International Aviation—An Empire Tie
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Apr 1949, p. 327-335

McGregor, Gordon, Speaker
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Item Type:
International aviation in Canada as a subdivision of the broader subject of civil aviation. Some general remarks first on the broader subject of the rapid development of aircraft and airflight. The Berlin Airlift and what it has taught us about civil aviation and air traffic control. Trans-Canada Air Lines as a good example of the speed of development. Some facts and figures. The various functions of civil aviation apart from the mundane business of moving people from place to place. The relationship between civil and military aviation; ways of strengthening both. A look at some predictions that were made about air travel, before taking a look into the future from this time. The problem of congestion around airports. The development of turbo-propeller-driven commercial aircraft, instrument landing systems, improved systems of air traffic control, turbo-jet or full jet transportation. What this all means for the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Date of Original:
21 Apr 1949
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, Mr. Thos. H. Howse
Thursday, April 21st, 1949


While developments in aviation have introduced a new menace to our security, they have also made it possible for the British Commonwealth to mobilize its defences in any threatened area at a speed which is almost fantastic. Oceans no longer represent weeks of travel, they are spanned in a matter of hours: Canada and the Mother Country are now only a few hours apart and the same applies throughout the whole British Commonwealth.

Our guest speaker today, Mr. Gordon R. McGregor, President of Trans-Canada Air Lines, has chosen as his subject "International Aviation, an Empire Tie."

I am sure no one is more qualified to speak on this subject.

Mr. McGregor's interest in aviation dates back to 1932 when he joined the Kingston Flying Club. Three years later he won the Webster Trophy, which is awarded to stimulate improvement in amateur flying. He won it again in 1936 and 1938.

A year before the Second World War broke out he joined an Auxiliary Squadron of the R.C.A.F. and in 1939 left his position as District Manager of the Bell Telephone Company at Montreal, to go on Active Service.

Flight-Lieutenant McGregor was one of the historic "few" who staved off defeat during the crucial Battle of Britain and ran up a score of five Nazi aircraft destroyed and shared credit for downing a sixth. His record also included seven probables and eight damaged.

Mr. McGregor won rapid promotion and after commanding the Second Canadian Fighter Squadron, became Wing Commander, taking part in sweeps over France and later becoming Director of Air Staff, R.C.A.F.

At the time of Dutch Harbor he was posted to Alaska as Commanding Officer of the Canadian Wing, serving for a year at Anchorage and in the Aleutians.

Mr. McGregor joined Trans-Canada Air Lines in 1913 and is the first combat flier of World War 2 to become President of an airline.

I now have very much pleasure in introducing Mr. Gordon R. McGregor, O.B.E., D.F.C.,--Mr. McGregor.


It is a frightening thing to see so many people in this audience who have had the doubtful pleasure of listening to me on this subject of aviation time and time again. I think that is particularly true of Mr. Jackman, who has asked me many embarrassing questions on T.C.A.--he is a member of the Parliamentary Committee which deals with our financial statements.

I am very grateful to your Committee and you for giving me this opportunity of talking to you on a subject which I think is of vital interest to nearly all of us here who are in the aviation business or its close brother, the Air Force, or even simply as Canadians interested in the affairs of our country.

International aviation in Canada, as in most other countries, is really a subdivision of the broader subject of civil aviation, and before getting down to international aviation as such, and the bonds of the Commonwealth Nations, I would like to generalize for a moment on the broader subject. Even those of us who spend most of our waking hours in direct contact with aviation matters find it exceedingly difficult to keep abreast of the rapidity and scope of the development that went on during the war, and even in a more pronounced manner since. The prophecy of today is the accomplished fact of tomorrow, and even at the moment one is making a prophecy one is apt to find that somewhere else in the world the prophecy was accomplished a day or so ago.

Two examples of this occurred to me within the last ten months. I heard one who might be regarded as an expert prophesy that "Some day aircraft would pass through the sonic barrier", and a few days later I heard the comment made that "Some day both coal and grain would be transported by air". The fact is that at least two nationalities have been through the sonic barrier, and some two million people are being fed, clothed and kept wane by means of aviation, though naturally not on an economic basis--in Berlin. There seems to be a great readiness on the part of the people responsible for that Berlin Airlift to have it go on indefinitely.

To digress for a moment, the Berlin Airlift is an excellent thing for civil aviation. Lessons are being learned not about civil aviation as such but about the very great problem of what we call "Air Traffic Control". We have all heard comments about the various problems of stacking up at fields like LaGuardia. The aircraft in Berlin are timed-in and arrive at something like 50 second intervals, and there is no stacking, an amazing record of reliability with that immense density of traffic, using an airport which was not built for that volume.

I would like to speak to you for a moment too about Trans-Canada Air Lines, not because I happen to have anything to do with it, but because I think it is a good example of the speed of development which I spoke about. I happen to have direct access to the figures involved in T.C.A., and I think that T.C.A. is unique in the rapidity of its growth.

