Avro Arrow – Straight to the Heart

AVRO Arrow - circa 1958
Photo courtesy of GlobalAircraft.org

In 1959, Canada’s AVRO company was at the leading edge of the aerospace industry. With the test flights for the C-105 (more commonly known as the AVRO Arrow) producing better than expected results, the Arrow was living up to its already hyped specs. Billed as the most advanced fighter-interceptor plane in existence, the Arrow was over-performing in its test flights, proving all the specifications. With a maximum speed of Mach 1.98 and cruising speed of Mach .91, the Arrow out-performed all jet fighters of its day, and would still stand up well in the world of modern jet fighters.

And yet, On Feb 20th, 1959, John Diefenbaker, Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister at the time, announced the cancellation of the program. More than simply cancelling the program, Diefenbaker ordered the prototypes destroyed, and all the plans, blueprints, and drawings shredded and burned. Officially, after cancellation, the Arrow program proved too much of a security risk with RCMP reports of Soviet spies in and around the AVRO facilities, and these security concerns ‘explain’ the destruction orders of the prototypes and plans.

While those security concerns were certainly valid, several chances to preserve Arrow prototypes through the National Research Council (as one exmple) were rejected in favour of the extreme solution of destruction. When coupled with the lack of explanation for the cancellation of the project, and there are legitimate questions about what was happening behind the scenes at the time.

Initially, the role envisioned for the CF-105 was an interceptor for Soviet nuclear bombers, a main part of the NORAD defence of the north. As the 50’s progressed, dangers from space based weaponry and ICBM’s came to be a larger and larger concern, and the role of the Arrow seemed to be diminishing. Still, the development of other high-tech jet interceptors in other countries shows that the concept was still valid, and is still valid today, even if the specific role was changing.

As is common in Canada, its likely that party politics played a role in the cancellation. The Arrow began in 1953 as a project of the then Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent. In 1957, John Diefenbaker came to power on a platform based largely around the idea of ‘rampant Liberal spending.’ Many theories have the demise of the Arrow project being nothing more than a Conservative PM cancelling a Liberal ‘pork’ project.

There are larger conspiracy theories. Some theories have Canada bowing to pressure from a US that didn’t want to be outshone in aircraft engineering. Others point to the changing priorities of the NORAD defence showing the Arrow’s role was disappearing. Still others advance ever more nefarious reasons for the cancellation and destruction, but the fact is no one knows the real reason why the project was scrapped, and we probably never will.

Recent interest in the Arrow has resulted in a number of projects. In 1997, several flying, scale models were made for a made-for-TV CBC docu-drama called “The Arrow” about the project and its demise. There are several people scouring Lake Ontario for the scrapped original prototypes, and this past weekend (Oct 8, 2006) the Toronto Aerospace Museum unveiled its full-size replica of the Arrow. I’ve always been fascinated by this chapter in Canadian history, and it was cool to see the replica roll out over the weekend. Hopefully, some day soon, some of the original prototypes will be dredged up from Lake Ontario, and we can have a closer look at an aerospace legend. For the time being, all we have left of the Arrow is the archived footage from CBC … check out some of the clips of the Arrow here, including footage of the maiden test flight of RL-201.

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One Response

  1. do u know how to make a avro aero model?
    -October 17,2007

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