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Arrow Pilots:Peter Cope

Peter Cope
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Peter Cope

Peter looking the part in the Gloster Meteor, then the hottest jet fighter and holder of the world absolute speed record.  Cope’s efforts supported international sales that made the Meteor the top-selling fighter between 1945 and ’50, in the process making Hawker Siddeley a leader in jet technology. 

              This technology, along with Peter Cope, would be exported by Hawker Siddeley to Canada through A.V. Roe Canada Ltd.   Hawker Siddeley directors, led by Sir Roy Dobson of Avro, had high hopes of becoming a major competitor in the North American market through Avro Canada .Following the end of his three year RAF testing commitment, in 1949 he resigned from the RAF and took a job as a test pilot at Armstrong Whitworth aircraft.  Armstrong Whitworth was a component, as would be Avro Canada , of the Hawker Siddeley Group, which included Avro in Britain , the already legendary Hawker Aircraft, and Gloster, who produced the Meteor jet fighter—the only allied jet to see combat duty in WW II.  There he resumed test flying on the Lincoln bomber and Meteor fighter, which Armstrong Whitworth facilities  helped produce for their designers and co-builders; Avro and Gloster respectively. While with Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Company, he flew the Gloster Meteor Mk.8 and (once they became available) the Mk.11 night fighter extensively during their development and production. During his time in Britain , Cope flew 103 aircraft types.  He was inducted into the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire on February 2, 1950.

During this time considers it his good fortune to have done some chauffer flying for Fred Smye when he visited Hawker Siddeley from Canada .  He made the most of the opportunity to mention to Smye that he would be interested in flying Canada ’s new CF-100 jet fighter, if and when the need for more pilots emerged. Fred Smye was the youthful Canadian entrepreneur-turned-industrialist, who, after rising to be the number two man in the aircraft production division of federal minister C.D. Howe’s Department of Munitions and Supply, had been appointed to run Hawker Siddeley’s new operations in Canada.  For various reasons things had not worked out in Canada with the first test pilot chosen for the new company’s new jet fighter by Sir Roy Dobson (a leading Hawker Siddeley executive and head of Avro Aircraft in Britain). Smye was in a particularly bad situation since the test pilot that the Royal Canadian Air Force had loaned Avro Canada as a temporary replacement for Bill Waterton, Bruce Warren, and his observer were killed in the crash of the second of the two XC-100 prototypes. Following Warren’s death Smye sent Cope a cable which read “fly over immediately all expenses paid terms discussed on arrival”.  Cope complied in May of 1951 and viewed his entrée into Canadian aviation with glee, despite the tragic circumstances that had led up to it.

He made his first flight in an Avro CF-100 on May 7th 1951 and due to his experience from WW II became the unofficial armament development pilot for the CF-100 programme.  When one is modestly aware of the scientific challenges of attempting to produce the most technologically advanced long range, all weather, day or night jet fighter, and it’s new jet technology powerplant, one can see that Avro needed some real competence post-haste.  For Peter it meant a risky business, as pilot safety developing new weapons in a new airframe with a new engine, cannot be anything but reduced.  Under Don Rogers, Avro Canada ’s chief test pilot, Cope was initially very disappointed with the performance of the CF-100 prototype and Mk.2 aircraft, as many, many component and production problems were worked out.  A critical one involved fuel control for the new Orenda turbojet, a crucial area that was plaguing similar high-thrust turbojet developments world-wide.  Orenda achieved for Canada something of a breakthrough in turbojet fuel systems and combustion design, with the engine being noted for high-thrust, easy handling, near smokeless operation and exceptional reliability.  After some familiarization flights in the first prototype XC-100 as it was turned into the Mk.2 by replacement of the British Avon engines in favour of the Canadian TR.5 Orenda, and a structural upgrade in the spar/engine nacelle joint.  Cope composed a list of 19 “fixes” which he insisted had to be addressed before the CF-100 could be considered a reasonable operational fighter. 

Zura, in the CF-100 Mk.4 prototype, and Cope arrive line abreast at the top of a loop.

           To assist the development the Canadian aero-medical Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine (DCIEM), which still serves Canada’s exacting needs on pilot flight physiology, was founded.  Through these and other specialties Canada developed, and has maintained, world class status in various aspects of human physiology under sustained positive and negative pressure conditions and other factors related to flight and underwater conditions.  Cope and the other test pilots were involved, essentially at the ground level, in developing Canada ’s expertise in ejection, pressurization, oxygen, and other safety-systems, with much of the knowledge acquired, sometimes the hard way, during the often frustrating development of the CF-100.

Cope launches in FB-H,  the original XC-100 (modified into the Mk.3 development aircraft) under JATO boost.

             Of his flying career, Peter considers his first flight in the Arrow to have been the most exciting of his career.  He says the second most exciting was the occasion of the gun gas explosion while testing the cannon installation in the CF-100. He describes the most spectacular flight of his career as having been in the JATO-assisted take-offs of CF-100 FB-H with the increase in climb and acceleration, of an aircraft already noted for good take-off performance, being simply astounding.  Vern Morse, one of Avro’s “Jetographers”, won an award from an association of photographers for his the photo of Cope’s first take-off under JATO assist.  Like Zurakowski, he also took the CF-100 supersonic in the dive.  The CF-100 gained the distinction of being the first straight-winged aircraft to break the sound barrier.  Along with its originator, Cope and was involved in experiments to try to duplicate the “Zurabatic Cartwheel” that fellow Avro test pilot Janusz Zurakowski had invented (while with Glosters in England) with the Meteor ground attack aircraft.  They were not successful due to the engines being close to the aircraft centreline on the CF-100 and thus not allowing sufficient asymmetric thrust to achieve the yaw rate required.  Nevertheless, Cope, ‘Zura’, Rogers and other Avro test pilots introducing millions of Canadians to jet aviation with dazzling, and often imprompu, air displays, especially in the Toronto area.


Copyright 2005, Randall Whitcomb.

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