Witchy woman: Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck keeps watch at Bomber Command Museum of Canada

CF-100 witch nose art. Photo: John T. Stemple.

31 October 2016 | Nanton, Alberta, Canada. With autumn days upon us yet again, one suddenly becomes aware of things associated with the night, and that includes depictions of witches and broomsticks.

Francisco Goya – Los Caprichos Linda maestra The Follies Beautiful Teacher – witches heading to a Sabbath. Photo: Wikipedia.

On the eve of ‘trick or treats’ more than one visitor at Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) in Nanton, Alberta, glanced up at a pedestal-mounted Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck too see the image of a witch flying atop her broom adorning the airplane’s nose, the black figure silhouetted against a large orange moon.

The post-Second World War global situation pitted the oppressive communist nations (Soviet Union, China, etc.), the leadership of which desired to expand communism worldwide, against democracies.

Thus what was termed the Cold War (1947-1991) began, and out of necessity Canada developed the CF-100, and Avro Canada Orenda turbojet engine to power Canadian military jets under development, to counter long-range Soviet bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-4 Bull, Tu-85 Barge and Tu-95 Bear turboprop.

Republic F-47D Thunderbolt P-47D-40-RA, 45-49431. 47th_Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Republic Thunderbolt 45-49431, Niagara Falls, NY, 1952 (15713456494). Via Wikipedia.

Engine in-flight testing made use of modified Avro Lancaster FM209. The two outboard Rolls Royce Merlin engines were replaced with Orendas, and the World War 2 bomber took to the sky on 10 July 1950.

Over Buffalo, New York, they were able to easily outrun the WW2-era, piston engine U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard Republic F-47D Thunderbolts that were scrambled to investigate the unfamiliar aircraft.

On 19 January 19 1950 the CF-100 prototype, RCAF 18101, first took to the air at Malton, Mississauga, Ontario. This aircraft was subsequently evaluated at the Central Proving Establishment near Ottawa and by the U.S. Air Force’s flight test division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, during November 1950. Although USAF evaluators liked the plane, it was summarily determined by Canadian test pilots that the design’s longitudinal stability and lateral control needed improvement. The noted positive qualities included the aircraft’s short takeoff roll, impressive rate of climb and fine manoeuvrability at higher altitudes. These capabilities bode well for employment as an interceptor. 18101’s deficiencies were duly addressed and the problems eliminated.

RCAF Mk-4B CF-100s of No 423-Squadron in 1962. Public Domain photo via Wikipedia./Très belle vue air/air de deux CF-100du 423e Squadron d’interception tout-temps de Grostenquin. Les appareils sont munis de paniers à roquettes en bouts d’ailes.

Although the CF-100 could reach a normal speed limit of Mach 0.88, a Canadian aviator, while flying a Mk. 4 (RCAF 18112), passed through the Sound Barrier and attained Mach 1 by increasing speed gradually via a series of dives on 18 December 1952; the CF-100 thereby became the first straight-wing aircraft to exceed the speed of sound without the supplemental aid of rocket thrust assist.

The CF-100 entered service in 1953, and remains the only Canadian-designed and constructed combat aircraft to ever reach operational status. Each of the planes’ two Avro Canada Orenda 8 axial-flow turbojet engines produced 6355 of thrust, which enabled a top speed of 645 miles per hour. The Orenda 8 is considered to be the first production version and this model powered and entered service with the CF-100 Mk. 3 in 1953. The Orenda 9 powered CF-100 Mk. 4s, and the Orenda 11 equipped the rocket-armed Mk. 4As and subsequent marks. In the end a total of 692 Canucks of different marks were manufactured.

RCAF ensign flying over BCMC. Photo: John T. Stemple.

On nocturnal sorties, and in diminished flying conditions, it was the primary job of the radar operator/navigator (wizards) sitting at a radar-equipped panel behind the Canuck pilots, to guide and track targets through technological sorcery while sometimes traversing through zero visibility and turbulent air, until the pilot (who was busy handling the machine and might be worrying about various and sundry mechanical gremlins or goblins) himself could see the blip on his small radar screen. The airman in the rear seat busily employed his electronic wizardry to distinguish between ghost/phantom echoes and actual reflections from Soviet and Warsaw Pact (Eastern European communist air forces) airplanes.

RCAF No 3 All-Weather Fighter Operational Training Unit CF-100 in 1953 – Department of National Defence (Royal Canadian Air Force) – 22 Wing Heritage Office Archives – Public Domain.

In 1953 the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 3 All-Weather Fighter Operational Training Unit [abbreviated AW(F)OTU] adopted the nickname Night Witches, and the orange and black logos applied to the noses of their CF-100 (which were affectionately known as the ‘Clunks’ due to the sound produced when the nose undercarriage retracted into its well) interceptor trainers denoted the aircraft’s all-weather, day-or-night operations.

No. 3 Squadron was posted to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station North Bay, Ontario, and the unit relocated to RCAF Station Cold Lake, Alberta, in 1955.

Also in January 1955, a CF-100 arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for cold-weather tests in the facility’s climatic hangar. An RCAF team which had previously conducted tests at Namao Air Base, Alberta, were part of the climatic detachment of Central Experimental and Proving Establishment.

