Article: Only Floats or Skis For This Unique Canadian-built Aircraft

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    The Fairchild Super 71 (CF-AUJ) is an important aircraft because it was the first aircraft designed in Canada for bush operations and the first to be built by a Canadian company. The Super 71 also incorporated new and leading-edge concepts in its design. During its six-year flying history, CF-AUJ was equipped with either floats or skis; there is no record of it ever being outfitted with wheels.

    CF-AUJ was built in 1934 at the Longueuil, Quebec plant of Fairchild Aircraft Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Fairchild Aviation Corp. CF-AUJ was purchased by Canadian Airways Ltd., which first assigned the plane to Oskelaneo, Quebec before re-assigning it to Sioux Lookout, Ontario in 1939. CF-AUJ provided service there until October 3, 1940.

    The Super 71 lifted off the water at Longueuil for the first time on October 31, 1934, with Fairchild P8 floats installed. The evaluation of this and other test flights showed that the aircraft generally exceeded predicted performance parameters. Fairchild was also required to submit the Super 71 design to the National Research Council (NRC) for evaluation. NRC’s report provided a ringing endorsement. A letter from NRC director, J.H. Parkin, was unusually effusive for a government review agency. He wrote: “All aspects of the design were tested in a wind tunnel and the aerodynamic characteristics are very good and leave little room for improvement.”

    The commercial certificate of airworthiness was awarded to the Super 71 in May 1935, and the registration letters CF-AUJ were applied. This was the only Super 71 ever built, although there is some evidence that Fairchild started, but did not complete, a second aircraft.

    With its eight-passenger or one-ton cargo capacity, it was a large plane by pre-WWII standards and so was very useful to customers in the remote mining areas of Quebec and Ontario.

    CF-AUJ crashed on takeoff on October 3, 1940, near the Uchi gold mine at Lost Bay on Confederation Lake, about 50 miles east of Red lake. It was reported that CF-AUJ hit a submerged object that ripped both floats from the fuselage. The aircraft sank and the pilot, Donald S. MacLaren, and two passengers clung to the loose pontoons until they were rescued. Shaken and slightly injured, they were airlifted to Sioux Lookout, 75 miles distant. The condition of one of the floats, recovered decades later, supports the idea that CF-AUJ hit an object in the water because the leading three feet were bent upward to almost 90 degrees.

    Canadian Airways let a salvage contractor recover the valuable items. The leased engine, which was valued at just over $31,000 at the time, and the 75 pounds of gold from the nearby mine were recovered. The gold would be worth approximately $1.2 million today.

    Divers found the wreck 80 feet underwater and raised it for removal to shore. The gold was recovered from the cargo cabin and the engine and cockpit instruments stripped from the aircraft. The airframe was declared to be beyond economical repair.

    At some point in this process, the wings were also removed from the fuselage. The wreckage was abandoned at the edge of the lake, where it stayed for the next 28 years. While the aluminum fuselage survived the elements quite well, the wings did not; the wooden spars and fabric succumbed to the action of 30 years of sun, rain, wind and snow.

    The museum acquired the wreckage in 1974 and final title to CF-AUJ in 1978. The remnants of CF-AUJ were moved first to Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba and then to St. Andrews Airport in 1974. In 1997, the restoration process began in earnest.

    The restoration of Fairchild Super 71, registration CF-AUJ, is a major achievement for the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada because it preserves for posterity a unique and important aircraft in Canadian aviation history. Visitors to the museum can view this unique Canadian-built aircraft fully restored and on display.

    Edited from Altitude, a quarterly publication of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, Winter 2009.

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