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FEATURE Empress of the Skies: CP Air’s DC-8 Game-changer


The Douglas DC-8 played a pivotal role with Canada’s second biggest airline for over two decades. Andrew H Cline
details the type’s career with this carrier.

The Douglas DC-8 was Canadian Pacific Airlines’ (later CP Air) first jet type. The carrier can be traced back to being formed during World War Two. The Canadian Pacific Railway had been a stakeholder in Canadian Airways since it was established in 1930. Nine years later, the railway company decided to get more into the airline business, fully acquiring Canadian Airways and nine other small carriers from across the country. They were united as Canadian Pacific Airlines, which started operations on July 1, 1942 – the 75th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.
Legendary Canadian bush pilot Grant McConachie was the general manager and later president. He was instrumental in building a world-class airline to complement the railway and shipping divisions.
Among the aircraft types operated by the carrier (CP/CPC), the Douglas DC-8 served from 1961 to 1983. When the airline rebranded as CP Air in 1968, adopting the distinctive orange, red and silver livery, the airline’s motto reflected the DC-8 by stating ‘CP Orange Jets to Five Continents’.
President Grant McConachie, always a hands-on leader, test flew the three jets on the market: de Havilland Comet IV, Boeing 707 and the DC-8. Canadian Pacific ordered four DC-8-43s in October 1959 at a cost of $6m each. It took delivery of its first DC-8-43, CF-CPF, fleet number 601, Empress of Vancouver on February 22, 1961. It was officially introduced on the Vancouver-Honolulu route on March 25. The second, CF-CPH, was handed over on April 1, inaugurating the Vancouver-Edmonton-Amsterdam route on April 30, replacing an unserviceable Bristol Britannia.
The initial configuration of the ‘Jet Empress’, as the airline called the DC-8, was 36 first class and 80 economy seats, with four more ‘lounge’ seats, on the right side of the forward entranceway, usually used for crew rest. These were later replaced with six economy seats. The airline promoted the DC-8 and among the items it highlighted was its comfort, spacious seating and wide aisle. The DC-8-43s were reconfigured in 1967 for 141 passengers: 12 in first and 129 in economy.


Photo caption: The SkyBus/Aérobus service flew Vancouver-Edmonton-Calgary-Winnipeg-Toronto-Montreal. Tom Kim


The rest of this article can be found in the August issue. Pick up your copy of the new August issue from July 19, direct from or in leading newsagents. Alternatively, you can download a digital edition from – simply search ‘Aviation News’





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