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High-altitude CF-100

Story and photos by “turbo” tarling

428 Squadron CF-100

F/O “Turbo” Tarling and F/L Doug Williams prepare for a flight at Uplands, January 1958. (Rapid Grip & Batten Ltd. photo)

In its era, the CF-100 Mk. 5 had remarkable performance with an initial climb rate of 9–10,000 feet per minute. The vertical speed indicator pointer would remain hard-fast against the stops at 6,000 feet per minute until the aircraft was approaching 25,000 feet. Only then would it slowly begin to register the exact rate of climb.

With its extended wings and lower wing loading, the 5 was very much at home at high altitude. Routine squadron missions were normally flown between 40–45,000 feet, and the aircraft performed beautifully. Pilots were tempted to find the CF-100’s absolute ceiling, but regulations and common sense restricted us to a maximum of 45,000 feet without pressure suits.

A pressure differential of 3.5 psi delivered a comfortable cabin altitude of 24,000 feet while flying at 45,000 feet, and we simply snugged up our oxygen masks a bit.

The Aircraft Operating Instructions listed the procedures to follow in the event that cockpit pressurization was lost at high altitude, and issued the following warning, “If the mask is not tight, conscious time at 48,000 feet cockpit altitude is approximately 15 seconds. With a perfectly fitted mask, the conscious time is approximately 10 minutes.”

A cabin pressure warning light would come on at 31,000 feet, plus or minus 1,800 feet. At 33,000 cockpit altitude, the oxygen system would switch to pressure breathing, forcing 100% oxygen into our masks. During training, all CF-100 pilots and navs had experienced pressure breathing in the decompression chamber–very fatiguing–five minutes was plenty for most of us.

It was obvious by the summer of 1958 that aircrew flying the new CF-105 Arrow would require better equipment. Until the Arrow arrived, the CF-100 was to be progressively pushed to its limits. To satisfy both requirements, the RCAF developed the Pate suspension for oxygen masks featuring straps strung through rollers that were used to pull the mask tight to the face, and a partial-pressure vest.

Our vest design just had inflatable bladders (not tubes). The O2 flowed into the vest and when we inhaled, the vest filled again with O2 putting force on our chest making it easier to exhale during pressure breathing (everything felt normal when we weren’t using pressure breathing as there was adequate room in the vest for O2 when it wasn’t under pressure).

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Lydia Dotto

“There are two kinds of pressure suits: partial-pressure suits and full-pressure suits. The former do not cover the entire body and contain inflatable tubes that apply pressure to the chest area, as well as the arms and legs. Above about 50,000 feet, pilots require a completely sealed full-body pressure suit equipped with an oxygen breathing system. Interceptor aircraft did not require the use of full-pressure suits because they were used for fairly short-duration missions, unlike bombers that flew missions lasting many hours.” As aviation medicine pioneer Roy Stubbs of the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine said, “What was required … were ‘get-you-down suits’ that could protect the pilot in the event of an explosive decompression while he brought the plane to a lower altitude.”

Excerpted from Canada’s aviation medicine pioneers, page 9, Canadian Space Agency. © 2011. All Rights Reserved