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A legend in aviation still hard at work

August 2009

If there’s one man who has had a huge impact on the modern aviation industry, it’s James C. “Jim” Floyd.  Jim Floyd played a major role in the design and development of three ground-breaking Canadian aircraft while working with A.V. Roe (Canada) at the Avro Aircraft Limited (Canada) facility at Malton, Ontario.

Originally as the Chief Design Engineer, and later as Vice President (Engineering), he was involved in the creation of the Avro Jetliner and the development of the CF-100 Canuck jet fighter.  Most importantly, and famously, Floyd is best known as the Director of Engineering for the CF-105 Avro Arrow jet fighter, during a period considered by many as the “Golden Age of Canadian Aviation.”

Born in Manchester, England on October 20, 1914, Jim began his career in the aviation industry in January 1930, at the age of 15, as an apprentice with A.V. Roe Company in the United Kingdom.  Growing up next to the A.V. Roe manufacturing plant, it seemed like a logical career path when he was chosen by Sir Roy Dobson, to take part in a scheme to train young boys in the aviation field.  Great things were happening in aviation at the time, and Floyd wanted to be part of it.

Floyd attended technical school and later Manchester University College of Technology, where he earned a diploma in engineering in 1945.  As a part of his education, he also worked in a variety of different positions at the A.V. Roe plant, in between attending classes.  He spent the last 6 months of this training at the A.V. Roe airfield at Woodford, where he learned to fly in a monoplane.

After graduating, Floyd joined Roy Chadwick’s group of designers and worked with Chadwick on the Avro Anson, Manchester, Lancaster, York and Lincoln designs.  He was later appointed Chief Project Engineer at the Avro satellite plant in Yorkshire, working on new projects and using the new jet engine technology.

While working at the Yorkshire satellite office, Floyd was approached by Sir Roy Dobson about going to Canada on a special project.  Dobson had recently purchased Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, now the site of the Toronto Pearson International Airport, with the intention of designing and building aircraft in Canada.

Jim Bain, of Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA), the predecessor of Air Canada, wanted to explore the use of the new jet engine technology on passenger aircraft.  Floyd was put in charge of a regional jet development project and sent to Canada to present his design proposals.  Ironically, Floyd came to Canada aboard a TCA Lancastrian, a converted Lancaster Bomber.

Once in Canada, Floyd was persuaded to stay to work on the new jet transport aircraft; a temporary stay that would become a permanent move.  This jet aircraft project would eventually lead to the creation of the C102 Avro Jetliner.

“I knew that we had a really first-class aircraft, with an excellent potential,” Floyd said.  “It was breaking performance records all over North America.  The team on the Jetliner provided an important step in the progress of aviation.”  The Jetliner was going to require innovative engineering designs.

The Avro Jetliner was the world’s second jet-powered passenger aircraft to fly, beaten by only 13 days by the de Havilland Comet.  Sadly, the Avro Jetliner would not go into production.  Avro Canada was also involved in designing the first jet-powered, all-weather fighter for the RCAF, the CF-100 Canuck, a project also later headed up by Floyd.

With the coming of the Korean War, Avro was ordered to put all its efforts behind the CF-100, despite the fact that National Airlines were negotiating a contract with Avro to purchase a fleet of Jetliners for their medium range routes.  The U.S. Air Force had also set aside funds to purchase a number of Avro Jetliners for jet bomber pilot training.  The Jetliner had been flying all over North America, breaking performance records on every flight.  However despite this activity, C.D. Howe canceled the Jetliner project in 1951 with the intent of getting the CF-100 into the RCAF squadrons as quickly as possible.  Floyd was devastated by this decision.

“C.D. Howe wouldn’t allow it to be produced,” says Floyd.  “We could have sold over 1000 of them.  It was a political decision to cancel it, made entirely and directly by Mr. Howe.”  At the time, Floyd and his engineering team were working on a second prototype that would carry 60 passengers, but it was all not to be as Avro was ordered to undertake the CF-100 project.

Howard Hughes expressed an interest in purchasing 30 of them his own airline, Trans World Airlines, and was determined to manufacture the Jetliner under licence, but his requests were denied.  United Airlines and Eastern Airlines had also showed an interest in the Jetliner.  The United States Air Force also made a proposal to the Air Weapons Board that 12 Jetliners be purchased, with some to be used as refuelling aircraft, but all this was for nothing.

“It was obvious, after this episode, that the Jetliner project was finished,” adds Floyd.

Floyd suspects that Howe, who had invested in the Canadair North Star aircraft purchased by Trans-Canada Airlines a few years earlier, didn’t want the Jetliner to compete for TCA’s business.  In his one and only meeting with C.D. Howe in 1951, Floyd was disgusted at his cavalier attitude towards the Jetliner, telling Floyd that he should just “forget it” and put his energy into the CF-100 project.  Howe had previously been an enthusiastic supporter of the Jetliner project.

Floyd made a last ditch effort to have the Jetliner donated to either the Smithsomian Institution in Washington, D.C. or the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa, but due to space limitations, both had to decline the offer.

