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Classic Wings Magazine WWII Naval Aviation Research Pacific Luftwaffe Resource Center
When Hollywood Ruled The Skies - Volumes 1 through 4 by Bruce Oriss


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:00 pm 
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Curtiss SB2C Helldivers production at Canadian Car and Foundry in Fort William, Ontario (Now Thunder Bay).

"Prior to the American entry into the Second World War, the Curtiss Aircraft Co. increased production of SB2C Helldiver naval aircraft by licensing construction to two Canadian companies - Fairchild Aircraft and Canadian Car and Foundry. Though the first flight of the prototype did not happen until December of 1940, large-scale production had already been ordered on 29 November 1940. A large number of modifications were specified for the production model and the program suffered so many delays that the Grumman TBF Avenger entered service before the Helldiver, even though the Avenger had begun its development two years later. Nevertheless, production tempo accelerated with production at Columbus, Ohio and two Canadian factories: Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) which produced a total of 300 (under the designations XSBF-l, SBF-l, SBF-3 and SBF-4E) and Canadian Car and Foundry which built 894 (designated SBW-l, SBW-3, SBW-4, SBW-4E and SBW-5), these models being respectively equivalent to their Curtiss-built counterparts. A total of 7,140 SB2Cs were produced in World War II.

Photos originally from: Archives of Ontario
The link below gives a great deal of information to each photo in the set. Open the link and scroll down.
Also interesting the bit of information as to where the photos came from. Glad they were saved.
https://canavbooks.wordpress.com/2019/1 ... helldiver/

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The impressive Curtiss SB2C/SBW Helldiver final line at Fort William in 1944. Such glorious factory scenes give the impression of stretching to the horizon. The official CCF caption for this photo reads, “Every day three planes come off the line. Those in foreground are checked and inspected. In centre of group at left: W.C. Will, Works Manager, with G.H. Kells, Shop Superintendent, on his right.” Then, a closer view of one of the planes. If there were any identifying serial numbers showing on a Helldiver at this stage, as a rule the dark room gurus in CCF’s photography department would dodge them out for security reasons. Notice the plane’s massive Wright R-2600 engine. More than 800 Helldivers would roll off this line in 1943-45. Other Helldivers were built by Fairchild of Canada at Longueuil, near Montreal.

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A CCF SBW fuselage is about to be mated with its wing centre section. The adjustable and movable stand on which such work was done was known at CCF as a “corvette”. The CCF caption for this photo reads, “Precision tooling and accurate checking gauges assure a perfect fit when the two main components are spliced.” While CCF’s earlier G-23 production run was little more than an assembly job using parts brought in from such US manufacturers as Grumman and Brewster, the SBW airframe was manufactured at Fort William. By that time (1943-45) CCF had become qualified to do such advanced work, having already produced more than 1400 Hurricanes.

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Further down the line, the airframe has been fully assembled, Wright R-2600 engine included. The plane has been lifted off its corvette and is ready for the final touches before rolling off the line. This SBW-3 still has to be painted. Its number (390) could represent US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics number 21390 (a CCF Helldiver that finally was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Hancock, but was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Kyushu, Japan on March 18, 1945). “390” also might represent CCF’s 390th SBW. So … numbers can be mysterious.

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Workers doing Helldiver fine wiring tasks at CCF. This photo collection has many such scenes. Things may look a bit crazy, but there’s nothing chaotic here. The entire CCF Helldiver operation was progressing like a finely-tuned machine. However, just partly through the contract there was news that Canada’s war industries would be slowing. A “Globe and Mail” item of June 12, 1944 (“Cut Contract on Hell-Divers; May Trim Staff”) noted CCF employment at Fort William at 8000. By this time the Allies were succeeding in every theatre. They were so confident of final victory that in June 1944 the RCAF stopped recruiting for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This took place even though the Allies had only just landed in Normandy. It’s not surprising that the same paper was reporting about CCF on September 20, 1944: “There are some 5,500 workers. The Fort William plant has a contract which runs to the middle of next year and calls for more than 1,000 planes. Present output is in the neighbourhood of 56 a month.” In the end, Helldiver contracts at CCF and Fairchild of Canada were cut, CCF from 1000 to 835.

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Workers at these benches are mainly finishing wing ribs. At every work station the job at hand had to be co-ordinated with each stage of production. Management and labour had to co-operate and they did. In exchange for their reliable services, workers at CCF took home very good pay.

