How a Rare “Flying W” Airplane Supplied Uranium for the Manhattan Project

The Eldorado Radium Silver Specific, a restored Bellanca Aircruiser, will quickly be on view at a brand new museum in western Canada.

The one-engine Bellanca Aircruiser cargo and passenger airplane was designed by Giuseppe Bellanca, who had constructed Italy’s first plane and emigrated to america in 1911. The transport grew to become a workhorse for the mining trade in northern Canada, particularly the Northwest Territories. The Aircruiser may very well be geared up with wheels, floats or skis, which made it excellent for the tough situations of the Canadian north. As a result of triangular-shaped struts supporting its excessive wing and stuck touchdown gear, the airplane was nicknamed the “Flying W.”

In 1935 Eldorado Gold Mines Restricted bought Aircruiser CF-AWR and contracted with the Mackenzie Air Service of Edmonton, Alberta, for its operation. The Eldorado firm had began within the Twenties trying to find gold, then switched to mining silver. With the invention in 1930 of uranium oxide at Nice Bear Lake within the Northwest Territories, the corporate administrators sought to faucet the profitable marketplace for radium, which may very well be extracted from uranium ore. On the time a gram of radium introduced $50,000 on the world market. 

The Aircruiser, able to carrying payloads of as much as 4,000 kilos, was used to ship uranium to Eldorado’s refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. As well as, staff have been flown out of the Nice Bear Lake mine for leisure whereas sitting on the burlap baggage of uranium oxide. It will later be revealed that the Canadian authorities knew concerning the potential opposed well being affect of males sitting on baggage of uranium oxide however ignored it. On return journeys the plane carried provides, dynamite and staff. 

Positioned at Port Radium on Nice Bear Lake, the mine was closed on the onset of World Conflict II however reopened in 1942 with the beginning of the Manhattan Venture and the drive to develop an atomic bomb. The mine and Port Hope processing facility grew to become a key a part of the top-secret undertaking. In 1943 it grew to become clear that the Germans have been conscious of the power when, in his nightly broadcast from Berlin, propa­gandist William Joyce, aka “Lord Haw-Haw,” acknowledged that “Individuals on the Eldorado mine in northern Canada can be bombed shortly by our Japanese mates.” Safety was tightened, however nothing occurred.

CF-AWR was a workhorse in service of the Manhattan Venture. With the top of WWII the demand for the uranium oxide elevated and stored the Aircruiser in fixed use. Because the U.S. and different Western nations grew to become main gamers within the nuclear trade, they relied on the Canadian ore. Tons of uranium oxide have been mined however little or no remained after refining to be used in nuclear weapons or reactors. 

MacKenzie Air Service president Wilfred L. Brintnell poses with the brand new Aircruiser. (Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)

Brintnell (left) and Stan McMillan deliver the first load of uranium in April 1935. (Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)
Brintnell (left) and Stan McMillan ship the primary load of uranium in April 1935. (Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)

In January 1947, whereas carrying a full load of uranium oxide, CF-AWR ran out of gas, crashed and was broken past restore close to Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The uranium was recovered however the Aircruiser then sat for 27 years within the bush till volunteers from the Western Canada Aviation Museum, with the help of a helicopter from the Canadian Armed Forces, have been in a position to get better what was left of the plane and transport it to the Winnipeg museum. The years of publicity to the tough climate had rotted away the picket construction and even the metal items have been badly rusted. It was a troublesome operation since timber and vegetation had grown over and into the plane fuselage. 

Charged with preserving plane that performed a significant position within the area’s historical past, the Western Canada Avia­tion Museum employs specialists

and volunteers in its Res­toration Division. The purpose of the restoration crew on each undertaking is to make sure the finished plane is introduced again as carefully as doable to the unique manufacturing facility specs. 

The undertaking was made tougher by the truth that Bellanca had manufactured simply 23 Airbuses (an earlier model) and Aircruisers. The one different surviving Air­cruiser is within the Erickson Plane Assortment in Madras, Ore. Learning that still-airworthy instance was one of many first steps. Others on the restoration crew traveled to the Nationwide Air and Area Museum in Washington, D.C., to review and duplicate the unique design drawings. The Erickson assortment donated a spare set of wheels and tires to the crew, although the Winnipeg museum Bellanca is being restored for static show. 

Museum volunteers work on the aircraft in 2006. (Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)
Museum volunteers work on the plane in 2006. (Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)

Because the plane had been in operation for 12 years, components had been changed over time and there have been some spares obtainable. The crew discovered that a number of of the plane doorways and home windows had been included into space trapper cabins. Machinists Dick Thornhill and Gordon Windat created a brand new aluminum gearbox. Gears, shafts and common joints have been additionally fabricated. A brand new instrument panel was constructed by learning previous photographs and the Erickson aircraft.

Ron Morrison, a restoration specialist who was concerned within the undertaking, stated, “We’ve achieved a lot with so little for thus lengthy that we will do something with nothing.”

Slowly over time the plane started to take form. The woodwork, engine and cloth repairs have been made and an accurate propeller was positioned and put in. CF-AWR acquired a contemporary coat of paint within the authentic inexperienced and gold colours and the official registration markings it carried when it left the manufacturing facility. 

At current CF-AWR is saved on the Southport Aerospace Centre outdoors Portage La Prairie, Mani­toba. There’s a new museum underneath development and all of the plane are in storage till its opening in 2022. The brand new Royal Aviation Museum of Western Can­ada can be positioned on the primary transportation loop of Winnipeg’s Richardson Worldwide Airport. The central location will make it simpler for guests to view the historic plane assortment, together with the uncommon Eldorado Radium Silver Specific.  


This text initially appeared within the January 2022 concern of Aviation Historical past. Don’t miss a problem, subscribe at the moment!


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