The Jetliner last flew on November 23, 1956 and was cut up less than a month later on December 13. The only surviving parts are the nose and cockpit section, which are currently in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa.  A second prototype Jetliner, well under construction when the project was canceled, was broken up at that time.

Although the Avro Jetliner aircraft faded into aviation history, the name “jetliner” has survived as a name colloquially given to all jet-powered passenger aircraft.

In the wake of the Jetliner cancellation, Avro Canada threw all its efforts into producing the CF-100.  Although the CF-100 proved to be successful, with close to 700 built, the RCAF wanted something that would fly higher and faster, and provided specifications for a very advanced supersonic interceptor which eventually became the Avro Arrow.

When the RCAF issued the specifications for the CF-105 Arrow, Avro realized that they were asking for “the moon”; in other words, asking a lot of the Avro engineers.  It called for a very high degree of maneuverability at supersonic speeds and high altitude, without losing speed or altitude.  It also specified a large weapon load of missiles that would fill the bomb bay of a B29 bomber.  Short landing and take-off capabilities were also specified, a mammoth task indeed!

The most significant hurdle that Floyd and his design team had to overcome was that, due to the urgency of the Arrow program, the Arrow was to go straight into production with no prototypes.   “We were faced with enormous problems, the biggest being that we couldn’t make any prototypes,” says Floyd.  “Because of the urgency of the ‘time to squadron use’, it would not be possible to do the usual initial flight testing with prototype aircraft and then amend the drawings prior to production.”

The CF-105 Arrow had to be built on production tooling from the start of the program, so extensive testing of all components of the design had to be carried out prior to fixing the tooling.  However, some youthful exuberance by Floyd and his design team lead them to believe that they could make it happen.

Floyd recalls that he felt at the time this was a risky approach, however, “It was decided to take the technical risks involved to save time on the programme.  I will not pretend that this philosophy of production type build from the outset did not cause us a lot of problems in Engineering. However, it did achieve its objective.”

“At the time we laid down the design of the CF-105, there was a somewhat emotional controversy going on in the United States on the relative merits of the delta plan form versus the straight wing for supersonic aircraft. Our choice of a tailless delta was based mainly on the compromise of attempting to achieve structural and aeroelastic efficiency, with a very thin wing, and yet, at the same time, achieving the large internal fuel capacity required for the specified range,” added Floyd.

Despite all the challenges and potential for problems, when Jan Żurakowski took the Arrow on it’s first 35-minute flight, he reported only 4 deficiencies, including the fact that there was no clock in the aircraft so that Zura knew when to come down for lunch.  “Usually we expect 40 to 50 deficiencies (from a test pilot), but we had only 4,” says Floyd.  This was an outstanding feat for an aircraft still in its early stages.

Sadly, like the Jetliner, the Arrow program was later canceled.  While there is much controversy as to why it was canceled, Floyd’s assessment is that it had to do with the government’s contention that missiles were the future of Canada’s defence.

“They had decided that it was missiles from there.  Jets would no longer be needed,” says Floyd.  “It had little to do with the cost of the aircraft,” which is one of the problems the Diefenbaker government cited as a reason to scrap the Arrow project.

Another reason that has been often cited is that Crawford Gordon, President of A.V. Roe (Canada), aimed too high in trying to design and manufacture an all-Canadian aircraft and the engines to power it.  Floyd refutes this theory, saying that Crawford Gordon was only following the orders given to him by the RCAF.

The collapse of A.V. Roe (Canada) was inevitable after the early cancellation of the Arrow project.  Avro had around 20 future programs under study in Floyd’s initial projects office, but none were sufficiently advanced to fill the gap in the company’s operations and thousands of employees were without work.  The timing of the cancellation of the Arrow project virtually put the company out of the high-tech aviation business.

After the cancellation, Floyd and his family returned to the U.K. at the request of Dobson.  A number of senior Avro engineers would also follow Floyd to the U.K.

When asked why he didn’t head to NASA with many of his engineers, like Jim Chamberlin, Floyd said that he was swamped with job offers from the U.S. and England.  The job that appealed to him was an offer from Hawker-Siddeley Aviation to be Chief Engineer in charge of a selected group of senior engineers to form an Advanced Projects study group to determine future projects that the company should undertake.  This included early studies on a supersonic passenger aircraft, which later evolved into the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde passenger jetliner.  Like the Arrow, the Concorde also had a delta-wing design.  First flown in 1969, the Concorde entered service in 1976 and remained until finally being retired after 27 years in 2003.

In 1962, Floyd established the aviation consulting company J.C. Floyd & Associates in Surrey, England, and worked with aviation companies worldwide.  He was also retained as the British Ministry of Technology’s special consultant on the Concorde.  After retiring in 1979, Floyd and his family returned to Canada and once again settled in Toronto.  Despite his retirement, Floyd, now 97 years old, is still active in the aviation scene and was involved in several events in 2009 to commemorate 100th anniversary of flight in Canada.

