Collecting an Aircraft and a Community

From the earliest bush planes to post-WWII aircraft, Canada has a long tradition of aerial photographic surveying and exploration. In the 1970s, the newly formed CCRS (Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing) developed a pioneering remote sensing program, which used both optical and radar-based technologies for imaging the earth. Through the RADARSAT program, Canadians took this enterprise into space.

Recently, the curator of Aviation, Renald Fortier and I proposed the acquisition of an aircraft used for some of the earliest remote sensing research in Canada. Many logistical and financial challenges lie ahead, but research into the potential acquisition continues. From 1974 to 2012, the Convair 580 was the experimental platform for radar remote sensing. It performed research for application development in forestry, agriculture, geology, hydrology, oceanography, ice studies, environmental protection, cartography, oil and gas operations, mineral exploration, and arctic navigation.


Photo: The present location of the Convair 580 at the former hangar for the Geological Survey of Canada now owned by Environment Canada. The CV 580 has a colourful biography – from Johnson and Johnson executive transport in the 1950s to rugged scientific vessel for the Canadian government from 1974-2012. Photo from

In the process of researching this proposal, we were struck by the wide range of people, institutions, disciplines, and regions touched and shaped by this aircraft. Many people heard about our proposal and wrote personal, emotional testimonials about their experience with CV 580. As the research progressed, and we heard from people around Canada and the world, we realized we were collecting an entire community, not just an aircraft and its instruments.

Photo: CV 580 as ambassador. The Convair 580 on a 1981 mission with the European Space Agency. The CV 580 flew in missions in over 70 countries and contributed to earth and space-based remote sensing programs in several countries.

Photo: CV 580 as ambassador. The Convair 580 on a 1981 mission to Europe with the European Space Agency. Over the years, the CV 580 flew in missions in over 70 countries and contributed to earth and space-based remote sensing programs all over the world.

Aircraft, instruments, people and places

The CV 580 represents a fascinating integration of the social and material dimensions of scientific practice. The inside of the aircraft could be a vessel from any scientific voyage in history.


Photo: Inside the CV 580. The CCRS and industry partners such as MDA custom built almost all the instrumentation for the aircraft.

There were specialized instruments, skills and communications at work, with many changes dependent on the mission, and/or the introduction of new technologies over the years. A few things were fairly constant. There was a station for real-time processing and radar control, a station for monitoring the imagery and many associated recording systems, and stations for flight scientist and mission manager. The crew managed their instruments and stations while coordinating and communicating with colleagues through the vibrations and noise of the aircraft. Research scientist Bob Hawkins flew on many missions with CV 580 since 1978. He recalled the unique social conditions that developed on the aircraft:

“There is camaraderie like I suppose happens in a military unit as everyone focuses on making his part of the task fit and integrate with the rest of the crew.  We are each aware of one another’s foibles yet confident in the ability of the team to come through..” (Personal correspondence, March 2014)

Photo: Doug Percy at the real-time processing station, c. 1990s.

Photo: Doug Percy at the monitoring and recording station, c. 1990s.

For Pilot Captain Bryan Healey, who flew the CV 580 for 34 years, the instruments were delicate passengers in need of special attention:

“The aircraft has operated in the Canadian Arctic and Archipelago out of Inuvik, Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit) and Resolute Bay on many sorties, on ice identification, mapping and behaviour and was a major contributor to the success of the Canadian Ice Service.  For these trips, we have operated in temperatures as cold as -52 C (and high as +45 elsewhere in the world), a bit of a challenge for a CV580 at times not to mention crew and equipment.  In the early years in the Arctic we had electric blankets on certain pieces of equipment so it wouldn’t take more than 4 hours of warm up before flying because the aircraft was often -40 or less inside after cold soaking outside.” [February 2014, correspondence]

Photo: Each piece of equipment had a weight label iin order to create a precise audit of cargo weight for each mission.

Photo: Each piece of equipment had a weight label to create a precise audit of cargo weight and balance of the aircraft for each mission.

