FROM A SINGLE PLANE operation started in 1926, Western Canada Airways Limited had expanded regular passenger and cargo service to almost every corner of the nation by 1929. However, the heavy drilling equipment needed by the booming north-western Ontario mining industry required something sturdier than the company’s wood and fabric aircraft. Western Canada Airways President James A. Richardson had heard of a huge all-metal aircraft being developed in Germany by aviation giant Junkers, and ordered one of the first six Junkers Ju 52/1moff the assembly line, in 1930. When the plane arrived in Canada the following year Richardson had reorganised Western Canada Airways into a transcontinental air service named Canadian Airways Limited. However, the company was still in need of large cargo aircraft to access the vast Canadian Shield.
Junkers new Ju 52/1m, or Iron Annie as she was affectionately known in Germany, was the largest aircraft the world had ever seen, when it was rolled out in 1931. The first six Annies, including the one ordered by Richardson, were built with a single BMW engine but, when the early models proved under-powered, Junkers revamped the design to include two more engines, located in the wings. The tri-motor Ju 52/1m would become Germany’s most popular aircraft; thousands were still in the service of the Luftwaffe at the outset of the Second World War.
When the Canadian Airways Limited Ju 52/1m, registered CF-ARM, arrived in Canada it was not only the largest airplane in the country but the largest single-engine aircraft in all of North America. Before its first cargo run, a factory engine was replaced with a more powerful 850-hp Rolls-Royce Buzzard. With a single engine, the “Flying Boxcar,” as it became known in Canada, was light enough to land on enormous specially designed pontoons. With its capacity of nearly 8,000 lbs, CF-ARM regularly carried oversized loads, including mining equipment and cattle, from the company’s Brandon Avenue Air Base on the banks of Winnipeg’s Red River.
Although widely celebrated for its extreme capabilities, among pilots ARM remained notoriously under powered. Pilot Stu McRorie recalled that, “the rudder was off-set and–it wasn’t as bad on water as it was on land–on skis you couldn’t hold it straight on takeoff. It had so much torque; you just hoped that you could get off before you started back from where you left.” In 1947, under the new management of Canadian Pacific Airlines, ARM was pushed to a fateful extreme when McRorie was ordered to fly to Dease Lake, high in the B.C. Rockies. At high altitude and fully loaded, ARM could not get airborne. The behemoth was unloaded, and flown back to Brandon Avenue to be dismantled and sold for scrap.