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Canadian Airways’ fabulous “Flying Boxcar” page 3

Story by Robert S. Grant

A 580-mile trip to Cold Lake on January 14, 1932, became one of CF-ARM’s first assignments, but soon after the “great airship” departed Winnipeg, it “developed one kink after another.” Undercarriage breakages occurred frequently on hard-packed snowdrifts or ice-hummocked lakes. By April, the junction where the axle, shock struts and radius rods met had become a constant headache. One landing incident promptly came to Richardson’s attention: “The first breakage was on the right-hand side and occurred as soon as the aircraft commenced to move; apparently one side of the undercarriage moved ahead of the other,” wrote superintendent of maintenance Tommy Siers. “The second breakage was on the left-hand side and must have occurred just as the aircraft was leaving the ground, for a distinct crack was heard.”

Pilot Buchanan landed skillfully, but the left side collapsed after the aircraft ran only a short distance. A three-foot hole in the lower wing surface, a damaged gasoline tank and bent aileron hinges meant a lengthy grounding. Siers attributed the mishap to the “Elektron” metal, a Junkers substitute for aluminium alloys. Produced by Chemische Fabrik Grieshein Elektron in Frankfurt as 80% magnesium and 20% other metals, salt solutions and even common tap water affected the alloy’s load-bearing properties.

Siers suggested replacing Elektron components with cast metal forged units or built-up steel types better suited to Canadian Airways’ needs. Although the German metal demonstrated sufficient tensile strength, it lacked the torsion strength to withstand the twisting stresses encountered by skiplanes. The broken tail wheel during delivery to Winnipeg had provided a warning. To no one’s surprise, the problem occurred again. “Trouble was experienced last month at Norway House [245 miles north of Winnipeg] and temporary repairs had to be made using the metal from a household bed for material, as no other was at hand,” reported Siers.

Before dispatching CF-ARM for cold weather work from Winnipeg, mechanics had installed a unit to preheat the BMW’s Prestone coolant. At Cold Lake, a defective crankshaft allowed liquid into the shaft housing and crankcase. A replacement water pump for improved Prestone distribution and a new temperature gauge provided a short-term remedy, but only after CF-ARM sat useless for nearly four weeks.

Later, improper lubrication caused two badly burned camshafts and seven damaged rocker arms. Some mechanics argued that Canadian Airways depended on oil too thick for cold weather. Eventually, the company switched to a lighter grade and carried on.

“It is not at all uncommon for a machine to leave its base with a temperature of around 32°F and, in a few hours, have a temperature of 30° or 40°F,” said Thompson. “We need hardly point out how difficult satisfactory lubrication and temperature control becomes under these conditions.”

Pilots worried about severe engine shaking. Schneider described two troublesome areas–one between 600 and 700 rpm and another at 1,425 rpm during takeoff. Thompson insisted such rough running could be expected, but on three frightening occasions, the engine shook so badly that it suddenly quit. On a test flight, Schneider barely reached 50 feet when the BMW stopped dead. Luckily, he carried out a safe forced landing. Later, he admitted he was glad to deliver the machine to a replacement pilot, especially after the engine continued to show “bad vibration with occasional pounding.”

At the conclusion of another test flight, a mechanic turning the 15-foot, 9.75-inch, two-piece, four-blade propeller by hand heard a grinding noise inside the crankcase. Closer examination revealed a broken front collar ring on the reduction gear. Waiting for parts cost Canadian Airways another week of unwanted downtime. After the repair, pilots still complained. Siers, who believed strongly in the BMW, refused to blame the powerplant, especially since he had sent glowing reports back to Winnipeg from Dessau during his expense-paid trip to the factory.

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