Memories of an Argus Patrol
By Kenneth C. H. Wright
Our briefing was at three dark early for a five a.m. takeoff. An early briefing permitted daylight on task and nightfall off task. Operations, meteorology and intelligence had passed their words of wisdom. The Lead Navigator, Lead Radio Officer and the Captain briefed the crew between sips of black liquid called “Operations Coffee”. It was guaranteed to wake any of us that were still drowsy. The assigned radio operator picked up the classified publications and codes. The F17 (manifest) was checked to ensure all our names were down as part of the crew and the L14 (serviceability record) was checked for our assigned aircraft, #720. Aircraft doors closed at 3:45 AM. Each engine was started with a shake and a belch of oily smoke. The electronic equipment was checked serviceable. Each engine was run up and checked serviceable. Non-cockpit seats were turned to face aft, lowered and the restraint cables connected. We were ready.
The crew consisted of three pilots, two flight engineers, three navigators and seven radio officers (other ranks in later years). The aircraft layout included: an observer position underneath the cockpit with a plexiglass nose, two pilot positions, the engineer’s position on the right side behind the pilot, the next section housed the routine navigator, responsible for the geographic location of the aircraft, on the left side and the radio operator position on the right side. This was followed by the crew rest area, which included a galley on the left and an eating booth on the right, then four bunks, two to a side and several reclining chairs from the retired sister aircraft, the Canadair Yukon. One bomb bay, forward of the wing spar, was under the navigator and radio operator positions and the second bomb bay was under the tactical compartment. Arguably the most important area in the aircraft was the tactical compartment. This consisted of the tactical navigator (TACNAV), the Jezebel operator as well as the Julie and the magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) stations on the left side. On the right were the Radar operator and the electronic counter measures (ECM) position. The rear of the aircraft had two lookout positions, one on each side. This area also held the tactical stores: sonobuoys, retro smokes used to mark a sonobuoy location in the water and small explosive charges. Under this area was a small compartment for miscellaneous equipment and a hatch to the outside that could be used for entering and exiting the aircraft, if steps were not available at the main up swinging door.
When sitting on the ground, with the control gust locks on, the tail surfaces appeared normal but the ailerons were in an up position. When the gust locks were released, the elevator and both ailerons slowly drooped together. Anyone not familiar with the Argus thought that our controls were miss-rigged and were fearful of our chances of flying. As explained in a Canadair publication, ‘Argus Mark 2 Maritime Patrol Aircraft’ of February 1961, and in Larry Milberry`s book, “Canada’s Air Force at War and Peace, Volume 3”, the Argus control system was truly unique.
“The aileron, rudder and elevator primary surfaces are free-floating and there is no direct linkage between the cockpit controls and the control surfaces. Movement of the conventional inter-connected dual cockpit controls is transmitted by mechanical linkage to servo tabs at the trailing edge of each control surface. The aerodynamic reaction to the movement of the servo tabs operates the primary surfaces. Due to this design, feedback of air loads is small and, in consequence, artificial feel systems are employed. Ailerons and rudder feel load is supplied by spring pots mounted on the respective control runs. Elevator artificial feel is supplied by a self-contained hydraulic system, which feeds pressure to a jack connected to the elevator control run, the pressure to the jack being governed by control column displacement and airspeed.
Aileron and rudder trim is provided by electrical actuators attached to the feel spring pots which impart bias directly to the primary control systems. The actuators are energized through toggle switches on the control pedestal. The elevator trim system is a convenient tab type which can operate either electrically through a switch on the pilot’s control column, or manually by control wheels on the cockpit pedestal. Hydraulically operated control surface locks are used when the aircraft is on the ground to prevent damage by wind buffeting.
Double-slotted Fowler-type tabs are housed in the wings and are operated by twin reversible electrical motors driving span wise torque tubes attached to actuating screw jacks. Asymmetric flap protection devices are incorporated within the system.
