Who Will Know the F-35 in the Sun?

More than 100 years after shipyard workers in Lunenburg, N.S., shaped wood and metal to build the Bluenose schooner, the tradition of local, hand-built excellence lives on.

But now, instead of fishing boats, it’s fighter jets — Brett Ruskin, CBC, 6 April 2022


It’s such an apt comparison.

Like Canada’s F-35 saga, negotiations to build the Bluenose dragged on over more than a decade, having begun in 1911, when Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden ordered the construction of 64 armed schooners to replace the country’s ageing war schooner fleet. As with the fighter jets, the estimated cost of the schooners — $9 billion in modern dollars — was soon revealed to be closer to “$29.3 billion when the purchase price and sustainment costs for the fleet over 30 years were included in the calculation.”

And who could forget that famous picture of the Minister of Militia and Defense at the time, Sir Samuel Hughes, flashing thumbs up from the helm of a fake schooner that had been shipped to Ottawa by Lunenburg’s Smith and Rhuland shipyard for a $47,000 photo op?

(Hughes, I’ve just discovered, was a Boer War veteran whose character, according to Canadian historian René Chartrand, could “be read from the fact that he had actually asked for the [Victoria Cross] for his services in South Africa.” He didn’t get it)

The moment would be echoed in 2010 when this happened:

Peter McKay in fake F-35

Defense Minister Peter MacKay sits in a fake F-35 fighter jet supplied by Lockheed Martin, at the announcement of planes to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet. (Photo by (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Like the Bluenose, the F-35 was designed by a gifted amateur with a day job at a soda pop company.

And like the F-35, the Bluenose was plagued by “technical problems and operational shortcomings” — it could only tolerate top speeds in short bursts before all its varnish fell off; an hour of sailing cost an outlandish US$36,000; and it, too, was once described by a popular men’s magazine as “a non-functional, money-sucking nightmare.”

The War Schooner program was famously scrapped, reinstated, then upped to 88 vessels before finally being scaled back to just one, the Bluenose, but what a vessel she was — proving her worth repeatedly by shelling the Boston States into submission throughout the 1920s and ’30s.


Okay, I’ll stop, I think I’ve made my point.

Ruskin’s piece is about Stelia Aerospace, whose “headquarters for North America can be found just across the harbour from the site where the Bluenose launched in 1921.” Stelia has been “part of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 supply chain for more than a decade,” contracted to produce F-35 “panels and parts” from composite materials. Just like Smith and Rhuland, if Smith and Rhuland had produced ship parts rather than ships.

The Bluenose was a racing vessel and a working fishing vessel but she was not a warship, even though, in her last incarnation in the 1940s, she apparently carried “rum, sugar, bananas and war supplies” to the United States.


The Bluenose was not a killing machine unless you were a codfish and even then, the damage she did to the cod stocks was minimal compared to what we’d accomplish in later years with higher tech.

In contrast, as Brent Patterson explained in rabble.ca in 2020, Lockheed Martin boasts that:

“In stealth mode, the F-35 can infiltrate enemy territory that other fighters can’t, carrying 5,700 pounds of internal ordnance. Once air dominance is established, the F-35 converts to beast mode, carrying up to 22,000 pounds of combined internal and external weapons, to return to the battle to finish the fight.”

The National Interest further highlights that F-35 armaments include a four-barrel 25mm gun that can fire 3,300 rounds per minute.

The Bluenose, to the best of my knowledge, had no “beast mode.”

Moreover, she was a sailing vessel, she was wind-driven, with what today we’d call a low carbon footprint. Aircraft in general, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, produce high-altitude emissions that “have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect.” Fighter jets are worse because their maximum altitude is higher.

I have my thoughts on this country’s need for fighter jets — and this country’s genius for messing up military procurements — but I’m not entering those dangerous waters today.

Today I’m just saying, for the love of Stan Rogers, don’t compare “the most famous ship in Canadian history,” a fishing and racing vessel built — in its entirety — in Nova Scotia, to an F-35 fighter jet.

Is it so much to ask?

The featured images were taken exactly 100 years apart, the top is a photo of a Lockheed Martin F35-A taken in 2021 by U.S. Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Michael Davis, while the bottom is a photo of the Bluenose taken in 1921 by Wallace R. MacAskill. Both are in the Public Domain and were sourced via Wikimedia Commons.