Canadair North Star

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North Star
BOAC C-4 Argonaut Heathrow 1954.jpg
BOAC DC-4M-4 Argonaut G-ALHS "Astra" at London Airport (Heathrow) in September 1954
RolePassenger and cargo transport
Manufacturer Canadair
First flight15 July 1946
Retired1960s (RCAF), 1975 (last civil operator)
Primary users Trans-Canada Air Lines
Royal Canadian Air Force
Canadian Pacific Air Lines
Produced1946 - 1950
Number built71
Developed from Douglas DC-4

The Canadair North Star is a 1940s Canadian development, for Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), of the Douglas DC-4. [1] Instead of radial piston engines used by the Douglas design, Canadair used Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines to achieve a higher cruising speed of 325 mph (523 km/h) [2] compared with the 227 mph (365 km/h) of the standard DC-4. Requested by TCA in 1944, the prototype flew on 15 July 1946. The type was used by various airlines and by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). It proved to be reliable but noisy when in service through the 1950s and into the 1960s. Some examples continued to fly into the 1970s, converted to cargo aircraft. [3]

Trans-Canada Air Lines

Trans-Canada Air Lines was a Canadian airline that operated as the country's flag carrier. Its corporate headquarters were in Montreal, Quebec. Its first president was Gordon Roy McGregor.

Douglas DC-4 Four-engine propeller-driven airliner

The Douglas DC-4 is a four-engine (piston) propeller-driven airliner developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Military versions of the plane, the C-54 and R5D, served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift and into the 1960s. From 1945, many civil airlines operated the DC-4 worldwide.

Radial engine reciprocating engine with cylinders arranged radially from a single crankshaft

The radial engine is a reciprocating type internal combustion engine configuration in which the cylinders "radiate" outward from a central crankcase like the spokes of a wheel. It resembles a stylized star when viewed from the front, and is called a "star engine" in some languages. The radial configuration was commonly used for aircraft engines before gas turbine engines became predominant.


Design and development

Canadair Aircraft Ltd. took over the Canadian Vickers Ltd. operations on 11 November 1944. Besides the existing Consolidated PBY Canso flying patrol boats in production, a development contract to produce a new variant of the Douglas DC-4 transport was still in effect. The new Canadair DC-4M powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines mounted in Rolls-Royce Universal Power Plant (UPP) installations [4] emerged in 1946 as the "North Star." More than just an engine swap, the North Star had the Douglas DC-6 nose, landing gear and fuselage shortened by 80 inches (6.7 ft; 2.0 m), DC-4 empennage, rear fuselage, flaps and wing tips, C-54 middle fuselage sections, wing centre- and outer-wing panels, cabin pressurisation, a standardised cockpit layout and a different electrical system.

Canadair company

Canadair Ltd. was a civil and military aircraft manufacturer in Canada. It was a subsidiary of other aircraft manufacturers, then a nationalized corporation until privatized in 1986, and became the core of Bombardier Aerospace. The name "Canadair" is a portmanteau of Canada and air.

Rolls-Royce Limited 1906-1987 automobile and aerospace manufacturer in the United Kingdom

Rolls-Royce was a British luxury car and later an aero engine manufacturing business established in 1904 by the partnership of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. Building on Royce's reputation established with his cranes they quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering by manufacturing the "best car in the world". The First World War brought them into manufacturing aero engines. Joint development of jet engines began in 1940 and they entered production.


A power-egg is a complete "unitized" modular engine installation, consisting of engine and all ancillary equipment, which can be swapped between suitably designed equipment, with standardised quick-changing attachment points and connectors.

Canadair built 71 examples under the designations: North Star, DC-4M, C-4 and C-5. With the exception of the single C-5 (which had Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, as fitted to the Douglas DC-6), these variants were all powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and 51 of the production examples were pressurised.