Captain Healey also recalls danger for the flight crew working with the early high power C-band transmitter (used to extend the range and quality of the radar imagery):

“Every once in a while this thing would send a lightning bolt
(literally) from the high power conductors to the cage in the rack. We’d get thunder and all, and you could hear it in the cockpit. Of course the back end crew would have the hell scared out of them particularly the first time it happened. Of course there were so many blown IC’s [integrated circuits] and capacitors when this happened the radar was broken and we’d have to go back and land for repair, which was a problem if it happened early in the flight because we’d be over landing weight with the fuel load. Every once in a while Chuck Livingston (the designer of this thing) would have his hands in there and this thing would let go and “Pow”, 50 thousand volts would flash across to the cage. I don’t know how he never got electrocuted. The unit was subsequently retired by Chuck, I’m not sure if it was because of his fear it would blown up the whole radar or it just didn’t prove particularly beneficial to the operation.”

Healey characterizes the CV 580 as a “phenomenal war horse of science and adversity. I use the word adversity with passion because having flown this airplane for 34 years, I know the veracity of this word as it applies to C-GRSC, its’ crew and all the science and people behind it.” [February 2014 Correspondence]

Photo: The heart of the aircraft – one of two Synthetic Aperature Radar (SAR) antennas designed by Chuck Livingston and made by COMDEV, Cambridge, Ontario

Photo: The heart of the aircraft – one of two Synthetic Aperature Radar (SAR) antennas designed by Chuck Livingston and made by COMDEV, Cambridge, Ontario with Dr. Livingstone as Scientific Authority.

In developing the RADARSAT 2, scientists and engineers drew heavily from the CV 580 experience. All of these social and material lessons are now buried deep inside instruments far from the grasp of museum curators. The CV 580 is the last earthly bridge to that history. Frank Carsey, a long-time CCRS user from the Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech wrote: “Engineers and scientists worked hard, scrabbled for funds, flew out of uncomfortable distant sites, dealt with balky electronics and yet delivered good, insightful science. The CV 580 connects us to those roots.” [Correspondence, March 2014]


Doris H. Jelly, Canada: 25 years in Space, 1988.

Gerard McGrath & Louis Sebert (Eds). Mapping a Northern Land: The Survey of Canada, 1947-1994. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999

Gordon Shepherd & Agnes Kruchio, Canada’s Fifty Years in Space: The COSPAR Anniversary, 2008

This is the kit ! Donated to the Museum by Parks Canada in March 2013.
Photo: CSTMC/T.Alfoldi

In Search of George Klein’s Snow Study Kit

My research on the history of avalanche studies in Canada started in December 2012 when I made several enquiries as to the possible location of a snow study kit developed by George Klein.

Klein Snow Study Kit, 1947-2013
Manufacturer: National Research Council Canada, Division of Building Research, Source: Parks Canada, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks
Location: Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C.
Artifact no.: 2013.0059.001-.010

A pioneer of the Alouette satellite program, Klein is regarded as one of Canada’s most prolific inventors. He developed the box kit pictured below as well as published Method of Measuring the Significant Characteristics of a Snow-Cover (NRC, MM-192) in the mid 1940’s. But where was the kit? How do I set out looking for it? Would I get lucky enough to find it?

View a 1958 video of the Klein snow kit in use in Rogers Pass, B.C.

photo box only

The complete set of instruments.
Weighing 16 lbs, the set included snow sample cutters, a beam balance, two snow hardness gauges, ruler, cup, magnifying glass, spatula, and thermometers.
Photo: Reproduced with the permission of the National Research Council Canada

Fuelled by curiosity, and knowing of the possible links to avalanche research in Canada, enquiries and connections were made. I had several discussions with Richard Bourgeois-Doyle of the NRC in Ottawa, also George Klein’s biographer, and people from the Centre d’avalanche de la Haute-Gaspésie in Québec, the Canadian Avalanche Association in Revelstoke, Parks Canada, and with the ASARC program at the University of Calgary.

