The scientific tourist #114 — The Avro Arrow

Yes, it’s only a model (at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia) of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

Of course, there’s a perfectly good reason why I can only show you a model of an Arrow — that’s because no copies of the real thing exist any more.

In the post-WWII years, Western countries quickly became concerned about the Soviet Union’s buildup of its bomber fleet. In particular, Soviet work toward supersonic long-range bombers got a lot of peoples’ attention. So during the 1950’s, a number of countries started developing approaches to defending against Soviet supersonic bombers (generally using some variant of nuclear-tipped missiles) at an understandably great distance from their borders.

In the U.S., this took the form of multiple competing programs — interceptor aircraft firing nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles, as well as long-range nuclear-tipped ground-to-air missiles. In Canada, the job of defense against Soviet bombers was delegated to a new interceptor program — the CF-105, started in 1953 and seeing rollout in 1957. Plagued by delays of its engines, the first Arrow models (“Mark 1”) had to fly with underpowered temporary engines — this allowed for testing of controls and aircraft handling, but unfortunately may have helped give the aircraft a reputation for pedestrian performance.

Ultimately, though, the Arrow program was undone by a convergence of forces beyond anyone’s prediction. The rollout of the first Arrow had been planned as a huge publicity event, but it happened to fall on October 4, 1957 — the day the USSR launched Sputnik. Meanwhile, the creation of NORAD (linking U.S. and Canadian air defenses) meant that Canada now had access to U.S. BOMARC long-range (yes, nuclear-tipped) interceptor missiles — allowing the Canadian government to avoid a development program, but at the same time absorbing much-needed defense funding. Finally, in 1957, the Canadian government experienced a change of political parties — with the incoming prime minister having campaigned on a platform of fiscal restraint.

After months of wrangling, the Canadian government cancelled Arrow on February 20, 1959 — immediately putting nearly 30,000 people out of work. Within two months, all aircraft (five flying), engines, production tooling, and technical data were ordered scrapped. Officially, the destruction order was given to destroy any classified materials out of concern that the Soviets had infiltrated Avro. An unfortunate side-effect of the order was that it spawned a host of conspiracy theories that survive to this day.

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One Response to The scientific tourist #114 — The Avro Arrow

  1. Murray B says:

    Nice article but there are some exaggerations.

    The Arrow 1 flew with a Pratt and Whitney J75 engine that was, according to Avro, rated at 24,000 lbt. with reheat. This was a standard jet engine and was not built for temporary use. The Orenda Iroquois engine was rated at 25,000 lbt. with reheat. Even with an additional 4% thrust the Arrow’s performance may well have remained “pedestrian”.

    Before the Arrow was cancelled the goverment set aside $50 million to keep people working. Cabinet was also actively trying to find more contracts for Avro. Despite this, Avro management chose to fire everybody instead.

    Here is an excerpt from the Montreal Star Feb. 24 1959, “The Prime Minister said the company had warning of the Government decision to cancel the CF-105 Arrow supersonic interceptor and knew that $50,000,000 in public funds had been set aside in the estimate for 1959-1960 to cover winding up expenses…”I say that its attitude in letting out thousands of workers – technical workers and employees – on Friday was so cavalier, so unreasonable, that the only conclusion any fair-minded person can come to is that it was done for the purpose of embarassing the goverment.””

    Diefenbaker’s statements are confirmed by Cabinet minutes that have now been declassified. It is simply not true that those people were thrown out of work by the cancellation. Avro chose to let them go.

    There is also no trace of an order from the government or military to destroy the tooling and technical data. This also appears to have come from within the company.

    The Avro was one of the most divisive issues in our country’s history and it is sad that the lies are still being repeated after more than fifty years. It is important to set the record straight.

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