Fairchild Super 71: Truly One of a Kind

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    The Fairchild Super 71 was the first aircraft designed in Canada for “bush” operations and the first to be built by a Canadian company. It was also the only one of its kind ever produced.

    In a promotional write-up for the Super 71 published in the August 1935 edition of Aero Digest, Fairchild Aircraft made the statement: “since 75 per cent of Canadian aircraft are operated on floats during the summer season and on skis during the winter, the Fairchild ‘Super 71’ was primarily designed as a seaplane.” The promo article goes on to say that the aircraft “is convertible into a transport with accommodations for eight passengers, or a cargo plane which can carry 2,000 pounds of payload for 600 miles at a cruising speed of 121 mph.”

    Probably more importantly, the Super 71 was designed upon the advice of experienced operators, rather than nebulous guesswork. It was full of radical ideas including a large and accessible cargo area, high-wing monoplane configuration, control surfaces which retained effectiveness throughout all altitudes and – most importantly – the capability for year-round operations.

    - The high-wing monoplane configuration made dockside loading and unloading relatively easy.

    - The cabin provided a clear floor space 13ft 6in long by 5ft wide and 4ft high and could accommodate most of the largest mining equipment then in use.

    - Cargo handling was aided by a main access door of 32in that could easily be doubled to a maximum size of 65in to accommodate oversize items.

    - The cabin walls were insulated against heat and cold, and a heating system for cockpit and cabin was incorporated into the fuselage structure.

    - The Super 71 introduced “float steps” to help break the surface tension between float and water to aid lift-off. The concept of “steps” has been a feature of seaplane floats ever since.

    - The high position of the tail structure was dictated by input from bush flyers who wanted the tail as far as possible above the water to keep it out of the flying spray during takeoff.

    - The pilot could adjust the airflow over the engine in hot summer and extremely cold winter conditions.

    - It was the Super 71’s role as a cargo plane that determined the location of the cockpit behind the wing structure. This unusual cockpit location afforded optimum balance whether empty or fully loaded, and relieved the pilot from calculating weight distribution and centre of gravity. This feature, however, compromised the pilot’s forward vision to such an extent that pilots and operators were wary of the design.

    - During its six-year flying history, CF-AUJ was equipped either with floats or skis; there is no record of it ever being outfitted with wheels.

    Our Super 71

    CF-AUJ was built in 1934 at the Longueuil, Quebec, plant of Fairchild Aircraft Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Fairchild Aviation Corp.

    The commercial certificate of airworthiness was awarded  in May 1935. Canadian Airways Ltd. initially took the plane on a lease/purchase agreement and purchased it outright in 1935 after a number of modifications by Fairchild. This was the only Super 71 ever built, although there is some evidence that Fairchild started, but did not complete, a second aircraft.

    In 1939, Canadian Airways assigned CF-AUJ to Sioux Lookout in northwest Ontario and it was in service there until October 3, 1940, when it smashed into a submerged object on takeoff from Lost Bay on Confederation Lake near Red Lake.

    Canadian Airways led a salvage contract to recover the valuable items – the leased engine, which was valued at just over $31,000 at the time, and the 75 pounds of gold from the nearby mine. The gold would be worth $1.2 million today. Divers found the wreck 80 feet underwater and raised it for removal to shore. The gold was recovered from the cargo cabin and the engine and cockpit instruments stripped from the aircraft. The airframe was declared to be beyond economical repair.

    The wreckage languished on shore for the next three decades until two salvagers moved the surviving pieces to Red Lake. While the aluminum fuselage survived the elements quite well, the wings did not – the wooden spars and fabric succumbed to the action of 30 years of sun, rain, wind and snow.

    The museum acquired the wreckage in 1974 and final title to CF-AUJ in 1978. The remnants of AUJ were moved first to Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, and then to St. Andrews in 1974. In 1997, the restoration process began and the completely restored aircraft is now on display at the Western Canada Aviation Museum.

     


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