To increase the manoeuvrability of the aircraft at low speeds and low altitudes, a spoiler is fitted on the upper surface of each wing inboard of the ailerons. The spoilers are powered by electrically-powered irreversible actuators and are independent of each other. Downward movement of a set of aileron servo tabs energizes the associated actuator to operate the spoiler proportionately to servo tab displacement. The spoiler system is automatically rendered inoperative at speeds above 200 knots…”
The controls were checked for freedom of movement.
Pilot: “Vital actions completed.”
Pilot: “Engineer, Standard Wet Power take off, your throttles all the way, follow my instructions.”
Engineer: “Standard wet, my throttles, your instructions.”
Pilot: “Engineer, Wet Power.”
Canadair CL-28, Royal Canadian Air Force CP-107, skin number 720, was ready. She was straining against her brakes. The sound of her engines at full “wet power” rose to a crescendo. Her big three bladed props were cavitating in anticipation. Her airframe vibrated and shook.
Engineer: “Pilot. Wet power is good.”
Pilot: “Roger. Brakes off. Rolling.”
Argus 720 bobbed her nose up for a quick look down the runway, and then hunkered down for the task at hand. Slowly at first, then quicker, as her big Curtis, three blade electrically controlled propellers became effective. The pilot kept 720 on the centerline with nose wheel steering and brakes. At 40 knots the rudder became effective. The directional control of the aircraft was now aerodynamic. As groundspeed increased, the ailerons rose and the elevator stopped banging. 720 was charging down the runway centerline fasted and faster. The propellers were grabbing bigger bites of air, as they became more efficient with speed.
The take-off run at gross weight is 3025 feet; over a 50-foot object it is 4500 feet. The Argus crosswind limited at 17 knots and a stall speed of 96 mph.
720 had reached her calculated take-off speed.
720 lifts clear of the runway, and the oleos clunk down to their full extension.
Pilot: “Flaps up.”
Co-Pilot: “Flaps selected up-moving.”
Pilot: “Gear up.”
The co-pilot reaches to the rear of the center pedestal and grabs the gear lever and selects gear up. The gear indicator lights blink and the gear is verified up visually by the rear observer.
Co-Pilot: “Gear is up.”
Although 720 has sufficient speed to fly, at initial take-off weight she doesn’t have enough speed to maintain flight in the event of an engine loss. The pilot is carefully selecting suitable real estate in the event of an engine loss and waiting expectantly for the speed to increase.
Co-Pilot: “Three engine speed.”
Pilot: “Engineer, METO power.”
Engineer: “METO power set.”
The Argus was equipped with four Wright Turbo Compound R3350-TC981 EA-1 radials of 3700 horsepower (BHP) each on take-off using ‘wet’ power (water/methanol) Anti-Detonation Injection (ADI). Its 18 cylinders exhausted through 3 power recovery turbines (PRT) adding up to 150hp each. Dry Power, without water/methanol (ADI), was 3400 hp. Maximum Except Take-Off (METO) power was 2600 rpm, 153 torque and was used as climb power, high speed dash, etc., and was time limited to 30 minutes.
Being unpressurized and non-air conditioned, 720 spent most of her life below 10,000 feet. Her maximum ceiling was 24,000 feet. When we had to cross the Canadian Rockies at 16,000 feet, the crew was on supplemental oxygen and the engines were on “High Blower” supercharged setting.
As we climb to our assigned airways altitude, the members of the crew not on duty moved forward to stow the wet rations in the fridge and the dry goods in the galley drawers. Orders were taken for breakfast and soon the two-burner stove, coffee maker, electric frying pan, and toaster were sending their smells throughout the aircraft.
Experts from Headquarters in Ottawa had come to examine our working conditions and had found that the Argus working conditions were inhumane – too noisy. The minimum sound level recorded at 85 db was conducive to hearing loss. “Experts” be damned! We could have told them THAT! This was where we chose to work. A breakfast of bacon, eggs done to your order, toast and coffee, with our fellows on the Argus was a culinary delight, only surpassed by supper.