As you all know, Canada at one time held the world record for air-freight moved. Those were the days when the North was being very rapidly developed by the bush pilot. But it was surprising that in spite of the fact that it is a natural ground for development of air transportation, with its centres of population broadly spread and without a widely developed highway system over its long distances, that Canada was a little bit slow in getting started in air passenger service. In 1937 T.C.A. started operating a passenger service over a very short run between Vancouver and Seattle, but it was not until 1939 that the Company really got in the business of carrying passengers. And, while in that year, 1939, it carried 21,569 passengers, in 1948-the year just completed-it carried 532,555. Now that type of growth is verging on the explosive, and it is not accomplished without a good deal of trial and tribulation.

Another figure that may be of interest, although I will not quote too many, is the revenue passenger mileage (that is simply one passenger being carried for a mile, multi plied by the number of passengers and the mileage). That increased in those nine years--1939 to 1948--from 12,068,661 to 249, 575,644.

The increase in frequency and size of aircraft again emphasizes that point. Three years ago T.C.A. was operating daily two 14-passenger Lockheed Aircraft between here and Vancouver, giving a total daily capacity of 28. Today we are flying two North Star aircraft of 40-passenger capacity, and at the end of this month those two will be joined by a third, In other words, the capacity has moved up from 28 three years ago, to 120 next month, and I am inclined to think that that third transcontinental will still be in service next winter.

Now I mentioned the North Star, and in view of various things that have happened, it may be well to give you a few figures about it.

As I mentioned, it is a 40-passenger plane.
The maximum speed 350 m.p.h.
Still air range 3,800 miles
Weight empty 48,000 lbs.
Gross weight 80,200 lbs.
Length 93 ft. 5 ins. long
Wing span 117 ft. 6 ins.
Fuel capacity 3,226 gals.
Maximum horse power per engine 1,725.
Fuel consumption 250 gals. per hr. at maximum cruise.

Now I don't propose to touch too strongly on a controversial subject, but I do want to say that it is an exceedingly good airplane, and we are entirely happy with it. If given the choice of direct trade today, I don't know of any one we would be inclined to make. An airplane is a most complex collection of gadgets, and it has never happened that a new airplane-and in spite of references to its antecedents the North Star is a new aircraft-has been assembled without going through a multiplication of what you would call "the bugs" in a new automobile, and I don't think a new automobile has ever been produced that it has not been necessary to iron out a few quirks. Exactly the same is true of the North Star except that there has never been the slightest indication or any need to ground the airplane as has been the case with its three post-war companions, the Constellation, DC-6 and the Tudor. Both the first two I mentioned have met that unhappy fate, and the worst happened to the Tudor.

So there need be no apologies for the North Star, and it will give many years of valuable service as it is doing today.

I think that at this point it would be well to talk about Civil Aviation from the standpoint of its various functions, apart from the very mundane business of moving people from place to place. It holds a very definite place in the military scheme of things and I like to think of civil aviation, and all that goes with it-by that the airports, what we call the airways, facilities for navigation, the electronic aids, fuel supplies, aircraft and engines, and all the ancillary equipment-and most necessary of all, the trained personnel-as something in the order of a Fire Department. I speak of that in the military application and in terms of transport aircraft as opposed to combat types. A Fire Department is necessary to maintain protection against the unhoped for event of the fire, but unless there are fires the trained crews just stand by. In the case of civil aviation you have the Fire Department, but you also have something that you keep usefully employed and which at least comes close to paying its way. During the last war, transport aviation was found to be an absolute necessity through almost every branch of military activity, and it is impossible to think of a nation at war without a strong transport group.

That can be accomplished by a combination of two ways: A fire department comprising a strong branch of military aviation for peacetime use, which would be very definitely limited. Or by building up a very strong civilian aviation strength which would be useful in peacetime and which could be quickly turned over to the military adaptation.

Now to branch a little further into the business of what I originally started to talk about-International Aviation. The figures I quoted to you earlier had largely to do with the domestic operation. The international aviation picture, of which I will give you again a few figures in a moment, has been expanding, if not at a greater at least at an equal rate to domestic transportation. This applies particularly to Canadian companies, and I think the part that international aviation plays in the life of a country can not be stressed too greatly.

I stressed a few minutes ago referring again to the Fire Department, the position of civil aviation in the natural defence of a country, but more than that aviation links have a tremendous effect on the development of trade and the cementing of relationships between countries, not only of the Commonwealth, but countries in general. Drawing from experience, I would like to tell you it is a most interesting thing to sit in at meetings of what is known as the International Air Transport Association and listen to the delegates, all of whom are members of airlines of various nationalities,-the countries represented have been as high as 52, and people speaking more than 10 different tongues, citing exactly the same problems, the same solutions to those problems, the same views of development, the same ideas of regulations which should apply, and hear agreement on so many subjects from so many peoples, whose governments are at odds with each other at the same time.

