Web master: The following story appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of Warrior, the Shearwater Aviation Museum Foundation Magazine. It was been reprinted here with permission and provides an excellent account of Aurora's beginnings. It is complemented with a photo from Sentinel Magazine.
by Ernie Cable
Associate Air Force Historian and Shearwater Aviation Museum Historian
The Aurora maritime patrol aircraft had an uncertain beginning because the government had to overcome difficulties in arranging bridge financing with the banks before the billion plus dollar program could be approved. Also some government departments were reticent to lend their approval as this was the first program in DND's history to exceed a billion dollars and there was some doubt about the defence department's ability to manage such a large program. Under the guidance of the Aurora project's first Program Manager, Admiral Dudley Allen, the program was eventually approved and became the management model for succeeding major capital programs. More importantly, the Aurora was delivered on budget, on schedule and exceeded most of its performance goals. It was at this point, in 1976, that I joined the Aurora Program Office as the Operational Requirements Manager where I was responsible for developing the aircraft's operational requirements and coordinating with designers of the many other ground support systems to ensure they were compatible with the Aurora. This was very good planning by the career manager as I had just completed a three year exchange tour at the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Development Center (NADC) where as a member of the P-3C Update Project, I was involved in the design and testing the prototype aircraft and training the first U.S. Navy squadron to transition to the production P-3C Update aircraft. Since the Aurora was derived from the P-3C my experience was tailored to the needs of the Aurora Program Office.
A DND fleet sizing study determined that 24 Auroras would be required to perform all of the tasks the government required. However, the Trudeau government unilaterally reduced the number to 18. Furthermore, the operating costs including spares, repair and overhaul, could not exceed those of the Argus, the aircraft the Aurora was replacing. But, with the Aurora being able to fly higher and faster we planned to be able to spend more time at sea with the same operating budget as the Argus. We planned to maximize the operational availability of the Aurora by off-loading as much training as possible from the aircraft. Much more of the aircrew training would be performed in two high fidelity flight simulators, one for the pilots and flight engineers and the other for the navigators and sensor operators. A more innovative approach to reduce demands on aircraft availability was the use of maintenance training devices (simulators for engines, propellers, flight controls, fuel systems etc.) to train the technicians which previously had been carried out almost exclusively on the aircraft.
The Aurora was the Air Force's first heavily computerized aircraft with extensive software support requirements. We made the decision to maintain the Aurora software within the Air Force as all of the Aurora's operational doctrine, tactics and procedures were imbedded in its software. More importantly, software changes would not be limited by unaffordable costs if contracted out to industry, especially if there were a sole source contractor; this was a lesson learned from the U.S. Navy. The Aurora Software Development Unit was formed to support all software related to the Aurora, including aircraft simulators, maintenance training devices and other ground support systems. One of the hurdles of introducing software into a major weapon system was educating the higher echelons about software and the costs of supporting it. In the mid-1970's it was necessary to explain the new software paradigm; software, unlike hardware, didn't rust, shake, rattle or roll and when it broke it had to be reprogrammed to something other than the original configuration.
To establish the Aurora maintenance policy, a "Maintenance Appraisal Team" was established. The team analyzed every component of the Aurora and determined whether it would be a throw-away part or be maintained at first, second or third level. Once the maintenance concept was formulated the maintenance manuals had to be written and the training program for each of the aircraft maintenance trades established. Similarly, the "Aircraft Operating Instructions" had to be written for the aircrew trades to stipulate the procedures to fly the Aurora and delineate the operation of all of the aircraft's systems, including the hardware and software functions of the avionic and sensor systems. For both the maintenance manuals and operating instructions there was pressure to just use the U.S. Navy publications to save time and money. However, the Canadian Air Force has different operating and maintenance philosophies from the U.S. Navy. It was important to maintain the well established Canadian ethos so that as personnel transitioned from a previous aircraft to the Aurora there would be no change in Air Force training, operating and maintenance concepts.