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Whether using small, hand-held tools or such massive ones as these drop hammers, workers had to be safety minded. On the whole, conditions were safe in the CCF plant for this stage of industrial development. Safety was pounded into everyone head day by day. Training was at a serious level (for the day), supervisors were forever watching for infractions, chemicals were handled as safely as possible, and doctors and nurses staffed clinics on site. Naïve people today may be horrified by such a photo and impose their 21st Century view of things upon it, but that is not history. Sad to say, but in today’s schools, much distorted history is taught by ill-educated, agenda-driven teachers. The CCF caption for this grand photo reads: “Drop Hammer Dept. has five hammers of various capacities and form sections up to 8 ft. long. The three in front are air-operated, the other two are electric revolving drum rope hammers. Air hammer at left is used for die-matching purposes only and was designed by our own staff and cast in Kirksite.”

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Welders working on small parts. Then, another typical shop floor scene. No doubt the place was noisy and smelly, but people were happy to have such high-paying jobs, to be learning new skills and to be doing something to help the war effort. Notice the “Buy Victory Bonds” poster at the back. Each time one of these grand photos was taken, the photo team would ask everyone to “freeze” for a second or two.

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Highly skilled staff work on Helldiver cockpit instrumentation.

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Those in stores and warehousing kept supplies and parts moving to the various production lines as much on a “just in time” basis as do today’s modern factories. That as many as three Helldivers were pushed ready-to-fly off the final line every day shows us that. Notice the sign “Smoking Strictly Prohibited in this Building”.

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Airframe structures and other components being manufactured. Every piece was being tracked, but by pencil and paper – on charts and graphs — vs today’s computerized everything. Final results? The same – beautiful airplanes – the most modern of the day rolling off the line. And we think we’re so smart. Surely, we must have invented everything, right.

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Another astounding factory scene as various parts are manufactured: “Fabricating exhaust manifold and tail wheel fairings, also carburetor air takes and ammunition boxes.”

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Other shop floor scenes from Helldiver days. The CCF caption for the first of these reads, “Sand Blast chamber and rotating Blast Mill are shown in centre and at rear respectively, also Electric Furnace for normalizing and annealing or ‘Heat Treatment’ purposes.” For the next photo the caption reads: “Plaster Pattern has been removed and Molten Kirksite is poured into sand moulds. Box at the right has plaster pattern still embedded.” Finally, a photo of the open air acid baths used to clean parts before welding. Notice the basket of parts about to be lowered: “Clean contact surfaces are necessary before spot-welding. Oxide film is removed by immersion in etching solution. Etching also removes heat variations in contact surfaces and produces a better weld nugget. Some parts are cleaned by buffing.”

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The CCF receiving department never rested. Trainloads of raw material (steel, lumber, fluids, etc.) and finished items from nails and screws to engines arrived around the clock from suppliers and subcontractors throughout North America. Naturally, the trains ran like clockwork, the transportation system was impeccable. Periodically pulling in at receiving were boxcars full of Wright R-2600 engines from Wright either from Paterson, NJ, or Cincinnatti, Ohio. The mighty R-2600 also powered the Douglas A-20, Grumman Avenger and North American B-25. Wright delivered more than 50,000 R- 2600s. Once unpacked at CCF, the R-2600s were inspected, run on test stands, then installed in the Helldivers. CCF techs such as the fellow here normally wore ID badges. His was 7051. Sometimes these ancient factory IDs turn up these days on ebay. Everything’s collectible, right!

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In dozens of other spaces around the plant all sorts of other tasks had to be done simultaneously. Here, for example, one of the busy office spaces where everything had to be done from ordering parts to expediting shipments, paying invoices, doing the payroll and keeping up with individual employee records. Notice the standard Underwood office typewriters – they did the same basic “data entry” work as any computer today – nothing mysterious about them. On the far wall are the typical calendars, notices and photos. Next, all the action underway in the ever-lively drafting room. The CCF caption notes: “Tool Design Dept, prepares drawings of all tools, jigs, assembly fixtures and special machinery used in the Plant. Also controls methods or procedures to be adopted in the fabrication of the plane.” The big poster in the distance includes a stark reminder to the staff: “Your Absence Makes the War Grow Longer … Work for Canada, Don’t Loaf for the Enemy”. Finally, fabric being cut and sewn for such essentials as engine and canopy covers.

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All the finely-honed processes and parts manufacturing going on throughout the cavernous CCF Helldiver plant gradually came together as an airplane production line. Shown are fuselages at an early stage. Then, a fuselage section getting its initial coat of preservative paint. Next, Helldivers near the end of the line – not much further to go. Finally, a finished Helldiver being towed from the factory the short distance to Fort William airport for test flying.

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At the airport, CCF pilots were swamped with work test flying Helldivers. Says the caption for this photos, “First flights of all planes are made by either of the Company’s three test pilots. Notes are kept on knee pad of each gauge and instrument reading taken during flight. Planes are not turned over for acceptance until performance is perfect.” Likely due to wartime restrictions, few people in such CCF photos are identified. However, I’ve found two names for this photo — Eddie Richards on the left, and chief pilot, Orville J. Wieben, centre.

