Even on paper, the Canadair CL-215 had the grace of a cart, and its creators harbored no illusions about its elegance. “The aviation industry just went back 50 years! », Dave Hanchet*, a member of the design team, would have said with a laugh in front of its characteristics: a wing straight like a board, placed on the roof of a fuselage as square as a shoebox.

However, it will be the emblematic plane of the Quebec manufacturer, to the point that in France, we speak of a Canadair to designate the aircraft.

In the history of aviation, a handful of large aircraft have been in production for this long.

But probably none in such small numbers.

However, Canadair was not looking to design a tanker plane.

In the early 1960s, the manufacturer was instead considering building a transport seaplane to serve the northern regions. A pilot from the Quebec Government Air Service (SAG), who had been using old Canso military seaplanes transformed into water bombers since 1961, suggested that they instead take an interest in forest fire-fighting planes.

Guest at Canadair, the general director of SAG, Paul Gagnon, agrees with the manufacturer’s technical-commercial team that the ideal device should have a capacity of 5,400 liters of water, 50% more than the Canso.

Canadair engineers first proposed float-based seaplanes, before choosing a twin-engine, amphibious flying boat (which can take off on a runway and on water).

Canadair was then owned by the American conglomerate General Dynamics. Its president Roger Lewis “is not keen on the idea of ​​Canadair building an old-fashioned seaplane,” says a book celebrating Canadair’s 50th anniversary.

Since 1965, Canadair has been managed by Quebecer Frederick Ronald Kearns, a native of Quyon, in Outaouais. He knows what he’s talking about: a pilot himself, he had made 140 sorties by the age of 20 on the Spitfire fighter during the Second World War.

The CL-215 water bomber “would not have existed without Kearns’ determination to have the project approved by […] General Dynamics,” we read on the page dedicated to it by Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Accepting Fred Kearns’ arguments, Roger Lewis gave his agreement on February 1, 1966. Orders for 20 aircraft for Quebec and 10 for France were confirmed the following June.

At Canadair, engineers are already at work. The first flight was planned for the fall of 1967, just 19 months after General Dynamics’ authorization. To shorten lead times, device design, tooling design and production planning are carried out simultaneously.

In order to restrict production tooling, which strongly influences the price of the device, engineers simplified the shapes. So that the internal ribs of the wing are all identical, its profile remains constant from one end to the other.

The cabin is built like a truck box, with straight sides, without the slightest curvature. Only the slightly arched roof of the cabin and the rounded cone of the nose make some concessions to aerodynamics. The underside of the fuselage, profiled like a hull, is the result of more than 800 hours of model testing in a tank.

The aircraft is equipped with two 18-cylinder Pratt radial engines.

The seaplane will have to fly at low altitude and low speed in the disturbances caused by the fires, negotiate sharp turns in topographical corridors, and do low altitude, or rather low water, to suck up the water while skimming the surface of the lakes. Engineers have provided two retractable scoops, located at the rear of the step – the small hydrodynamic projection in the hull.

“On the Canso seaplane, we had a bailer that loaded the two tanks,” says retired maintenance technician Michel Blumhart. In the CL-215, they released a scoop for each tank. It increased the loading speed. »

The aircraft made its first flight in 1967 and its first landing the following year.

The first four aircraft intended for France reached him in 1969. The other six were delivered the following year. Quebec, which reduced its initial order of 20 to 15 aircraft, received its first aircraft in 1970.

Technician Michel Blumhart was there.