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High-altitude CF-100 page 2

Story and photos by “turbo” tarling

In September 1958, these advances were ready for testing and volunteers were requested from 428 Squadron. My navigator, F/L Doug Williams, and myself were one of the selected crews. On September 29, we were flown from Uplands to RCAF Station Downsview in Toronto to spend the next two days at the Institute of Aviation Medicine being briefed, getting our Pate suspensions installed and vests fitted. The vests were form-fitted by adjustable cords at the back and were worn over our flying suits.

On October 1, we paused momentarily at 27,000 feet in the chamber to make a final check of our equipment, then were explosively decompressed to 50,000 feet to simulate a canopy loss. The vest and Pate worked perfectly–without them we would have been in an emergency situation.

With our new equipment came authorization to conduct high-altitude flights above 45,000 feet for operational testing and to develop suitable intercept tactics at these new heights. On October 6, Doug and I took CF-100 18500 up to 50,000 feet. With a full fuel load of 8,500 pounds the aircraft would only climb to 46,500 feet initially, but after burning off some fuel it easily reached 50,000.

A total of six flights were logged in the next nine days, recording as much data as possible. It was observed that the CF-100 could fight at 50,000 feet but had to be flown with care–with an indicated speed of 168 knots there was little margin between the stall and the airframe limiting speed of Mach .82; 20 degrees of bank was the maximum that could be sustained without loss of speed or height; the autopilot gave the best results; and the aircraft could be glided 150 nautical miles at idle power.

At the end of each mission, I would throttle back to idle and set up a precision glide with the autopilot, starting at 155 knots indicated, gradually increasing to 175 knots. As soon as power was reduced, the cabin altitude would rapidly increase, as expected.

At 31,000 feet cabin altitude, the cabin pressure warning light would appear, and at 33,000 pressure breathing would begin, but this time with a difference. The partial-pressure vest/Pate suspension combination made it all seem very routine.

However, one problem that couldn’t be avoided was “the bends”–a throbbing and painful aching in the elbows and knees–caused by nitrogen bubbles which formed because of the high cabin altitude. We had to grin and bear it during the long descent back to base–rubbing just made it worse. The pain would be gone in an hour or so, anyway.

Doug had the worst of it since he had to keep notes during the descent and writing was difficult. All I had to do was make minor adjustments to the autopilot.

The data compiled on these high-altitude flights was dutifully collected and filed somewhere. Of course, as everyone knows, the Arrow was subsequently cancelled in February 1959; the CF-100 stayed at 45,000 feet, and the excellent partial-pressure vest was not immediately needed. The Pate suspension, however, became an essential part of every interceptor crew’s gear. |

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For a very interesting discussion of Canada’s exceptional contributions to the science of aviation medicine, and specifically, anti-gravity suits, pressure suits, helmets and oxygen masks, ejection seats, decompression sickness and motion sickness, read the following Web document: www.asc-csa.gc.ca/pdf/osm_aviation.pdf

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