Douglas DC-6 Four-engine propeller-driven airliner

The Douglas DC-6 is a piston-powered airliner and transport aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1958. Originally intended as a military transport near the end of World War II, it was reworked after the war to compete with the Lockheed Constellation in the long-range commercial transport market. More than 700 were built and many still fly today in cargo, military, and wildfire control roles.

Operational history

Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA) and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) were the principal operators of the "North Star", with the CPA examples known as the "Canadair Four" and BOAC examples known as the "Argonaut".

Royal Canadian Air Force Air warfare branch of Canadas military

The Royal Canadian Air Force is the air force of Canada. Its role is to "provide the Canadian Forces with relevant, responsive and effective airpower". The RCAF is one of three environmental commands within the unified Canadian Armed Forces. As of 2013, the Royal Canadian Air Force consists of 14,500 Regular Force and 2,600 Primary Reserve personnel, supported by 2,500 civilians, and operates 258 manned aircraft and 9 unmanned aerial vehicles. Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger is the current Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Chief of the Air Force Staff.

British Overseas Airways Corporation airline

British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was the British state-owned airline created in 1939 by the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. It continued operating overseas services throughout World War II. After the passing of the Civil Aviation Act of 1946, European and South American services passed to two further state-owned airlines, British European Airways (BEA) and British South American Airways (BSAA). BOAC absorbed BSAA in 1949, but BEA continued to operate British domestic and European routes for the next quarter century. A 1971 Act of Parliament merged BOAC and BEA, effective 31 March 1974, forming today's British Airways.

RCAF service

The RCAF North Stars were unpressurized and were used on a variety of transport duties. Like other North Stars, they were notorious for the high level of cabin noise caused by the Merlin engines, as unlike the radials of the DC-4, the exhaust from the individual cylinders is not collected and exhausted via a single outlet, but instead exits the separate individual ejector-exhaust stubs in high-pressure bursts.

RCAF C-5 North Star North Star C-5.jpg
RCAF C-5 North Star

In an effort to reduce cabin noise, the sole C-5 variant was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines that were considerably quieter. [5] The only C-5 was delivered to the RCAF in 1950, entering service with No. 412 Transport Squadron RCAF in Uplands, Ottawa, specially outfitted for the transportation of VIP passengers. It was used to transport the Canadian Prime Minister, the Queen, and numerous other dignitaries on various high-profile missions, serving faithfully for 17 years, later becoming a crew trainer before being retired and sold in the United States.

Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp R-18 piston aircraft engine

The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp is an American twin-row, 18-cylinder, air-cooled radial aircraft engine with a displacement of 2,800 in³ (46 L), and is part of the long-lived Wasp family.

North Stars were also employed by 412 Squadron RCAF on various VIP transport duties and, overall, the aircraft provided valuable and reliable long range transport services for the RCAF. From 1950 to 1952, during the Korean War, RCAF North Star aircraft were employed ferrying supplies to Korea across the Pacific Ocean. They flew 599 round trips over the Pacific and delivered seven million pounds of cargo and 13,000 personnel on return trips. They flew 1.9 million miles without a fatal crash and outhauled the United States Air Force C-54s on the Korean run. After 1967, the remaining North Stars were assigned to No. 426 Transport Squadron RCAF initially deployed to Dorval, Quebec and then to Trenton, Ontario. Gradually, their service life diminished in the 1970s and most were declared surplus.

Korean War 1950–1953 war between North Korea and South Korea

The Korean War was a war between North Korea and South Korea. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following a series of clashes along the border.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.

TCA and BOAC operations

TCA North Star at London Airport (Heathrow) in 1951 Trans Canada Airlines North Star Heathrow 1951.jpg
TCA North Star at London Airport (Heathrow) in 1951
An ex TCA DC-4M-2 North Star of Overseas Aviation at Prestwick in 1960 North Star, Prestwick, 1960 (296187674).jpg
An ex TCA DC-4M-2 North Star of Overseas Aviation at Prestwick in 1960

TCA received its fleet of twenty DC-4M-2 North Stars during 1947 and 1948 and operated them on routes within Canada and to the USA until 1961. Starting in 1954 the North Stars were replaced on TCA's routes to Europe by Lockheed Super Constellations. To deal with passenger complaints about noise, TCA engineers developed a cross-over for the fuselage-side exhausts that reduced cabin noise by 6-8 decibels. [5] [6] "In the cabin, noise is reduced to 102 decibels near the windows and 93 at the aisle." [7]

BOAC ordered 22 DC-4M-4s and named them the "Argonaut class", each aircraft having a classical name beginning with "A". The Argonauts were delivered between March and November 1949; they flew to South America, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East from London Heathrow Airport until 1960.