A year later, in March 1956, four CF-100 Canucks arrived at Eglin, where they were flown by USAF aircrew, for comparative armament trials.

CF-100 crews scramble 14 October 1961 RCAF Station North Bay NORAD conducted Exercise Sky Shield – Department of National Defence – Major John Butch Blair RCAF – Public Domain.

At the time, Canucks were considered by many to be the pre-eminent interceptor amongst global air forces. Although not quite as speedy as some contemporaries, the CF-100s’ excellent climbing performance, state-of-the-art radar and fire-control systems, safety and battle damage redundancy of twin-engines, and their all-weather operational capabilities gave Canada an effective weapons platform for the defence. Canucks flying domestically in Canada retained a metal finish.

In Europe the CF-100’s qualities and abilities made them very valuable for NATO. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Lead Sled’, which was referring to the type’s heavy controls and lack of low altitude manoeuvrability, the Canuck nonetheless as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), four Canuck squadrons were based in Europe with 1 Air Division from 1956–1962. In fact, at one point in the middle 1950s CF-100s served with nine RCAF squadrons, four of which were deployed in Europe from 1956–1962. For a period Canucks were the only NATO fighters capable of operating in extremely poor weather conditions. Those posted with NATO were usually painted in a British-style livery consisting of dark sea grey and green on top and light sea grey on the undersides.

As a partner in the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), which is perhaps best known by the public for its annual Christmas Eve tracking of Santa Claus, Canada was and remains the air defence front line for northern North America. On 12 September 1957 Canada and the U.S. formed NORAD, a military alliance that effectively unified the two countries’ air defences into a single, coordinated, continent-wide defence network. The formal North American Air Defence Command Agreement was signed by both nations on 12 May 1958; on 12 May 1981 the name was altered to North American Aerospace Defence Command to reflect the expansion of responsibilities related to outer space.

As a full NORAD partner, Canada was and is still responsible, as is USAF, for the identification and investigation of intrusions into sovereign airspace. NORAD also identifies and monitors all aircraft entering Canada from overseas, escorts the transport aircraft being utilised by foreign dignitaries, assists planes declaring emergencies while aloft and aids law enforcement agencies.

USAF Northrop F-89D-45-NO Scorpion interceptors of the 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons Goose Bay Air Base Labrador Canada in the 1950s. Public Domain image.

In the 1950s the only other NORAD and NATO contemporary to the CF-100 was USAF’s Northrop F-89 Scorpion. Scorpions and Canuck‘s sometimes operated jointly from Canadian and American bases.

With the advent of the twin-jet Tu-16 Badger in 1954, and its 652 mile-per-hour/567 knot maximum speed, the CF-100s’ front-line operational days were numbered.

As expected, a swifter replacement was acquired by the RCAF: The Mach 1.7+ capable CF-100B Voodoo. The first pair of Voodoos were transferred from USAF inventory at RCAF Uplands on 24 July 1961.

CF-101B Voodoo sn 101060 of 409 Nighthawk Squadron CFB Comox at Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw spring 1982. Public Domain image via Wikipedia.

Eventually it was determined that a CF-100’s airframe could accumulated in excess of 20,000 flight hours before metal fatigue considerations necessitated retirement, Canucks continued to serve until 1981 in secondary (reconnaissance, training and electronic warfare) roles with No. 414 Squadron, Canadian Forces, at CFB North Bay, Ontario.

CF-100s were still operating when the American Rock group the Eagles‘ song Witchy Woman reached number eight on RPM magazine’s Canada Top Singles list in 1972.

CF-100 at BCMC. Photo: John T. Stemple.

CF-100 18152 is now the Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum (aka BCMC) Gate Guardian. The Canuck‘s markings are those of No. 3 OTU, where it flew for the majority of its operational career.

Fuselage panel with Zombie art. Photo: John T. Stemple.

And so the witchy woman, in the form of a Canuck, now peers down from her perch at inquisitive patrons and visitors, harking back to the days of yore when airborne warfare was bewitching rather than commonplace as it is in contemporary times.

Of related interest, within BCMC there is a collection of panels containing macabre reproductions, which are based upon actual paintings that appeared on RCAF-operated aircraft in World War 2, including panels bearing Zombie, Hell Razor and ‘ell Cat.

Hell Razor panel. Photo: John T. Stemple.

Ask any member, and he or she will inform you of the following: “Staring at nose art on Halloween can be enchanting and spellbinding!”


The ‘ell Cat. Photo: John T. Stemple.




The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) for their assistance and cooperation during the preparation of this article.

Notably, Lancaster (FM159), which was built in Canada by Victory Aircraft Limited, is a primary resident and perpetual star attraction at BCMC.

Suggested Viewings

Sources and Suggested Readings

Avro Canada CF-100


Avro CF-100 Canuck


Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck


Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck


Avro Canada Orenda


Bazalgette Lancaster FM-159


CF 100


CF-100 Canuck


CFB North Bay


Cold War




McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo


Northrop F-89 Scorpion


Tupolev Tu-4


Tupolev Tu-16


Tupolev Tu-85


Tupolev Tu-95


Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB)


Witchy Woman