In 1997, the CBC broadcast a docu-drama about the Avro Arrow, titled “The Arrow”, a heavily fictionalized movie that diverges significantly from true events.  Floyd thought it was a well-made, and exciting film that is worth seeing, especially for Dan Aykroyd’s portrayal of Crawford Gordon, who Floyd says looked and acted like the real man.

However, the film is not an accurate depiction of what actually happened and Floyd made his objections known to the producers by refusing to officially endorse the film.  “If I had been that laid back, as seen in the movie, I would have been fired within a week”, says Floyd.

Other people portrayed in the film were co-workers Jim Chamberlin, Chief of Technical Design for the Arrow, Fred Smye, Executive Vice-president President of A.V. Roe (Canada), Flight-Lieutenant Jack Woodman, an RCAF test pilot assigned to the Arrow program, and Crawford Gordon, President of A.V. Roe (Canada), all now deceased.

Floyd adds that his friend, Jim Chamberlin, was a quiet fellow who did not have the temper that was displayed at times in the film.

Regarding Smye and Gordon, Floyd speaks very highly of both of them.  He describes Smye as a good businessman and a real friend.  Gordon was the kind of man who, if you did a good job, would stand behind your decisions.  “He died way too young,” reflects Floyd, speaking of Gordon’s death in 1967 at the age of 52.

Many people believe that one Arrow escaped the cutters torches in 1959 and is currently hidden away at a secret location, a theory that the TV movie “The Arrow” promotes.  Floyd states that he doesn’t believe the conspiracy theorists and has no idea where one would be hidden if it did exist, nor did he keep any souvenirs of the Arrow.

“People ask me that question all the time,” chuckles Floyd.  “If there is one out there, I have no idea where it is, so friends should stop asking me.”

Another commonly held Arrow myth promoted by the movie “The Arrow”, is that Flight-Lieutenant Woodman wanted to take one of the Arrows out and ditch it in Lake Ontario so that it wouldn’t be destroyed like the other copies.

“Woodman denied that he suggested ditching an Arrow into Lake Ontario,” says Floyd.  “There would have been no sense or reason for that nonsense.  He did request that he be allowed to fly the Arrow once more, but it was to try out a test that he had suggested previously, without having the opportunity to test.”

In his book on the Avro Jetliner, Floyd includes a section on the Arrow, and quotes Woodman as saying that, “The decision to cancel the Arrow program I think denied Canada and the RCAF from being world leaders in high performance airplanes.  In my opinion it was that good.”

A further myth involves the nosecone section of Avro Arrow RL-206, currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Ottawa.  The popular belief was that Arrow 206 was smuggled out of the Avro facilities to keep it from being destroyed along the others.   In reality, the nosecone section was saved under orders from the Department of Defence Production, with approval of then-Minister of National Defence George R. Pearkes and given to the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine on Avenue Road in Toronto, for their use in flight pressurization testing.

Among his many aviation awards from the United States, Canada, England and Australia, Jim Floyd was awarded the Wright Brothers Gold Medal in 1950; inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993; named a Companion of the Order of Flight by the City of Edmonton in 1993 and received the J.A. McCurdy Trophy for his work on the Avro Arrow in 1958.

In 1984, the Space Shuttle Challenger carried with it a plaque with a citation dedicated to James Floyd as a tribute to his influence on aerospace travel.

In May 2000, he was awarded an Honourary Doctor of Engineering degree by the Royal Military College of Canada.

Most recently, Floyd was awarded the first Canadian Air and Space Pioneer Award by the Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto in July 2009.

It’s been over 100 years since the first powered flight in Canada, and for Jim Floyd, it has been one very, very exciting ride.

Thanks to Hugh Black and the staff at the Canadian Air & Space Museum in Toronto, Ontario, for their assistance with getting this article off the ground.  A very special thanks to Jim Floyd for his participation and assistance with this article.


An interesting post-script to the Avro Arrow story:

As mentioned above, various parts of the of the Arrow survived Black Friday and the subsequent destruction orders.  Below is an interesting story sent to me at this web site from Colin Campbell:

“A little Avro Arrow story for Jim.  When I was in the Air Force, I was part of the team closing (Canadian Forces Base) Downsview.  One day we pulled the lockers out of the men’s change room, and we found a little access door.  When we opened it, we found what I think was a time capsule for the Arrow.  There was a nose gear, some wheels, an Orenda engine on a stand, ejection seat, canopy and a blue print.  We shared the spoils with various museums.”


Sources:  “There never was an arrow: by the National Film Board, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawford_Gordon_Jr., “Arrow through the heart:  The life and times of Crawford Gordon and the Avro Arrow” by Greig Stewart, information provided by James Floyd, Chief Design Engineer, CF-105 Avro Arrow.

On 9 September 2017, author Graham MacLachlan published a book on a family relative, J.P. Bickell, who personally financially founded A..V. Roe Canada and was the Chairman from inception until his death on 22 August 1951. The book includes information on his involvement with Sir Roy Dobson, etc. Published by Dundurn Press.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-legend-in-aviation-still-hard-at-work/

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