the purchase of the American Bomarc missile but without any warheads. They cost 1.2 million each in 1960, and “Dief” purchased 56 missiles.

Duncan Macpherson cartoon Toronto Star Ltd – title “Blast Off.”

The Diefenbaker Cabinet then somehow [wrongly] decided the Canadian Bomarc missiles should not be equipped with nuclear warheads, and they were filled with sand. This became an editorial cartoonist’s dream, and led to the collapse of the crazy Progressive Conservative government in 1963. The Liberal government under Lester Mike Pearson, wisely reversed their position on the nuclear warheads issue, and won the 1963 election. No. 446 SAM Squadron in North Bay, Ontario, and No. 447 SAM Squadron in La Macaza, Quebec, received fully operational American nuclear warheads in December 1963. Few Canadians understand this aviation history, even today.

Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star Ltd editorial cartoon 1961.

In 1972, the Department of National Defence closed both bunkers and the nuclear warheads were returned to the United States. Today the bunkers and facilities remain intact at both former sites. Three original Bomarc missile casings remain on display in Canadian museum’s, but none tell the true political facts or cost to Canadian taxpayer. You can also find an old American Voodoo fighter in almost every Canadian museum, again very short on telling their true history connected with our unforgiveable Avro Arrow past legacy. Most Canadians have no idea that many American aviation historians still enjoy a good laugh on what John Diefenbaker did to our world class aerospace industry.

Today more and more new generation immigrant Canadians are learning, thanks to the internet, this heartbreaking history of what might have been. [They will vote and form the next political Canada] This mess all began with the Liberal [C.D. Howe] destruction of the Avro Jetliner and finished with the Conservative cancellation and deliberate destruction of the Avro Arrows. It became the greatest social, economic, political, and military blunder that has ever befallen on Canadians and it involved both the Liberal and Conservative governments of Canada, imposing their values on an ill-informed Canadian public.  Today, [2020] many well researched aviation books tell the truth, if you have the heart and guts to read. The effects of 1959 can still be seen today, however, the majority of new Canadians are unaware as our major aviation [DND] museums do not educate or expose the complete truth.

 In 1958, Canadair Ltd. began to design and construct a jet aircraft intended for training Canadian pilots from elementary to wings parade. The first two prototypes were built as a private venture, with the first test flight on 13 January 1960. With the destruction of the Avro Arrow program the year before, Canada lost half her aerospace industry and technical experience, so the Canadair design team had no competition, and the RCAF [government] just ordered 190 Canadian trainer aircraft built. They were designated the CL-41A “Tutor” and the first, serial number 26001 was delivered to the RCAF on 16 December 1963. The last Tutor, serial 26190, was delivered on 28 September 1966. Today our “Canadian Ambassadors of the Sky”, the Snowbirds still fly the vintage Tutor, a last gasp of our past Canadian aviation industry. Today these same aircraft airframes are 55 to 57 years of age, old, vintage, unsafe jets from a forgotten Diefenbaker era.  The RCAF CF-18s are forty years of age, American jets P.M. Justin Trudeau’s father purchased in 1981. So, what did our Liberal government do, they purchased second-hand twenty-year-old American built CF-18’s from Australia.

If Canadians want the best trained pilots in the world, then our government must buy the best built aircraft in the world, and that will cost taxpayers big bucks.

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