On 1 February 1952 the BOAC Argonaut Atalanta G-ALHK transported Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to Kenya to begin a Commonwealth tour. [8] Some days later, 6 February, it was again Atalanta G-ALHK which returned the newly acceded Queen Elizabeth II to England upon the death of her father, King George VI. [9] [10]

Rolls-Royce also developed a quieter 'cross-over' exhaust system for the DC-4M, the modifications being supplied in a kit allowing installation on the aircraft by the operator. The engine thus modified became the 'Merlin TMO' in contrast to the unmodified engine, the Merlin TML - Transport Merlin L. The modified exhaust conferred an increase in horsepower over the unmodified system of 38 hp, resulting in a 5 knot improvement in true air speed. Sound levels were reduced by between 5 and 8 decibels. Still air range of the aircraft was also improved by around 4 per cent. BOAC Argonauts initially, due to schedules being unable to be changed, had only the inner engines so-modified, the remaining outer engines being changed to the new exhaust system when time was available. [11]

Later service

After service with TCA and BOAC, the surplused North Stars and Argonauts had long careers with secondary operators such as British Midland Airways, Overseas Aviation and other charter companies. Cargo conversions of available airframes also lengthened the service life of Argonauts and North Stars.CF-UXA,ex-RCAF 17510 was the last DC-4M in airline service, completing its final flight on 19 June 1975 at Miami, Florida. Despite the onset of jet airliners in the 1950s, the rugged Canadair North Star found a niche in both military and civil use. [3]


Canadair built 71 examples under the designations: North Star, DC-4M, C-4 and C-5. With the exception of the single C-5 (which had Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, as fitted to the Douglas DC-6), these variants were all powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and 51 of the production examples were pressurised.

Initial variant as designed for Trans Canada Airlines (TCA); at least 5 built for TCA.
Pressurised higher take-off weight version.
North Star
Powered by 4x Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines


Accidents and incidents

Canadair C-4 Argonaut G-ALHG at Manchester Airport on 29 August 1965 British Midland Canadair C4 G-ALHG.jpg
Canadair C-4 Argonaut G-ALHG at Manchester Airport on 29 August 1965

On 8 April 1954, a Royal Canadian Air Force Canadian Car and Foundry Harvard Mk.II 3309 collided with Trans-Canada Airlines North Star CF-TFW over Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, killing 36 people aboard the aircraft and one person on the ground.[ citation needed ]> [12] As a result of this crash, training flights are restricted south of the Trans Canada Highway and civil aviation transit north of the highway.

On 21 September 1955: BOAC Argonaut G-ALHL which was traveling from Rome to Tripoli crashed on its fourth landing attempt in poor visibility and strong winds. Fifteen of the 40 occupants died when the aircraft descended too low, struck trees approximately 1,200 ft short of runway 11 and subsequently impacted terrain. [13]

On 24 June 1956: BOAC Argonaut G-ALHE crashed shortly after taking off from Kano Airport, Nigeria into a thunderstorm, killing 29 of the 38 passengers and three of the seven crew members.

On 9 December 1956: Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810 crashed into Mount Slesse on a flight from Vancouver to Calgary, killing all 62 people on board the aircraft. Among the dead were five Canadian Football League players, including four members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and one member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, as well as a CFL official returning home from the previous day's annual All-Star game at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.

