The Height of Luxury: The RCAF C-5
By Captain M. Joost, Office of Air Force Heritage and History, 1 Cdn Air Div
When the RCAF received the Canadair C-5 in June 1950, she was arguably the most luxurious of any Aircraft in Canada, if not the world. For 16 years, she ferried dignitaries to all continents except Antarctica, logging over 2,500,000 miles in 9,500 hours in the air. All who flew her or in her appreciated her, yet in her final moments, she suffered an indignity undeserved of such a fine Aircraft.
When the RCAF needed another North Star for VIP transport in 1950, Canadair produced a slightly larger version with a DC-6 undercarriage and Pratt and Whitney radial engines. The cabin was pressurized to 8,500 feet and divided into two compartments. The main portion had room for 24 passengers with seating that could be converted into double beds. Thick carpets and insulation reduced outside noise. Behind this section was the galley, with washroom and cloakroom for these passengers.
It is in the rear compartment that luxury was the byword. Here there was seating for 13. It had its own private washroom with hot and cold water. The furniture consisted of two divans, a semi-circular lounge, an executive desk with swivel chair, a filing cabinet and a telephone to talk to the captain. The divans could be converted to 3/4 size beds.
The C-5 was pressed into service even before the RCAF took her on strength. On 7 July 1950 she carried Prime Minister St. Laurent to Calgary to open the Calgary Stampede. Only on 29 July was she accepted by the RCAF. Over the years, she carried Princess, now Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Prince, now Emperor Akihito of Japan. Then there were Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, foreign dignitaries and senior military officers.
The C-5 had no regular flight commitments. Each flight was a special case, although some runs, such as Ottawa to London and Ottawa to Paris were more frequent. Then there were trips of longer duration, such as Prime Minister St. Laurent's 11 country trip around the world in 1954, and the repeat for Prime Minister Diefenbaker in 1958. For many of its flights, the C-5 had to arrive at a specified ramp time as there were often guards of honour or dignitaries at the ramp. It is a testament to the crew and Aircraft, and with some help from air traffic controllers, that they invariably arrived on time.
There was a fair degree of competition within 412 Squadron to be a member of her crew. There was no crew exclusively assigned to the C-5 - all "VIP personnel" were eligible - but the standards required to be a member of the VIP personnel were high. Just to qualify as a First Officer, a pilot had to have two years experience in a transport squadron with experience on trans-Atlantic and trans-continental flights, plus a minimum of 3000 hours, of which 1000 had to be on four-engined Aircraft.
All this travelling was not without its lighter moments. While carrying Defence Minister Brooke Claxton to Japan to visit Canadian troops, the No. 1 engine sprung a bad oil leak approaching Tokyo. With a very large reception committee awaiting his arrival, including General Matthew Ridgeway, oil was sprayed over the assorted dignitaries. The RCAF footed the bill for new uniforms.
The C-5 was retired on 28 August 1966. The one blot on her record occurred at that time - with no fault on the part of the Aircraft! In typical Canadian fashion, the C-5 had been refurbished that year at a cost of over $383,000, including $40,000 to overhaul three spare engines. Yet, the C-5 was sold for $49,000. Needless to say, the Globe and Mail had a field day and the Auditor-General was not amused. The new American owner failed to get US certification for the C-5, and she was stripped of useful parts and scrapped.
The last word on the C-5 should go to His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. His comments are illustrative of the Aircraft's and crews' efforts. While approaching Vancouver during the Prince's tour of Canada in 1955, the hydraulic system failed. The co-pilot and flight engineer took turns hand-pumping the landing gear and flaps all the way to the ramp. Exhausted after an otherwise ordinary landing, they breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the Prince had not noticed anything. To their chagrin, he was standing in the doorway and quipped "Nicely rowed, chaps!"