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“OJ” Wieben in the cockpit of an SBW-1 at Fort William. Notice the leading edge slats that were so useful during low- speed flight, especially when landing on the deck of one of a small US Navy aircraft carrier. This is an especially grubby-looking, patched-up Helldiver, so likely was CCF’s “company hack” used for such jobs as testing mods, giving pilots familiarization flights, doing air-to-air photography, etc. It might be 21192, the first CCF SBW-1, which “OJ” Wieben first flew in July 1943.

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The US Navy stationed its own pilots at Fort William to monitor production and modifications, do test flights as needed, and manage all the complicated ferrying requirements. The RCAF also was involved, chiefly in aircraft acceptance and “paper pushing” roles. Here, S/L Frank Hems (1898-1985) is in his office with two of his staff. Hems previously had served in RCAF acceptance in Montreal for Stranraers, and Fort Erie for Fleet trainers. After the war, he was 12 years at Avro Canada until the company folded in 1959. He then worked in real estate. Check out the great calendar of the wall. Today, that would get a fellow thrown out on his RCAF head in 2 seconds. But these were more straight-forward times when people had actual lives, wars to win, etc. To balance things off and placate the killjoys there’s a picture on the other wall of a “manly” Helldiver, right.

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USN pilots ready to ferry some new Helldivers to Columbus, a distance “as the crow flies” of nearly 700 miles. These young fellows had flown in to Fort William aboard a US Navy ferry service Cessna JRC-1 (a.k.a. T-50). Then, a stirring sight as three Helldivers rumble over the flightline to salute CCF before turning south for Columbus. Here’s a case where we can deduce some USN bureau numbers – 21548, etc., but Joe Baugher to date has no info for these particular Helldivers.

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The flight test and acceptance/delivery hangars at Fort William. Then, a good overall view of the airport.

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Fort William’s Helldiver story is chiefly about the citizens of Fort William, Port Arthur and surrounding area who hired on at CCF. Some brought useful skills to the job, but most turned up “not having a clue” about all the highly-skilled jobs essential in time of war. However, they trained in class sessions and on the job, quickly learned their roles, and did their part to get 835 Helldivers delivered. Inevitably, victory came and all the excitement of wartime Canada subsided. A “Toronto Daily Star” item of August 18, 1945 painted this blunt picture: “Canadian Car and Foundry Co. management here Friday announced that 3,000 employees of their Fort William plant were being laid off this week owing to the termination of aircraft contracts. The plant has been making Curtiss Hell Diver aircraft for the U.S. navy. W.O. Will, plant works manager, stated that between 1,500 and 2,000 employees will be continued on the payroll until Christmas on bus construction and taking of inventories.” After the war, many returned to CCF to staff the place when large orders came in for urban busses. But there also were aviation projects, including manufacturing Harvard trainers for the RCAF, and subcontracting for the Grumman Tracker being built by De Havilland in Toronto. In modern times CCF was acquired by Bombardier and to this day produces rapid transit trains.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:50 pm 
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Some wonderful and very informative shots, thanks for sharing them. Amazing to think of the money and resources that went into Helldiver production, so much effort and relatively few saw combat. FDR certainly wasn't a happy man about the whole debacle.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:49 pm 
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I wonder if CCF built ships were any better than the Curtiss examples?
Certainly the USAAF had issues with Curtiss...with various P-40 issues and the P-47G and the Navy had issues with the Seamew and Seahawk.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 12, 2020 11:03 pm 
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It's too bad we hadn't built F6F's instead of that piece of junk.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 8:04 am 
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In 1999, the film board of Canada did a documentary on the reunion of folks who worked at CanCar building planes during WWII. I was touring the CAF Helldiver on the US east coast when we got an invitation to attend the reunion, being held in what is now Thunder Bay, Canada. It was called "Rosies of the North". One of the director's question on the phone was could we take one of the Rosies for a ride in the Helldiver. My answer was, let's see who you have in mind when we get there. In the opening of the film you see me helping a, I think, 77-year young lady into the gunner's seat. Towards the end of the film you see the results of the flight. Normally riding in the gunner seat was CAF member Ted Short, an old friend who was the aircraft coordinator and is now, sadly, gone. Below is a link to the about 46 minute video, if anyone is interested. Fly safe.

https://vimeo.com/85115265

By the way, since it was, and is, the only surviving Helldiver flying, it was a privilege to pilot it for several years. I am glad I didn't have to operate it off a carrier deck. It was called "The Beast" for some good reasons. Just FYI.

Randy


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