Although a standard patrol was 18 hours, 24 hour patrols were not uncommon. We didn’t consider it worth our while to even start engines unless we were going out for at least 10 hours.
Pilot: “Coast Crossing-outbound”.
The aircraft was armed.
Soon we had passed the Canadian Defence Identification Zone (CADIZ) at a `fish-point’ reporting point and preceded to the ‘On Task’ position. By now, the aircraft had been cleaned up and positions manned and set up for the patrol. The radio operator had passed the ‘On Task’ report on one of two HF radios. He had a choice of either a long wire antenna at the top of the fuselage or the ‘fin cap’ antenna. The rudder was divided by a wide dielectric section causing the top of the rudder to be separated electronically from the rest of the fuselage and this was used as a radio antenna. The aircraft was delivered with a Morse Code key but soon changed to the Upper Side Band voice communication, which was subsequently changed to ‘Covered RTT’ (coded teletype) in later years.
The morning was spent doing a surveillance of surface vessels in the assigned area. Ship tracks, positions, speeds, names and type of vessel were recorded in the Routine Navigator’s log and photos taken. The Argus was equipped with a Doppler navigation system (ANTAC-Air Navigation and Tactical System) that the Routine Navigator updated regularly with Loran fixes. The navigator could use his Hollsman Bubble Sexton to take a sun position line or, at night, a series of star shots for a plotted ‘cocked hat’ fix to exercise his basic navigation skills. He checked his drift with his B-6 drift meter. The Radar Operator practiced radar homing and timed runs. The Argus could search an area of 50,000 miles at her patrol speed of 170 knots.
Any Soviet vessels, especially electronic intelligence gathering trawlers (ELINTS), were photographed, both with the large hand held cameras and with the down facing camera in the belly of the fuselage. For a really good clear photograph, the rear side windows were opened in flight. This was our only means of air conditioning the aircraft in hot climates.
The Argus was built in two versions. The 13 Mark 1’s, 20710 to 20722, had an American radar, APS-20, requiring a large radome under the nose. The 20 Mark 2’s, 20723 to 20742, had an English radar, ASV-21, with a smaller radome. The Mark 2 aircraft were later changed to a 1; i.e. 20720 became 10720. There were other minor internal differences.
The ground crews for an aircraft of this size and complexity were the unsung heroes; their efforts kept the Argus in the air. As a result, the serviceability rate was high. The aircrew considered the ground crew as part of the team and the pride in working together created a spirit of co-operation and a sense of getting the job done, and done well.
Lunch was up to the individual. Usually a can of stew or soup was selected and with the label removed and two holes punched in the top, it was placed on top of the electric burner until it was hot. Once opened, the contents were placed on a plate and eaten at the booth type eating area opposite the galley. It was best to sit on the rear side of the booth as food tended to vibrate to the low rear side if you did not hang on to it. The table had a convenient lip to prevent plated crashing on to the floor. The Argus had stiff wings and could bounce hard in moderate chop. Once on a turbulent flight, one crewmember dumped his stew into a convenient ‘barf’ bag and proceeded to walk back through the aircraft eating as he went, past fellow crewmembers that were fighting the urge to succumb to nausea, now had to put their ‘barf’ bags to their intended use! His action was not appreciated.
In the afternoon, we had a treat – a submarine exercise (SUBEX). We had an RCN ‘Oberon’ class conventional (diesel powered) submarine to beat up on.
We commenced an area search using ‘Jezebel’, a system using passive sonobuoys dropped in the water that sent under water sound back to the aircraft and displayed it on a printout. This was a thermal paper system and could get very smelly in the small tactical compartment. The sequence of lines showing the sound frequency displayed on the chart could be interpreted and identified as a particular type and class of vessel. The ‘O’ class boat was almost as quiet as an American nuke. It was hard to find; but we were good and found the rascal.
Pilot: “Engineer, maintain 165 knots.”