Another major component of the Aurora program was the Data Interpretation and Analysis Center (DIAC). The DIAC tailored all of the Aurora operational program tapes to each mission and had the capability to retrieve and catalogue the data amassed from each sortie so that each mission could be replayed and analyzed minute by minute. Succeeding flights were planned on the intelligence gained from previous missions. The DIAC not only supported Aurora missions but also the training missions flown in the operational simulators. Also, the Aurora operational programs had to be compatible with the U.S. Navy's and the RAF's maritime operations centers so that the Aurora would be interoperable with our NATO allies. Similarly, the DIAC had to be capable of playing mission tapes from our allies' aircraft.
The career managers were very cooperative in pre-positioning people. They arranged for the aircrew and maintenance instructors on 404 Training Squadron to be sent to Lockheed, the Aurora's manufacturer, to train on the Aurora; they would in turn train the remaining Argus squadrons on the Aurora and its systems. It was at this point that I learned that I was to be the C.O. of 405 Squadron the first operational squadron to transition to the Aurora. BGen Pickering, the Deputy Program Manager and the designate Commander of Maritime Air Group, told me that since I had headed up defining the Aurora's requirements my job was to take the aircraft into the field and make it work. I consulted with the career mangers to ensure that the most experienced Argus aircrew were posted to 405 Squadron. I was concerned that our crews flying the new Aurora would be flying an aircraft that was very different from the Argus; the Aurora flew faster and higher in a very different flight regime than the Argus and I wanted to have experienced aircrew to ameliorate potential transition difficulties.
Although, I knew the Aurora's technical aspects as well as anyone I still wanted to lead my first four crews from 405 Squadron, through the first 404 Squadron Aurora conversion course. This not only allowed me to validate the course that we in the Program Office had established but also to get to know my crews and refresh my tactical knowledge. Although, everyone was enthusiastic about learning to fly a new aircraft there were always comments such as, "Why did they ever design it this way?" Having been involved in the development of the aircraft I was able to explain the design and cost constraints and everyone seemed happy to know that their questions had at least been considered by the designers. The pilots found the Aurora a delight to fly, fast and manoeuvrable like sports car and its four T-56 Allison turboprop engines provided lots of power. The navigators and airborne electronic sensors operators were really impressed with their new found capabilities and the computer centric, state-of-the-art avionics and sensors which represented a two generation leap in technology over the Argus.
After the squadron crews had about 3,000 flying hours under their collective belts I felt comfortable that our aircrews' experience levels had avoided any safety issues that might have been related to transitioning to a new aircraft. I had the opportunity to fly as the tactical coordinator with one my crews on the squadron's first mission to track a Soviet submarine in the Labrador Sea. It was a very complex tactical situation, successfully converting a convergence zone detection to direct path tracking. This was a tailor made situation to establish the credibility of a new C.O.; having the technical knowledge to introduce a new aircraft to the squadron and then demonstrating how the aircraft should be used tactically. Indeed, all of the squadron crews continued to experience unprecedented success during their ASW missions. The U.S. Navy and the RAF also noticed our successes; this opened intelligence doors that had been closed and we were invited to participate in national operations in which "non-nationals" had previously been prohibited. The sterling performance of the Auroras and their crews signalled to our NATO partners that Canada was intent on making a first class contribution to the alliance.
In 1981, I led our 405 Squadron contingent, representing Canada, to Adelaide, Australia to compete in the Fincastle competition which is emblematic of ASW supremacy among Commonwealth maritime air forces. In its first appearance with the Aurora our 405 Squadron crew won the competition, beating the top crews from England, Australia and New Zealand. I was very proud of our 405 aircrew as they had been flying the Aurora for only six months. However, I was especially proud of the ground crew as they had to maintain the Aurora away from home base for the first time and had some unusual and perplexing maintenance problems; it was only through their extraordinary dedication and innovation that the aircrew got airborne to win the competition. After winning Fincastle the Aurora was acknowledged as one the finest ASW aircraft in the world. I had the privilege of being part of the Aurora's development and proud of leading one its first crews to an international victory.
|Defence Minister Gilles Lamontagne accepted the first of eighteen Aurora long range patrol aircraft from Lockheed California at a colourful ceremony at CFB Greenwood in late May 1980. Thousands watched a flypast of maritime patrol aircraft from six NATO nations, the official handover ceremony and the dedication of the new 11 million dollar Hornell Centre, the Aurora operational support building. (From Sentinel Magazine 1980/4 Photo #IHC 80·110)|
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