GENEVA, Switzerland -- In 1980, the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a young director named Stephen Low to document an ambitious plan to revive struggling Canadair by developing an advanced business jet -- the Challenger.
The rest of the story is now well-known. After surviving a disastrous crash in flight test, the Challenger went on to become one of history's most successful business jet programmes. The Bill Lear-inspired project not only revived Canadair and revolutionized the business jet industry by introducing the first supercritical airfoil and turbofan engines. A close derivative of the Challenger -- the CRJ100 -- went on to almost single-handedly create the regional jet boom in the early 1990s, and even now continues in production as the Bombardier CRJ700/900/1000 series.
The documentary, entitled Challenger: An Industrial Romance, also marks an early masterpiece by Low, who has become a legend in aviation film. Low has more recently directed "Legends of Flight" and "Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag", while also making his mark in mainstream movies with Rocky Mountain Express.
Even 32 years later, Low's documentary on the Challenger project remains one of the most in-depth and insightful records of the development of a mass-produced aircraft. Canadair granted Low seemingly all-access rights within the programme, with cameras allowed to capture boardrooms meetings, assembly work and sales strategizing. It's also a time capsule of the technology and marketing standards of late-1970s.