The flight engineer had his own airspeed gauge and using his own set of throttles, kept the aircraft at a steady 165 knots, allowing the pilot to yank and bank at 100 feet without the worry of maintaining speed.
We narrowed the sub’s location to a smaller area and transitioned to ‘Julie’, a system of using small explosive charges that were dropped on selected sonobuoys to make a passive buoy active. The sound travel time was converted to the range of the sub from the selected buoy(s) and passed to the TACNAV to plot and guide us to the next drop. Heading information determined by the TACNAV was passed to the pilot. The area of probability was being narrowed.
TACNAV: “Engineer, Pilot, converting to MAD.”
A large metal object, such as a submarine, altered the earth’s magnetic lines. The MAD boom sticking out of the rear of the fuselage sensed this variation.
Pilot: “Cowl flaps fixed.”
Changes in the engine cowl flap position on automatic setting caused a false MAD indication on the MAD printout. The TACNAV brought us around for each new pass. The pilot was able to raise this large aircraft on the turns to clear the wing tip off the surface of the water then he would settle it back down to 50 feet (officially 100 feet) above the water for the next MAD run. Soon, we had the sub’s position verified.
TACNAV: “Pilot, attacking on this run. Your drop on my command.”
Pilot: “Roger. Open bomb doors.”
The co-pilot reached to the rear of the center pedestal and moved both levers to the down position. The aircraft buffeted slightly. Because this was a training trip, the bomb bays were empty.
At the attack position, the TACNAV called for the weapons to be dropped. The pilot, seeing that no surface vessels were in the way, ordered the simulated attack of 5 small explosive charges to be dropped at 5 second intervals. If this were for real, we would be dropping torpedoes and/or depth charges. After the run, the bomb doors were closed and the engineer reset his cowl flaps to auto. The pilot climbed to a more comfortable height of 200 feet to await the results. Soon the sub was at periscope depth and raised his antenna to reluctantly confirm a kill. We were Good, there was No escape from a well-trained Argus crew!!
The Argus was also equipped with EMC, for monitoring electronic transmissions of targets, search and rescue and homing equipment (SARAH) and a high-intensity searchlight of 70 million candlepower. The searchlight was mounted on the starboard wing and was controlled by the co-pilot. The wing was designed to carry 3800 lbs on under-wing hard points outboard of the outer engines, such as air-to-air and air-to-surface rockets. This capability was never used in peacetime but was available if the Cold War became hot! Other equipment on board were UHF and VHF radios connected to the intercom, two radio compasses, a radar altimeter, marker buoy receivers and a tactical airborne navigation system (TACAN).
Each hour the flight engineer would announce the fuel remaining. We would take off with 10 hours of fuel for an 18 hour patrol. As fuel was burnt, the aircraft got lighter and power was reduced so that at 12 hours into the patrol, we still had 10 hours of fuel remaining. The Argus had set an endurance record of 31 hours airborne without refuelling, a record that lasted 20 years until Burt Rutan’s aircraft flew around the globe. The Argus had the longest range of any ASW aircraft in the world.
Due to the endurance of the Argus, we regularly could be found in Gibraltar, the Azores, England, Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Northern Ireland, The Netherlands, France, Iceland, Bermuda, Hawaii and Adak in the Alaska panhandle, American bases, Puerto Rico, Japan, New Zealand and even Australia. We spent part of each summer operating out of Keflavik, Iceland when the Russian fleet held their exercises off the Norwegian coast. In the winter, we went to Bermuda and Puerto Rico to train over the warmer water.
Other patrols included Northern Patrols (NORPAT) out of Yellowknife, Thule AFB Greenland and Frobisher Bay. Patrols were done for search and rescue, fisheries, pollution spotting and sea bed detection systems (SOSUS) verification missions. At the end of the Vietnam conflict, 407 Squadron had been detailed to fly the DMZ between North and South Vietnam. The crews even got their yellow fever shots but fortunately, it never came to pass.
