Aircraft fleet belonging to Environment Canada has interesting history

Adam Hunt


COPA Flight 8’s April meeting diverged from the usual “guest speaker presentation” format as the flight convened at Environment Canada’s hangars at the Ottawa International Airport for a tour of their fleet of aircraft.

The tour was conducted by Environment Canada’s (EC)’s two aircraft maintenance engineers, John Mintha and Iain Bogie. Bogie’s name should be familiar to COPA members as his father, John Bogie, was one of COPA’s founders and today remains an honourary COPA director.

EC’s fleet consists of two quite old aircraft, a Convair 580 and a DC-3. When we saw them they were both shoehorned into the two equally old Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) hangars located at the south-east end of the airport.

The QRA hangars were originally constructed in the 1950s to each house a single CF- 100 Canuck interceptor and later CF-101 Voodoos. Today, both the Convair and the Douglas require e x t r a o r d i n a r y measures to get them into the hangars.

The Convair has its fin and rudder removed and the torquelinks on the main gear disconnected before the aircraft is towed into the hangar on a 45 degree angle, while the DC-3 is rolled up ramps onto special dollies with castering wheels and then towed in sideways, wingtip first.

The Convair’s 400 pound rudder and 150 pound fin took three days to remove, to make the aircraft ready to be put in the hangar.

When the Flight saw both aircraft they were undergoing maintenance.

The Convair was in for repairs on its tail, along with landing gear inspections, while the DC-3 had its Hamilton Standard propellers off and was having a new instrument panel installed and tested.

Both aircraft have interesting histories. The Convair started off life in 1953 as a piston-powered Convair 340. It was later converted to a CV 540 (for “Consolidated Vultee”) by replacing its Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines with Allison T56 turboprops, the same engines used on the C-130 Hercules.

The aircraft’s first owner was American Airlines and it later became a corporate transport for Johnson & Johnson amongst other companies. With Consolidated Aircraft long gone the type certificate is held today by a Canadian company, Kelowna Flightcraft, who provides support for the type.

Aside from its Allison engines, the Convair also features a Garrett auxiliary power unit mounted in the tail cone. Essentially a small jet engine, the APU provides power for starting as well as heat and air conditioning.

The Convair is pressurized and its maximum ceiling of 25,000 feet is determined by its 4.2 psi pressurization system that gives a 10,000-foot cabin at that altitude.

Rather than turbine engine bleed air, which would be the norm on turbine aircraft, the pressurization system is driven by an engine-driven compressor pump on the right-hand engine, a vestige from its days as a piston airliner.

The Convair has a bare empty weight of about 35,000 pounds, a mission-equipped empty weight of 44,000 pounds and maximum gross weight of 58,156 pounds.

Because it spent much of its life as an executive transport it has extra long range tanks installed, giving a total of 20,000 pounds of fuel capacity, all stored in sealedbay wet wings. The regular tanks are outboard of the engines, with the long range tanks inboard.

The Convair’s propellers are fairly unique as they are steelbladed and hollow. The empty spaces in them are nitrogen-filled to inhibit corrosion.

Its airline and corporate flying days done, the Convair spends its time these days doing special projects, most recently for the Canadian Forces. For that customer it carried out trials on a new airborne radar system that will one day be fitted to the CP- 140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft fleet. It has also been used for some esoteric missions, such as calibrating Radarsat while it was in orbit.

The DC-3 was built in 1942 as a military C-47, was originally owned by the RCAF and saw action in WW II. It is still equipped with the original engine type, two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasps. Today the “Douglas Racer” is used by EC for environmental monitoring. One of its missions is tracing oceanic oil spills, for which it is equipped with a $10M laser system and an array of cameras. The DC-3 doesn’t fly a lot and only logged 60 hours in 2009.

Both aircraft are registered as “state aircraft,“ operate with standard certificates of airworthiness and are flown by EC pilots under a CAR 702 Aerial Work operating certificate. All modifications are under LSTAs, rather than have the aircraft on experimental flight permits.

Flight 8 would like to thank John Mintha and Iain Bogie for staying late on a Thursday evening to show us the great aircraft that they maintain.