1946 DC-4 Northstar

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Throughout 1944, design work on the DC-4M, as the new transport was designated, gathered speed, with most activity taking place at the TCA engineering facilities at Winnipeg and Dorval. At Cartierville, Canadair was gearing up to produce a reduced Canadian requirement of 44 aircraft: 24 for the RCAF and 20 for TCA. The chosen design was basically a DC-4 airframe with some DC-6 components and British Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.
The major difference between the RCAF and TCA aircraft lay in cabin pressurization. While TCA regarded pressurization as essential for high altitude trans-Atlantic operations, the RCAF felt that its operations did not merit the expense of pressurization. The RCAF version, designated C-54GM, was to be unpressurized and consist mainly of C-54 parts. TCA aircraft, designated DC-4-M2, were to be pressurized and have a DC-4 empennage, rear fuselage, flaps and wing tips; C-54 wing centre and outer wing panel; a DC-6 fuselage shortened by 2 metres (80 in.), and a DC-6 nose section and landing gear. To put Canadair to work as quickly as possible and avoid impending layoffs, the first six aircraft on the line were to be C-54GMs with fuselages selected from the C-54 fuselages Franklin had acquired from Douglas' Chicago plant.

Though initially destined for the RCAF, the first six aircraft were allotted temporarily to TCA. The airline modified their aft cargo doors for passenger use and installed a DC-6 landing gear to permit a gross weight increase of 2,000 kg (5,000 lb.). TCA designated them DC-4-M1s and operated them until the first of its pressurized DC-4-M2s became available, whereupon they were returned to the RCAF.

The prototype C54-GM made its maiden flight on July 15, 1946, shortly after Ben Franklin had suggested the name North Star, as a tribute to Polaris, friend of the traveller. One problem surfaced immediately: engine noise from the unmuffled exhaust stacks vented straight against the fuselage was too loud for passenger comfort. After his first North Star flight, Franklin's successor as president of Canadair, H. Oliver West, gave his engineers two weeks to come up with an answer. It was six long years before TCA and British Overseas Airways engineers each produced quieter cross-over exhaust systems but neither solved the problem completely.

The first DC-4-M1 was delivered to TCA on November 16, 1946 and went into trans-Atlantic service on April 15, 1947. There were teething problems, but TCA established an unparalleled reputation for speed and dependability combined with high utilization. In the first 58 days of operation it completed 58 Atlantic round trips. Before the end of 1947, the six M1s were making 14 round trips a week on the route, and during the year, they set three world records between Canada and the British Isles.

The first RCAF aircraft was delivered to 426 Squadron on September 12, 1947; the last flight by an RCAF North Star was on December 8, 1965. In the intervening 18 years, the North Star established a remarkable RCAF safety record by flying 310 million km (193 million mi.) without a fatality. RCAF operations took North Stars to every part of the globe; to the Korean War; support of United Nations activities in the Congo, Cyprus, Indo-China, the Middle East and Yemen, and on mercy operations in Jamaica, Italy and Chile.

The Canadair-Douglas licence agreement restricted the sale of North Stars to the United Kingdom and Canada, nevertheless, by the time production ended in 1950, Canadair had produced a total of 70 North Stars. In addition to the RCAF's 24 C-54GMs and TCA's 20 DC-4M-2s, Canadair delivered 22 C-4 Argonauts to British Overseas Airways Corporation, and four C-4-1s to Canadian Pacific Airlines. One C-5, a VIP transport version powered by Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, was supplied to the RCAF to replace a DC-4-M1 lost while in TCA service.

Where are they now? Only one North Star survives; former RCAF C-54GM, No. 17515, belongs to the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

North Star Specification
(Canadair designations were CL-2 for the CL-54GM, DC-4-M1 and M2; CL-4 for the C-4 and CL-5 for the C-5)

Link to: Eventsaviation.ca - Restoration of Canadair North Star by a team of volunteers.