Peter Roland Cope 1921-2005
Peter Roland Cope was born in Croydon, England on December 7, 1921, and thus shares a birthday that with the date that now lives in infamy, for its being the day of the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941. As a boy, he developed an intense interest in aviation as Croydon was then the location of London’s main airport. At a young age he became determined to make a career in the Royal Air Force, hopefully as a flier, after completing college.
The fact of Britain being at war with the Axis as of September, 1939 forced a change in his career plans. He enlisted in the RAF and, due to the pressures on pilot training in the UK, exascerbated by the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, was sent to the United States for pilot training in 1941. As such, Cope learned to fly with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the American Deep South. After successful training at Craig Field, Alabama, he was bestowed with the coveted silver wings of a USAAC pilot on May 16, 1942. Thus his RAF battle dress perhaps became an intriguing symbol of the new wartime alliance between the United States and Britain.
He flew North American P-51s, Hawker Tempests, de Havilland Mosquitos and other types during WW II and went through the Empire Test Pilot school in Britain. After returing to England and completing advanced fighter trainin, he was posted to 170 Sqn., RAF. Here he undertook operations on another symbol of allied cooperation; the P-51A Mustang, designed and built in the United States for Britain’s express (and immediate) needs, over a 143 day period by North American Aviation.
Peter flew low level combat reconnaissance missions in the fabled Mustang, as Flight Lieutenant and later as Acting Squadron Leader, photographing all kinds of targets in Hitler’s Festung Europa, or Fortress Europe. Due to the early Mustang 1s (or P-51As) being powered by the non-supercharged American Allison engine, this series of the fighter only allowed the Mustang to show its high-speed potential at low level, before receiving the US license-produced version of the engine in Britain’s top fighters and bombers, the Rolls Royce Merlin. The aircraft Peter flew initially carried six 50 calibre machine guns, an armament that seemed very potent in its effects compared with the early British Hurricanes and Spitfires. It certainly seemed dramatic in effect to a 20 year old bearing down on trains and other military targets in France and the Low Countries at near record speeds—often below treetop height, while attempting to accurately bring guns to bear. This represented the secondary aspect of his duties, his primary responsibilities included navigating at extremely low-level, often under very low cloud ceilings in dubious weather, to arrive a very specific destinations at precise moments in time, to bring his ‘primary armament’ (consisting of oblique and look-down cameras) to bear at the proper angle and height. To provide crystal clear photos of Nazi installations and formations these fighting ‘pilot-navigators’ faced the added demand of handling the aircraft very smoothly, at the time that the enemy would be concentrating any available guns of their own what amounted to Britain’s belligerent spying eye.
Cope’s reconnaissance photography was consistently of high-calibre. When he received a new Mustang with armament of considerably higher calibre than the A model carried (four 20mm cannon vs. six .50 cal.), he has related experiencing a somewhat enhanced effect when brought accurately to bear. Returning from a photo assignment one day a train came into view ahead of Peter and he gave the engine a long blast of cannon fire. The very next day he was returning again on the same track and saw the train was where he had attacked it, with the wheels and other heavy steel casting shattered and broken from his fire.
Peter served what amounted to three consecutive combat tours of duty before the administrative system caught up with him and posted him to training duties. On the intellectual level Cope justified his ‘overtime’ on photo-recce operations because he felt, obviously with the support of his immediate superiors, he was making an excellent contribution to the war effort—otherwise squadron staff officers would have ensured his normal rotation. As a young flying enthusiast however, he was certainly enjoying some of the more visceral aspects of riding over 1,000 horsepower at 400 mph, aquiring intelligence that helped the Allies plan and execute the defeat of Naziism, with the bonus of being able to take out his share of Nazi forces in more direct ways.
Since Cope had demonstrated particular skill in ground attack, he was posted to various operational training units, where he earned the Pilot Attack Instructor qualification on aircraft such as the Spitfire, while teaching the boys how to shoot and blow the right things up. Peter’s ability is indicated by his gaining the specialist qualification for armament development. On these postings Cope was moved around a considerable amount as the RAF appears to have wanted to spread his particular expertise around.
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.
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.He made over 1,900 flights accumulating over 1,600 hours in the CF-100—more than any test pilot and perhaps more than any pilot period. He also flew 103 different aircraft types in his career. Some notable experiences included over-running a defective .50 caliber round in the CF-100 with the bullet puncturing an engine nacelle. The sometimes erratic folding fin rockets that were developed in a 58 rocket twin-pod arrangement, also caused some excitement with one rocket emerging from the pack quasi-normally, performed a loop in front of his eyes, and returned to punch a hole in his starboard aileron! On another occasion a rocket punctured the radome just in front of the cockpit. While this armament system was developed successfully, an initial retracting belly-pack arrangement, that lowered into the slipstream before launch, was considerably more hazardous, and was abandoned due to the dangers exposed by the test pilots at Avro.