I think a very intriguing mental gymnastic these days, after looking back to those developments I spoke of, is to try and cast into the future. It is a thankless operation, and you are sure to be wrong, but some things can be said with a modicum of accuracy. It would be obviously wrong to try any mathematical projection, having in mind the last three years of development, only to arrive at astronomical figures as to the number of people who will be travelling around the world in the, next ten years. But we can try the trick such as played by Mr. Kipling in a story of his some 35 years ago called "The Night Mail", in which he described a flight which he had from the United Kingdom to Quebec. It was supposed to take place in the year 2,000, and while he was wrong in regard to the type of air vehicle, it being a lighter-than-air rigid dirigible both powered and kept aloft by an imaginary gas, and while he was also a little bit wrong in the time required to produce the miracle, it is nevertheless the case that the speed of that trip as forecast, all his description of air traffic controls, were almost identical as they are today-1950.

It is an amazing thing that long before the first transAtlantic flight, the man should be able to do that type of casting into the future.

While I am on the subject of casting into the future, and on the basis of more recent developments, I would like to say there are a few things that can fairly well be determined. The development of aviation today seems to be somewhat threatened by this question of congestion around airports that I referred to before. That congestion applies not only to each individual airport, but congestion around the cities as well. The approach patterns of an airport have to be much larger in diameter than the actual perimeter of the airport. It is obvious in cities like Toronto and New York, where as the communities grow encroachment on the approach patterns by high building; is inevitable.

For that reason I think it seems necessary to assume that the problem of getting fast aircraft on and off the ground will undergo tremendous changes probably within the next fifteen or twenty years. It seems not too imaginative to say that we will have an aircraft that will be able to attain very high speeds at very high altitudes, and to descend or ascend nearly vertically, or very nearly so, and not make violent contact with the ground in the process. That is, as I say, casting well into the future.

We do see such developments as TURBO-PROPELLER-DRIVEN COMMERCIAL A I R C R A F T, which represents the same relationship as the turbine liner does today.

We see INSTRUMENT LANDING systems in existence, and being developed to a point where we have completely blind landing systems just around the corner. And we see these IMPROVED SYSTEMS of AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL such as that which is in operation in the Berlin area. These are with us today. And it is certain that either TURBO-JET or FULL JET TRANSPORTATION will be in in a very short length of time.

Again I come back to this difficulty of crystal-gazing. I think it was about 1880, when Mr. Cunard waved goodbye to the first steamer across the Atlantic, which also had a mast and sails in case of eventualities, and I wonder if he had any conception of the Queen Elizabeth. Mr. Cunard had 400 years of sailing experience behind him at that time, and we only have about 40 in reference to aviation.

I was surprised to find the other day the date on which Alcock and Brown--who, by the way, were the first people to fly the Atlantic, whether that is sufficiently well known or not: I think there are countries not far away where you could ask that question and get a different answer. They made their epic flight on June 14, 1919, which conveniently subtracts itself from '49-thirty years ago. Thirty years ago two people flew across the Atlantic. They dropped their undercarriage at the take-off in Newfoundland, and achieved a planned crash landing in a bog in Ireland, 15 hours and 57 minutes later.

The summer schedule for the ten airlines now flying the Atlantic, calls for 126 round trip crossings per week, an average of 18 per day. None of those aircraft will be equipped with less than 40 passenger seats, which mean 720 seats both ways crossing the Atlantic every day.

Now to get back to yet another subject--what I originally started to talk about, and that is what does all this mean so far as the British Commonwealth of Nations is concerned' I think the answer is, it means a great deal. Britain's Merchant Marine has been the life line of the Empire in peace and war. I think you will agree that international aviation is beginning to play a very similar important part in maintaining contact between England and her Allies and the Commonwealth Nations. This would be particularly true in war time. There is no reason as I see it, why in the fullness of time, international aviation of an Empire nature should not take some part very similar to that played by Britain's Merchant Marine in the past, and I think it will have to be if the Empire is to survive. I sincerely hope that the Commonwealths Nations will not leave that problem and expense entirely in the hands of the Mother Country. It would he wrong, and there is no evidence of it. Canada, and Australia to a lesser extent, are devoting time and money to the development of all British routes and this could easily prove to be in the future the salvation of the Empire

Mr. HARRY R. JACKMAN, M.P., thanked the Guest Speaker.

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International Aviation—An Empire Tie

International aviation in Canada as a subdivision of the broader subject of civil aviation. Some general remarks first on the broader subject of the rapid development of aircraft and airflight. The Berlin Airlift and what it has taught us about civil aviation and air traffic control. Trans-Canada Air Lines as a good example of the speed of development. Some facts and figures. The various functions of civil aviation apart from the mundane business of moving people from place to place. The relationship between civil and military aviation; ways of strengthening both. A look at some predictions that were made about air travel, before taking a look into the future from this time. The problem of congestion around airports. The development of turbo-propeller-driven commercial aircraft, instrument landing systems, improved systems of air traffic control, turbo-jet or full jet transportation. What this all means for the British Commonwealth of Nations.