Perseverance paid off! It was in January 2013, with the invaluable help of Dr. John Woods, a retired Parks Canada naturalist, and an enthusiastic Phd student from the Applied Snow and Avalanche Research (ASARC) program at the University of Calgary. They located a snow study kit. This one contained some of Klein’s original instruments, which meant it had been in use for over sixty years. The well weathered instruments stood the test of time, and were still in use at the Mount Fidelity research station in Glacier National Park of Canada, B.C.

With a gracious invitation by Jacolyn Daniluck, a Parcs Canada Communications Officer, I travelled to Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada in March 2013 (on this and other related business). It was there I met Jeff Goodrich, an expert in avalanche operations, who would donate a second kit to the Museum. This one, not in use since 2005 had four of Klein’s original instruments: a 500 gram beam balance stamped NRC/DBR, a snow sampling tool, bowl, and a snow density gauge.


Donated to the Museum by Parks Canada in March 2013. Photo: CSTMC/T.Alfoldi

The three instruments pictured, part of one of Klein’s original snow science kits, were donated by Parks Canada in March 2013. Used in the 1950’s by Noel Gardner and NRC avalanche pioneer Peter Schaerer during the construction of the Trans-Canada highway through Rogers Pass, the instruments became part of this red kit and used thereafter by Parks Canada in snow research and avalanche control until very recently.

These instruments, developed by Klein for the classification of snow-ground covers were originally intended to advance his research in the development of snow landing gear for aircraft. His research however would also eventually contribute to the foundation of an international standard for snow classification as well as to avalanche studies during the planning and construction of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Snow Study Plot, Mount Fidelity, Parks Canada, 1965, Glacier National Parc, B.C.
Fred Schleiss is holding a snow crystal identification card and looking at the crystal type. Seen hooked on the handle of the shovel, the Klein beam balance and small bucket are some of the basic instruments used to determine snow density of various layers within this snow pit.
Photo: Reproduced with the permission of Parks Canada.

Klein’s snow instruments made their way to Rogers Pass where they were used by Canadian avalanche pioneers Noel Gardner and Peter Schaerer during the planning and construction phases of the Trans-Canada Highway in the mid to late 1950’s, and used almost to this day in the Parks Canada avalanche control program.

Snow Study Plot, Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C.

Many thanks to Johan Schleiss who gave me a very “cool” tour of their snow study plot in Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C. Photo by author, March 2013


Click here to view VIDEO: Snowplow on the Trans-Canada Highway

Snowplow on the Trans-Canada Highway

This video was taken from the Bostok Creek parking lot at the foot of Mt. Fidelity, in Glacier National Park of Canada. Located at an elevation of 1,900m, the Mt. Fidelity Research Station monitors weather and conducts snowpack analysis for avalanche control. With an average annual snowfall of about 14m (42 feet), it is the snowiest place in Canada and ranked third snowiest place on Earth.

Digging Deeper:

Land of Thundering Snow” rel=”nofollow”>

Backcountry Avalanche Information

Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa

Glacier National Park Canada

Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada



Many thanks to Parks Canada (Jeff Goodrich, Jacolyn Daniluck, and Johan Schleiss) for donating the Klein kit and other artifacts to the Museum. To Dr. John Woods, Wildvoices Consulting and Mike Conlan, ASARC Program, University of Calgary for finding Klein instruments still in use and pointing me in the right direction. To the National Research Council of Canada, who started the whole thing in the first place and for the use of the photo of the original Klein snow study kit, and to Dick Bourgeois-Doyle for answering the many questions I had on George Klein.


Bourgeois-Doyle, R., George Klein: The Great Inventor, National Research Council Press, Ottawa, Canada, 1994.

Klein, G.J., Method of Measuring the Significant Characteristics of a Snow-Cover, Report No. MM-192, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, November 1946.

Klein, G.J., Canadian Survey of Physical Characteristics of Snow-Covers, For presentation at the Oslo Conference of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, June 1948.

Proceedings of 1947 Conference on Snow and Ice, Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics. Technical Memorandum No. 10 of the Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics, NRC, Ottawa, October 1947.

The International Classification for Snow, Issued by the International Association of Hydrology. Published as Technical Memorandum No. 31 by the Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics. National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, August 1954

CSTMC / M.Labrecque, 2014