Select Page

Velvet Glove Air-to-Air Missile

The Velvet Glove air-to-air missile was designed by the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment. Velvet Glove was a short-range (8 km) missile with Radar guidance. It had a cruciform design configuration with full wing deflection steering, a microwave vacuum tube type fuze, and a fragmentation type warhead of 60-65 pounds. Velvet Glove used an X-band pulse radar semi-active guidance system [not infrared, as some sources claim]. With semi-active radar homing, the radar transmitter was carried on the aircraft and the receiver in the missile, so the pilot had to keep the radar transmitter aimed at the target while the missile was in flight. After five years of development, Velvet Glove was deemed obsolete and finally cancelled in 1956 [not 1954, as claimed by some sources].


The intention of the Canadian Government in authorizing the formation of the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) by Order-in-Council in 1945 was to preserve the main elements of the military technological complex which had been developed in Valcartier during the Second World War. Starting in 1951 CARDE implemented a major missile development program, eventually delivering two combat systems, the Velvet Glove air-to-air missile and the Heller anti-tank rocket. Neither was accepted for production, but the basic research was used with local defence contractors to build up familiarity with the new technologies.


In 1951, Canada embarked on the development of this relatively small tactical missile, roughly 10 feet long and less than a foot in diameter. Despite its high level technical complexity, the Velvet Glove [an iron hand in a velvet glove] could not be considered as a hyper-sophisticated missile. It was rather selected for the very reason that it could be used as a vehicle for training Canadian scientists and industrialists in this field of defence science.


During the first half of the 1950’s, the Establishment at Valcartier was a true training school for contractors working on the Velvet Glove project. Because of this approach, which was aimed at maximizing technology transfer to private industry and supporting the development of a strong Canadian industry in this high technology sector, CARDE was able to achieve its ultimate objective of establishing an air-to-air missile program in Canada.


An early research focus at the Electronics Laboratory was the development of the proximity fuse for the “Velvet Glove” guided missile. This air-to-air missile was designed to detonate when it reached a certain proximity to its target. The distance to target was determined by microwave measurements. By 1955, DRTE’s Microwave Fuzing Group had developed the fuse technology and transferred it to Canadian Westinghouse.


Velvet Glove had been initially intended for the CF-100, but development was so slow that it still was unavailable when the last CF-100s were being delivered. The Velvet Glove missile had been under development with the RCAF for some time, but was proven unsuitable for supersonic speeds and lacked development potential, consequently further work on that project was cancelled in 1956, and was no longer considered for the CF-105 Arrow.


Velvet Glove had been overtaken by U.S. missiles including the Sparrow II and Sparrow III. When the Velvet Glove program had been cancelled, both the Government and the companies concerned had contributed towards the maintenance of these teams until work on the Sparrow II could be started. In March 1958, the Canadian government contracted with Canadair, in association with Douglas Aircraft and Bendix Aviation, to supply 900 Sparrow II Mark 1 air-to-air missiles. The government cancelled the Sparrow II program along with the Arrow. The only remaining Velvet Glove is displayed at the RCAF Memorial Museum in Trenton, Ontario.