Cope tested the then experimental T-160 rotary breech cannon on the CF-100 in a four gun arrangement. (This effort led to the weapon used in Canada ’s CF-104s and current CF-18 fighters.) For Cope this would mean the increase in armament being considerably more impressive than the jump obtained from the Mustang 1 to 2 transition—because a single T-160 had a rate of fire nearly equal to all four guns of his cannon-armed Mustang, with projectiles of the same calibre. This CF-100 had four of these weapons and therefore represented potential average weight of fire, for a quarter of a minute, (requiring a huge magazine for each weapon) approaching that of a naval cruiser.
In part because there were jamming and potential misfire hazards, Avro decided in mid-1954 that the weapon was not developed enough for use in the CF-100. In terms of the CF-100 part of the equation, a probable subtext existed regarding explosive gas collection dangers, plus structural problems, inherent in the adoption of this number of T-160s. In fact Cope relates the nearest he came to the “real thing” was during the final test of the T-160s, which called for a live continous firing of all four cannon at near maximum speed at 5,000 feet, for seventeen seconds. This was punctuated by a massive explosion in the centre section that blew off both port engine cowls. This set off a near-instantaneous chain reaction involving the lower cowl section damaging the wing leading edge, followed by the upper canopy ricocheting off, and shattering, the Perspex canopy. Cope had difficulty persuading the observer not to proceed with a dangerous low-level ejection and following stall and handling tests made a successful landing at Malton. Cope received several letters of commendation and thanks from Smye and senior management for his handling of dangerous situations.
In reality, Cope is probably the pilot most responsible for experimental missile development test flying in Canada during the 1950s. In highly technical and classified missile firings Peter launched the majority of the Sparrow 3 and 2D missiles, that epitomized 1950s CARDE, DeHavilland, Canadair, Westinghouse, Douglas, Hughes, RCA and Avro Canada collaboration in missile technology.
Cope is one of only four pilots to fly the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow pre-production aircraft. During the design phase of the Arrow Cope was involved in testing the (fully-powered vs. boosted hydraulic) flight control development CF-100. This aircraft was used to test feedback and other effects on a fully-powered system in mind for the Arrow, under different simulated flight conditions. Avro gained much needed data on the effects of flight, vibration (including sound) and aeroelasticity with this test rig. On one occasion a mode was induced on this aircraft that resulted in hydraulic feedback that developed into a shake in the flight controls and over-pressures that the CF-100 seemed ready to tear itself apart. It was, indeed, damaged severely, with many lessons learned for the CF-105 in design, simulation, controls and hardware. Subsequent Avro work in this period represented the the first major use of real time or ‘at the speed of light’ computing in various aspects of aircraft design. Following the CF-100 powered hydraulic test aircraft Avro developed an Arrow hydraulic systems test rig in the plant with Cope involved in the testing and development of this unit. Actual Arrow components were tested, evaluated, rejected, improved or replaced in this rig. Once it was hooked via Avro’s IBM 704 mainframe to the computerized Arrow flight simulator, which interfaced the pilots controls, navigation computer, radar, and other items as they were developed, became the world’s first 4,000 psi, “real time” electronic flight control system, with pilot’s inputs originating as an electrical signal, for all flight control surfaces. With Zurakowski, Potocki, and Woodman, Peter Cope shares the distinction of having flown the first aircraft in the world to fly with such a system, an aircraft designed and built in Canada for Canada !
Those were days of high enthusiasm at Avro, and the Arrow was shaping up to be a monster in terms of performance and weapons capabilities. Once again, Peter Cope was selected to lead the armament development for the Arrow due to his expertise, and his testing of the various missile systems in the CF-100 had mostly been directed to the acquisition of primary weapons for the Arrow. He also undertook work as a ‘guinea pig’ for the RCAF school of environmental medicine (co-located with the DCIEM) for high-G centrifuge and high-altitude de-compression. He was also involved in high-temperature environment research.
After the Arrow cancellation, Cope remained at Avro until 1961 and was involved in flight testing John Frost’s “Avrocar” flying saucer. This led to advanced Canadian knowledge in ‘jet-flap’ and ducted methods of lift-augmentation. This led, for example, to Don Whittley’s ‘augmentor wing’, developed for the de Havilland Canada Buffalo STOL aircraft. He thus became the only Avro test pilot to have test flown all of Avro’s prototype aircraft. These included the Jetliner, the Lancaster Orenda test-bed, the CF-100 prototypes, the Orenda Sabre development plane, the Arrow and the Avrocar. Like all the others who experienced the Avro Jetliner, he became an avid admirer, and laments her passing and the circumstances that caused it.
After the Arrow cancellation he joined Boeing in Seattle Washington and worked in their customer support organization, becoming a manager covering the introduction of the Boeing 727, 737, 747, and 767 to service in various airlines.Peter retired as recently as 1986 after what anyone must agree is an outstanding career in aviation and participated in some of the most historic events in aviation for nearly half a century. Until his passing in April, 2005.