Canadian Warplanes 5: de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CP-121 Tracker

de Havilland Canada (Grumman)

CS2F-1/CP-121 Tracker

(RCN Photo via Mike Kaehler)

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS-2F Tracker, RCN (Serial No. 1595), preparing to launch from the deck of HMCS Bonaventure, 1969.  Note how the nose wheel is off the deck and how the catapult cable hooks onto the fuselage. This aircraft survived its life at sea and went on to become C-FKUF.  It served with Conair in 1991 and was Turbo Firecat 577 in 1992.

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS2F-1/CP-121 Tracker was a purpose-built, single airframe anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft equiped with propeller-driven twin radial engines.  It had a high wing that could be folded for storage on aircraft carriers, and was equipped with a tricycle undercarriage.  The type was exported by the USA to a number of navies around the world.

Introduced in 1952 in the USN, in 1954, 100 Trackers were licence-built in Canada as the C2SF by de Havilland Canada.  The C2SF replaced the Grumman TBM-3 Avengers in service with the RCN.  The first Canadian-built aircraft flew on 31 May 1956.  From 1957 onwards, these aircraft operated from the then newly deployed aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, and various shore bases.  All the Canadian Trackers were built to the earlier "A" model airframe design with a length of 42 feet (13 m) (c.f. 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m) for later model Trackers) in order to fit in HMCS  Bonaventure's hangar.  In 1960–1961, 17 CS2F-1 aircraft, which had been relegated to training and utility duties by the CS2F-2, were transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy.  From 1964, 45 CS2F-2s were upgraded by fitting revised electronic equipment and sensors, becoming CS2F-3s.  Also in 1964, a pair of CS2F-1 aircraft were stripped of armament and ASW electronics, converted to transports, and subsequently used for carrier onboard delivery.  The CS2F-1, -2, and -3 were redesignated as the CP-121 Mk.1, Mk. 2, and Mk. 3 respectively following the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968.

After HMCS Bonaventure was decommissioned in 1970, all remaining Canadian Trackers were transferred to shore bases.  This limited their usefulness for ASW patrols, and between 1974 and 1981 gradually all but 20 were placed in storage and the remainder were stripped of their ASW gear.  The remaining active-duty Trackers served until 1990 on fisheries protection and maritime patrol duties.  A handful of Trackers were kept in flying condition until the late 1990s but were no longer used for active service.

A single Grumman-built S2F-1 was sold to de Havilland Canada as a pattern and test aircraft; it was assigned RCN (Serial No. 1500) and coded X-500.  This aircraft may have been dismantled by DHC and reassembled as (Serial No. 1501) with the same wing markings, although other sources claim that 1500 was returned to the US Navy as (BuNo. 136519), and that 1501 was a new aircraft assembled by DHC from Grumman-provided parts, possibly with duplicate X-500 wing markings.  1501 was later upgraded to CS2F-1 standards and used as a stationary instructional airframe.  It was placed in storage in 1972 and is currently on display in the Sherwater Aviation Museum in Nova Scotia.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Conair Aviation of Abbotsford, British Columbia, took possession of retired American and Canadian Trackers and converted them into Firecats, with a fire retardant tank replacing the torpedo bay.  The Firecats were made in two variants, a piston engine Firecat and a turboprop-powered Turbo Firecat.

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS2F-1/CP-121 Tracker (43), (Serial Nos. 1501 (also X500), 1502-43), CS2F-2 (57), (Serial Nos. 1544-1600),  S2F-1 (1), (Serial No. 136519), CP-121.

(Canadian Forces Photo)

No. 880 Squadron CP-121 Trackers with ground and air crew standing in front of each aircraft at the Squadron's initial arrival at CFB Summerside, Prince Edward Island on 4 Aug 1981.  Note the aircraft are in numerical order 196, 195, 190, 189, 188, 187, 185, 178, 169, 168, etc.

(RCN Photo via Chris Charland)

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS2F-3/CP-121 Tracker (Serial No. 12168).  The original serial number was 1568.  It was changed to (Serial No. 12168) on 11 Jun 1970.  This aircraft served with VS 880, VU 32, VT 406 and MR 880.  12168 was struck off strength with the Canadian Forces on 8 Jan 1991.  It was sold to Conair and given the Canadian civil aircraft registration C-FKVD.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4821470)

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS2F-1, CP-121 Tracker, ca 1960.  

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4821470)

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS2F-1, CP-121 Tracker, ca 1960.  

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4821192)

de Havilland (Grumman) CS2F-1 Tracker, RCN, (Serial No. 500), X, ca 1960.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4821193)

de Havilland (Grumman) CS2F-1 Tracker, RCN, (Serial No. 500), X, ca 1960.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4821194)

de Havilland (Grumman) CS2F-1 Tracker, RCN, (Serial No. 500), X, ca 1960.  With magnetic anomally gear retracted and extended.  

(DND Photos)

de Havilland (Grumman) CS2F-1 Tracker, RCN No. 881 Squadron, ca 1957-58, HMCS Bonaventure.

(DND Photo via Mike Kaehler)

An extraordinary story of survival involving RCN Tracker 1592 and HMCS Bonaventure.

On 16 Feb 1969 Tracker 1592 was number two to launch from the Bonaventure. Recovering the launch bridle from the previous aircraft launched the catapult launch crew hooked up aircraft 1592.  The catapult shot seemed normal until the 30 foot mark was reached.  At this point the catapult launch bridle failed and as a result the aircraft was launched off the bow of the ship with insufficient speed to get airborne and just fell into the ocean in front of the Bonaventure. The ship struck the aircraft as the crew escaped.  The crew were sucked under the ship and one of the pilots, Lt Flannagan, was pulled through the Bonaventure screws at the other end of the ship loosing one of his legs below the knee.  He was rescued by HO4S-3 55891 flown by Sub-Lt Real Dubois.  The hoist operator was Leading Seaman Craster with Leading Seaman Cameron jumping in the water to connect Lt Flannagan to the rescue harness (horse collar).  Luckily the helicopter crew could see that Lt Flannagan was gravely injured and went to him before rescuing the other crew members.  In spite of the loss of a leg, from the knee down, Lt Flannagan returned to flying duties on the Tracker and later helicopters including the Sea King.  The launch bridle failed due to the loop splice pulling free from the retaining swaged tube fitting.  The tube had not been forced completely over the spliced joint before swaging.  (DND photo)


       Pilot Lt


Jack Flannagan (RCN) (Survived)

Pilot Lt


Chuck MacIntyre (RCN) (Survived)

Crewman Leading Seaman W.M. Smith (RCN) (Survived)

Crewman Leading Seaman Robert Winger (RCN) (Survived)

(RCN Photo via Mike Kaehler)

de Havilland (Grumman) Tracker, RCN (Serial No. 1570) with ordnance. ca 1965.

(RCN Photo)

de Havilland Canada (Grumman) CS-2F Tracker in flight over HMCS Bonaventure.

(Author Photo)

de Havilland (Grumman) Tracker, RCN (Serial No. 12195), CFB Trenton, Ontario, 1978.

(Alain Rioux Photo)

de Havilland (Grumman) CP-121 (CS2F-2) Tracker (Serial No. 121551), Air Force Heritage Park, CFB Winnipeg, Manitoba.

(Balcer Photo)

de Havilland (Grumman) CP-121 (CS2F-2) Tracker (Serial No. 121507), CFB Borden, Ontario.

(Author Photo)

de Havilland (Grumman) CP-121 Tracker, (Serial No. 121131), Summerside, PEI.