Book Review - Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2016 - Volume 5, Issue 3)

Cover of Cold War Fighters

By Randall Wakelam

Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2011
187 Pages
ISBN 978-0-7748-2148-3

Review by Major Kathy Falldien, CD

Aircraft procurement by the Canadian Armed Forces has always piqued interest and discussion among Canadians and foreign stakeholders. The reasons behind decisions to acquire one aircraft design over another spark debate, even after the aircraft is long out of service. Randall Wakelam, in Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54, provides insight into Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft procurement and the Canadian aircraft manufacturing industry during the Cold War, investigating specifically the Avro-built CF100 and Canadair-built F-86. Wakelam, a Canadian Air Force officer with aircraft-procurement experience, was able to access government and Avro documents to gather extensive data on how the RCAF went from building a peacetime air force after the Second World War (WW II) to acquiring a strong air force to defend the country against the Cold War threat.

The book explores Canada’s need during the early years of the Cold War to have jet aircraft, with the hope of ensuring Canada’s equality among its allies as well as the ability to maintain the RCAF’s credibility. Wakelam provides insight into why the RCAF and the Canadian government wanted Canadian-built aircraft and engines, a great feat after having just exited WW II. Canadian-built aircraft and engines would require a financial commitment from a government just getting over a major war, a leap in technological advancement, and a sound understanding of a new threat.[1] The Canadian government and the RCAF wanted to become more self-sufficient, which they believed would solve parts-availability issues that in turn caused aircraft production delays. Self-sufficiency would also ensure the availability of required aircraft for the RCAF.[2]

The process of procurement has always included a lot of moving parts, as Wakelam explores, including RCAF needs, politics, standardization with allied air forces, and understanding the predicted threat of the time. Putting all these pieces together has not always been an easy task, resulting in aircraft production delays or aircraft acquiring additional roles that were not originally intended.

The Canadian government, during the early Cold War years, recognized the Air Force as the service that would be Canada’s main line of defence against the Soviet threat.[3] Entering the picture was A. V. Roe Canada (Avro)—which would build the CF100—and Canadair, with its version of the F-86. Foreign policy and the RCAF’s constant operational-requirement changes would cause delay issues for the production of the CF100. The development of the Orenda engine made both of these aircraft more attractive, but with delays, the aircraft would originally be rolled out with American-built engines.[4] With the onset of the Korean War and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) requirements in Europe, the F-86 was purchased as a stopgap and would fulfil Canada’s NATO commitment. Both aircraft would eventually fulfil Canada’s domestic and NATO roles, but in 1953, they would be considered obsolete.[5] This meant that discussions about a replacement for both aircraft would begin the procurement cycle once again. Thus began talks of the Avro Arrow, a subject for another book.

This book was an interesting read about technology and also about personalities such as C. D. Howe, Crawford Gordon, Lester B. Pearson, John Diefenbaker as well as their military counterparts. Wakelam explores defence and foreign policies, the desire at the time to provide the RCAF with a Canadian-designed-and-produced aircraft as well as the changing threat, which ultimately led to the early stages of developing a jet interceptor that no one else could provide. Cold War Fighters gives a clear understanding of the relationship played in the procurement cycle between politics, military requirements, defence policy, and the changing threat. This well-researched book, while purposely stopping short of the Avro Arrow project, nevertheless leaves the reader speculating about the Arrow’s rise and fall.

Major Kathy Falldien, an aerospace controller, is currently the Education Coordinator at the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre.

Avro―V. Roe Canada
NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
WW II―Second World War

[1]. Randall Wakelam, Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 22. (return)

[2].Randall Wakelam, Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 22. (return)

[3]. Randall Wakelam, Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 37–38. (return)

[4]. Randall Wakelam, Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 128. (return)

[5]. Randall Wakelam, Cold War Fighters: Canadian Aircraft Procurement, 1945–54 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 134. (return)

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