The flight engineer was constantly monitoring his engines. The Wright Turbo Compound R3350’s had two common faults –manifold air pressure (MAP) spread and torque rolls. If the MAP for one engine was significantly different than the other three, it indicated a failing engine and was shut down and feathered. Likewise, if the power setting, in percent of torque, was varying significantly as the engines surged up and down trying to find the required setting, it was “caged”. A feathered engine required an immediate return to base (in peace time) and a three-engine approach and landing. In such cases we were always greeted by the station’s fire trucks. The Wright radials were sensitive to power changes and a wise flight engineer changed settings slowly and carefully. It was also extremely important for the flight engineer to keep the fuel balanced across the wing span. During the Argus acceptance trials this fact was proven when the test aircraft approached CFB Greenwood with the port wing excessively heavy due to a fuel transfer test that had not been normalized. The story along goes like this, ‘The wing dropped just at round out. The engines went from flight idle to full ‘wet power’ in less than 8 seconds, a feat that the flight engineer could not duplicate in the simulator. The pilot stopped the drop and kept the aircraft in the air in a left turn. Earlier in the morning, the Lockheed P2V7 Neptune maintenance techs at Greenwood had scheduled a repair on one Neptune but decided to pull another Neptune off the line of parked aircraft instead. It was through this fortuitous hole that the pilot steered the Argus. It flew across the tarmac, between two hangers, with the gear flaps coming up. The left wing was almost scraping the tarmac. The right wing was pointing skyward over the hanger on the right. Men were running out of harm’s way, or just flattening themselves on the ground and hoped that the approaching Argus would miss them. The aircraft still did not have sufficient speed for normal flight. The pilot lifted the Argus up and over the Accounts Building and the MAD boom just cleared the roof. The aircraft sank down the other side, skimming over the sports field. Finally, gaining enough speed, the aircraft began to climb. The station fire crew had been in hot pursuit, not knowing where to go next. Once it reached a safe altitude, the fuel was normalized and a successful landing was made’.
The Off-Task point was reached and the off-task message was sent. We received our airways clearance and the home-base weather report and forecast. Heading home, we soon passed the CADIZ at a designated ‘fish-point’ and established ourselves on airways.
Pilot: “Coast crossing in-bound.”
The aircraft was de-armed.
As we cruised homeward, supper, like breakfast, was prepared by the off duty ‘chefs’. Supper consisted of steak, done to order, potatoes, veggies, coffee and a dessert. At times, enterprising ‘chefs’ had even baked bread or biscuits in the oven. We had the comforts of home including 4 bunk beds for crew rest. A fatigued crew could not perform if hungry or tired. Each discipline had its own work rotation schedule. Besides their two hours in each seat and two hours off, the pilots rotated the take offs and landings equally amongst themselves. If the captain was not in the left seat for his turn, he was in the right seat for all the take-offs and landings.
Soon we were approaching home base.
Pilot: “Gear down.”
The co-pilot reached over and selected the gear down at the rear of the pedestal. Once the indicator lights had gone out, and the rear observer had reported the main gear down visually, the co-pilot grabbed the lever and shook it.
Co-Pilot: “Shake test, no light, no horn, gear down and locked.”
The shake test verified that the lever was in the proper detent and would not come loose during a hard landing, causing a gear up belly side.
Pilot: “Engineer, weight and balance?”
The flight engineer would report on the landing weight of the aircraft and the co-pilot would determine the appropriate approach and landing speed. The balance of the aircraft was given in percent of Mean Aerodynamic Cord (MAC). The pilot could determine the probable aircraft handling characteristics at low speed from the location of the center of gravity.
Engineer: “Fuel even across.”
There would be no repeat of the trial aircraft’s problem.
Pilot: “Hot mike.”
