The story of our flying boxcar, the Junkers Ju-52

Vintage aircraft on display an aviation museum. In the foreground of the image is a Junkers Ju-52/1m, a large cargo plane from the early part of the 20th century.
CF-ARM replica on display at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. Photo by Stevi Wood

Did you know that our Junkers Ju 52/1m is a non-flying replica of CF-ARM, owned by Canadian Airways Limited? Or that it was originally built with three engines?

On August 16, 1984, the transformation began as this tri-motored aircraft was towed from the Western Canada Aviation Museum to Bristol Aerospace Limited (now Magellan Aerospace) in Winnipeg, later to emerge as a different plane.

Originally registered as CG-ARM, the aircraft in our museum was built by Construcciones Aeronauticas SA of Madrid, Spain in 1948, and used by Escudron 721 for parachute training. CG-ARM became a replica of CF-ARM, which according to information in the archives of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, was the sixth Junkers Ju 52 off the line. Unlike the more familiar tri-motor variants that would come later, CF-ARM as a freight model was delivered with a single engine. 

Evidence of the Junker’s Spanish roots. Photo by Vanessa Desorcy

Its story intertwines with the growth of Western Canada Airways, founded in 1926 by visionary James A. Richardson, who recognized the need for sturdier aircraft to support the booming northern mining industry and its ever-increasing need to move large equipment in Canada. With its corrugated aluminum body, large side doors, and even a hatch in the roof for crane-loaded cargo, the plane offered far more capacity than the fabric and wood planes used before it.

Despite being dubbed the “Flying Boxcar” for its capacity to carry oversized loads, CF-ARM faced challenges due to its underpowered original BMW engine. This engine was later replaced with a Rolls Royce Buzzard III engine to better serve the needs of Canadian Airways Limited, James A. Richardson’s new transcontinental air service.

People would crowd around the plane as CF-ARM was the largest plane in Canada and the largest single-motor plane in all of North America. With its capacity of nearly 8,000 pounds, 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. The Junkers JU 52 had been equipped with specially designed floats making it capable of taking off and landing on waterways.

Canadian Airways Limited, CF-ARM. RAMWC archives

In 1947, then under the ownership of Canadian Pacific Airlines, CF-ARM was retired and eventually dismantled. Its custom floats were repurposed and the once revolutionary all-metal body ended up as part of a child’s playhouse.

In 1982, the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada acquired the Spanish-built Junkers Ju-52/3M from a museum in Orlando, Florida. It was flown to Gimli, Manitoba, with the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces Air Reserve 402 Squadron. Soon after, it was moved to Bristol Aerospace Ltd. in Winnipeg for conversion into a replica of CF-ARM.

Also in 1982, the Royal Aviation Museum’s dive team salvaged one full float and part of the other float belonging to the original CF-ARM and brought them into the museum to sit beside the replica. The floats had previously been repurposed into supports for a dock at a yacht club. When the floats were no longer needed, they were sunk on-site.

In April of 1985, the conversion of the tri-motored Spanish CG-ARM into the single-engine CF-ARM was completed.

CF-ARM proudly sports the flying goose logo of Canadian Airways Limited to honor the original trail-blazing plane and the visionary aviation pioneer, James A. Richardson, who had purchased the plane. A significant milestone in the story of Canadian aviation, CF-ARM’s legacy lives on at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

Cover photo by Mark Bilash.


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