On 11 October 1966, CF-TFM/HP925 crashed near Garoua, Cameroons, carrying spurious registration I-ACOA, believed to be carrying a cargo of machine guns bound for Burundi. Ex- Overseas Aviation, bought at Gatwick by Mike Keegan, it had been ferried to Coventry for onward sale; under new ownership, flown to Newcastle (UK), with a subsequent long-term stay parked adjacent to the wooden control tower and subject to a restraining Court Order. Eventually re-registered in Panamanian markings, it was flown to Limburg, Netherlands, but ended up being involved in various arms shipment flights to West Africa. After the accident, the movements of this aircraft were investigated and extensively reported by, it is thought, the "Sunday Times" newspaper. Re-registration history and movements after leaving NCL courtesy of "Propliner" magazine's website. [14] [ verification needed ]

On 4 June 1967, Argonaut G-ALHG, owned by British Midland Airways, crashed near the centre of Stockport, Greater Manchester, United Kingdom. Fatalities included 72 of the 84 on board; 12 others were seriously injured.

Surviving aircraft

RCAF C-54GM example (17515 ) at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum Canadair North Star CASM 2012 1.jpg
RCAF C-54GM example (17515 ) at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

The sole surviving airframe in existence is an RCAF C-54GM example (17515 ), which is currently undergoing restoration at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.[ citation needed ]

Specifications (DC-4-M2 North Star)

Data from[ citation needed ]

General characteristics

  • Crew: Seven
  • Capacity: 52 First Class passengers, or 62 if operated as an all-Economy Class aircraft or 11,500 lbs (5,216 kg) of cargo
  • Length: 94 ft 9½ in (28.89 m)
  • Wingspan: 117 ft 6 in (35.81 m)
  • Height: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
  • Wing area: 1,462 ft² (135.82 m²)
  • Empty weight: 43,500 lb (19,731 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 73,000 lb (33,112 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 622liquid-cooled, V-12 piston engine, 1,760 hp (1,313 kW) each


  • Average fuel consumption: 850 kg/h [15]

See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists

Related Research Articles

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Aviation Traders Limited (ATL) was a war-surplus aircraft and spares trader formed in 1947. In 1949, it began maintaining aircraft used by some of Britain's contemporary independent airlines on the Berlin Airlift. In the early 1950s, it branched out into aircraft conversions and manufacturing. During that period it also became a subcontractor for other aircraft manufacturers. By the end of the decade, it was taken over by the Airwork group.

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1956 Kano Airport BOAC Argonaut crash

The 1956 Kano Airport BOAC Argonaut crash occurred on 24 June 1956 when a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) four-engined Canadair C-4 Argonaut airliner registered G-ALHE crashed into a tree on departure from Kano Airport in Nigeria, three crew and 29 passengers were killed.


  1. "Here and There: Merlin-engined Skymasters". Flight. XLVI (1856): 60. 20 July 1944. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  2. Pearl, Roy (25 March 1948). "A Visitor's Impressions: Canada's Production and plans for the Future". Flight. LIII (2048): 339–340.
  3. 1 2 Milberry 1982, pp. 213–214.
  4. "Universal Power Plants". Flight: 157–162. 13 February 1947. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  5. 1 2 "Canadair North Star 1 ST." Canada Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 18 March 2011.
  6. Aviation Week 7 Sept 1953 p53: "Crossovers reduce cabin noise level in the audio range by about 68 decibels."
  7. American Aviation 12 May 1952 p28
  8. "King and Queen See Royal Departure", BBC TV (first broadcast) 1 February 1952 BBC Archive
  9. "The Queen's return", Flight (193), 15 February 1952
  10. "Queen Elizabeth II dressed in mourning descends the steps of the plane that returned her from Africa to London. Prince Phillip is five steps behind" San Francisco Sentinel
  13. "ASN Aircraft accident Canadair C-4 Argonaut G-ALHL Tripoli-Idris Airport (TIP)." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: 26 June 2011.
  14. "Propliner" website; Sunday Times
  15. "Canadair C-4 'North Star'. aka BOAC 'Argonaut' - Sky Viking Learning Center".