The intercom was adjusted so that the pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer could communicate amongst themselves without using the ‘press-to-talk’ button and they could still communicate normally with the rest of the crew. The aircraft was cleaned up, approach power was set, the electronic equipment was shut down, and the gear had been dropped and confirmed down, the flaps set, the Plexiglas nose position abandoned and the watertight door closed.
Minimum approach speed was 131 knots and 116 knots touchdown. Argus 720 assumed a nose down attitude for descent to the runway. Landing over a 50 foot object, at half fuel load, required 4500 feet of runway.
Co-pilot: “Tower, 720 on short final, gear down and locked.”
Tower: “720 cleared to land.”
720 came over the ‘fence’, above the end of the runway.
Pilot: “Engineer, power off slowly.”
Engineer: “Power off slowly.”
The aircraft settled and touched the runway with a cloud of blue-grey smoke.
Pilot: “Co-pilot, flaps up.”
Co-pilot: “Flaps selected, up-moving.”
Pilot: “Co-pilot, your yoke.”
Co-pilot: “My yoke.”
Aerodynamic control of 720 had passed to the co-pilot.
Pilot: “Engineer, my throttles.”
Engineer: “Your throttles.”
For the first time in the entire patrol, the pilot touched the throttles. The pilot now had control of the braking of 720. He lifted his set of throttles in the center pedestal and pulled them back, causing the engines to go into reverse pitch.
Engineer: “Reverse power good.”
The speed of the aircraft reduced until engine braking became less effective. The ailerons started to droop and the elevator banged against its stop.
Pilot: “Engineer, your throttles.”
Engineer: “My throttles.”
The pilot applied wheel braking and the maxaret anti-wheel locking worked to prevent the eight main wheels from locking up under wet and icy runway conditions. From somewhere in the rear came a voice over the intercom, ``we down yet?” a compliment to the pilot for his 'greaser' of a landing.
Pilot: “Engineer, 1000 rpm.”
Engineer: “1000 set.”
Pilot: “Gust lock on.”
Both ailerons slowly rose to their up positions and the elevator and rudder assumed a normal appearance. We taxied to our allocated spot. As soon as we stopped, the ground man plugged into the intercom and talked to the flight engineer concerning the engines. The flight engineers checked the Bendix Ignition Analyzer one last time. The health of each spark plug, all 144 of them, were checked and verified.
Engineer: “Pilot, engine check completed.”
Pilot: “Engineer, oil dilute and scavenge.”
Engineer: “Carried out.”
Pilot: “Engineer, ICO (Ignition cut off).”
The engines cease their rumbling, to be replaced with the 'tinkling' sound of the exhaust system cooling. 720 was home.
We were home. Our ears began to re-adjust to normal sounds and our voices began to return to normal speaking levels. 720 was emptied and left cleaner than before. We still had to go to the Operations de-briefing and then to an informal de-briefing over a pitcher of beer in the 'Snake Pit', an informal area of the Officer’s Mess. Eighteen hours airborne called for twenty-four hours crew rest before reporting for duty. It took a while to unwind. We had tracked and 'killed' a submarine. We were indeed 'GOOD' and we were 'READY'.
This story was written by Ken Wright more than 30 years since his last flight on the Argus. He used the following references to help jog his memory:
“Swordfish. The Story of 415 Squadron”
“407 Squadron History”, edited by Capt. (R) Tom Procter
“Canada`s Air Force at Peace and War” Vol. 3, by Larry Milberry, CANAV Books
Numerous internet sites
National Film Board of Canada (videos): “Birth of a Giant” and “Ghost Hunters”
415 Squadron, Crew 3, Bermuda, September 1966
Andy Lussier, Dave Lynch, Bill Taylor, Sandy Duff, Bill Short, Jerry Regnier, Harold Guenther, Barry Hall, Nes Shewchuck, Pete Rowlands and Bill Campbell
Bill Fowler, Pat Murphy, Brian MacGregor, Les Shumka, Ken Wright and Barry Copeland
Reg Turk (RAAF)
NOTE: PHOTOS TO BE INSERTED
415 Squadron Association