Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Junk Store Gyro, Tom Clancy And A Replica Avro Arrow

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Boomer Memories of the Cold War Aerospace Industry as it spins, flies and slips off the Mortal Coil

Litton gyro spins in junk store

I spent over 15-years working for a company that made very expensive, highly accurate navigation systems for military and commercial aircraft.  Towards the end of the Cold War, Litton Systems Canada modified an aircraft navigation system for the US cruise missile programme. Employment and profits soared - but as with most things Boomer, it all eventually leads to Bust.


The cruise missile was the first low cost missile to use a terrain mapping system (think of it as a precursor to Google Maps) that allowed it to fly close to the ground, past mountains and even tall buildings to blow up a target.  The Litton spinning wheel gyroscopes made sure that the missile knew where it was at all times.
It was a technology leap forward in modern warfare. Mindful of the "Red" menace, very little news of the Canadian made navigation equipment was made public.  We were under watch, even the PR department had to get NATO clearance to take product to classified military trade shows.
Weapons evolve. It wasn't long before ring laser and fiber optic gyros replaced the cruise missile’s Canadian spinning wheel gyros. Business slowed down, Litton was sold a number of times, and the workforce drifted away.  I kept track of the people but I have always wondered where did the used military gyros go?
Turns out my late company's biggest competitive edge is now a dusty curio! While in downtown Toronto last week I found inside a Queen Street junk store, a Litton Canada military inertial navigation system. The LN3 with its G2 gyros was on a store shelf, hooked up to a battery and spinning away. High performance Cold War military aircraft used the G2 to accurately fly.  This one was probably inside one of Canada's CF 104 Starfighter jets (a much later generation was used in cruise missiles).
It was a week for thinking about the past glories of Litton.  On Tuesday Tom Clancy, the best-selling author whose espionage thrillers set the bar for military spy novels died at the age of 66.
I worked with Tom Clancy once in the 80s at a hush hush military trade show in the US. Our company, along with many other sister divisions, had come up with an all-Litton military drone.  We all pooled our marketing monies to put on a BIG show for the Pentagon and Free World military attaches.
Marketing a drone is no different than selling pizza.  You promote the sizzle, with glitz, glam and pizzazz.  One of our competitors used Booth Babes - attractive models to lure the military buyers in to see their products. We went with a juggler, a drunken robot, the Lone Ranger and Tom Clancy.
 Mayor Hazel and the Avro Arrow replica
The juggler did a routine that had him keeping a buzzing chain saw, an apple and an egg in the air while he gave our sales pitch. He ate the apple while it was flight (it stood for Litton) and ended it all by smashing the egg onto his face (which is what happens if you were dumb enough to buy the competition's nav system).
We did have Robbie the Robot at some of our events. We dropped the talking, walking, colourful machine (voiced by a hidden operator) when a general's wife took offence at his tipsy comments about her figure.
I then did one trade show in California with  Clayton Moore and his dead horse. Moore was an American actor who played the Lone Ranger in movies and a long running TV show of the same name.  The show went off the air in 1959.  For the next 40 years Moore, despite trademark battles, made public appearances as the Lone Ranger.  
We had a paddock in our Litton booth for his fibreglass horse (supposedly Silver). Every so often Moore, complete with his Texas Rangers outfit and black mask, would come out and pose for pictures with the Military Brass. Clayton was very adept at getting 4-Star Generals to line up for pictures with him and the horse. The best Generals got a silver bullet bearing the Litton logo, from his gun belt.
While the Lone Ranger, the juggler and the robot helped push sales of Canadian made military technology, the best Booth Babe we had was Tom Clancy.
It was Washington, a military exhibition dubbed the Quad 4 because it catered to buyers from the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines.  The Litton divisions had teamed up again and wanted to go big and come home with a full order book.



Tom Clancy was riding high; he was a worldwide writing star. Ronald Reagan said he was his favourite author. Military officials found his novels - Hunt For Red October, A Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games - so accurate, they investigated to see if there was a mole in the US Forces, feeding Clancy classified information.
We set up a table, piled high with copies of Hunt for Red October in the middle of our space within the Washington Convention Centre. I gave Clancy a pack of Sharpie pens to autograph the books.  Within minutes of the doors opening, the line-up began to form.
Majors. Generals.  Rear Admirals. Captains. They all sent their batsmen to line-up for them. Colonels and Lieutenants suffered the embarrassment of having to stand in line themselves!
The Hunt for Red October sold 5-million copies before we hired him.  Clancy didn't need the money.  I asked him why he bothered. He said that he got a wealth of information talking to 4-Star Generals. "Top Secret?" I remember him saying, "These fellows don't need much prompting to sing!"
Tom Clancy never wrote about the Avro Arrow.  His beat was the toys of the big boys - somehow he missed our made-in-Canada CF-105.
The delta-winged interceptor jet was developed in the 50s. It was rumoured to be able to reach Mach 3 and could fly 60,000 feet above land.  It would have made our air force a contender, but was killed off in 1959 by the Conservative government in favour of American made defense missiles.
The preproduction Arrows were broken up for scrap. Thousands of men and women lost their jobs on Black Friday, 54 years ago. Other Canadian aerospace firms, including the company that would become Litton Systems Canada, picked up many of the engineers and designers.
Last week, while the dusty gyros spun away, and flowers were placed on Clancy's Maryland grave, a life-sized replica of the Avro Arrow rolled into the parking lot of the International Centre. The International Centre was at one time the Avro factory, now an airport strip convention centre; the building used the jet as a free display for this year's Mississauga Open Doors festival.
 
Unveiling the Avro Arrow Replica

" Unfortunately, somebody decided, we won’t say who (to kill the Avro project)," said Mayor Hazel McCallion (in a veiled reference to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker)  at last week’s event. 
"Welcome Home Arrow!" She told an applauding standing room only crowd of boomers.
Thousands of hours of volunteer work went into the building of the replica, some of the workers were former Avro employees and many were in the audience. I helped George Socka in a very minor way interview some of the men. Looking back at those Cold War times, there was a Boomer song that was quoted several times. Those were the days my friend,  we thought they would never end!
Avro Arrow video report by George Socka: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuHWiMQPNeA&feature=share&list=UUDzisKyJmzPIAV_bqLGZI8g 






2 comments:

Murray B said...

Tom Clancy would have done some research on the Arrow.

Avro Canada was always British-owned and most of the top people except for Smye and Gordon were from the U.K.

The aircraft's maximum continuous operating speed was Mach 1.9 but it could "dash" to around Mach 2 for a few minutes.

The range for a Mk. 2 was only 1254 nm. compared to 1930+ nm. for a Voodoo.

Now think about this. The Prime Minister of Canada cannot fire the employees of a British-owned company. Since the government gave $50 million to Avro Canada to keep staff on this begs the question. Why have Canadians been blaming the wrong guy for all these years.

Think about it. Which party benefitted from the aftermath of "Black Friday"?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a pretty far reach, and not quite sure I can see your reasoning. The government did not run the company, so therefore could not have closed Avro, so it must have been the opposition party that did it??????? You have an agenda methinks.

Perhaps the government did have some influence with the company when they cancelled all the contracts, quashed the side deals to sell engines, prevented foreign companies/governments from buying up the assets and having the working prototypes destroyed. That's just the bits I've heard about, and no doubt there must be more.