The Avro Arrow:
Canada's Broken Dream++*
Nov. 1, 1951 - Jan. 13, 1997
It's the closest thing Canadian industry has to a love story and a murder mystery. The Avro Arrow, a sleek white jet interceptor developed in Malton, Ontario in the 1950s, could have been many things. It might have become the fastest plane in the world, our best defence against Soviet bombers, the catalyst to propel Canada to the forefront of the aviation industry. Instead, it became a $400-million pile of scrap metal, and the stuff of legends.
The RCAF needs a new plane
To catch Soviet bombers, the Royal Canadian Air Force puts out the call for a jet that will fly faster, higher and further than anything on the market.
At the end of the Second World War, Canada is one of the world's major industrial powers. The Royal Canadian Air Force is the third largest in the world, and aircraft manufacturer A.V. Roe Canada produced some of the best bombers of the war. In 1949 the company introduces the North America's commercial jet, the Avro Jetliner, but then the Korean War breaks out and all efforts turn towards producing jet warplanes.
Avro's latest success story is the CF-100 "Canuck," a long-range, all-weather jet designed to intercept nuclear-armed Soviet bombers crossing the Arctic Ocean. But there are fears of a "bomber gap," and the RCAF wants a plane that can fly higher and faster than anything currently available. Avro, under new president and general manager Crawford Gordon, has the answer.
Did You Know?
- The Royal Canadian Air Force wanted a plane that could defend the Canadian Arctic from new Soviet bombers. They studied all jets that were currently available, including the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, but rejected them. In April 1953, the RCAF announced specification "Air-7-3," calling for a new supersonic twin-engine, two-seat interceptor. The plane was to have a range of 1100 kilometres and a top speed over Mach 1.5. A contract was awarded to Avro in December 1953.
- The Canadian government-owned Victory Aircraft company in Malton was bought by Britain's Hawker Siddeley, and renamed A.V. Roe Canada, which became Avro Canada Ltd.
- Crawford Gordon became president and general manager of A.V. Roe Canada in 1951, at age 37. He was a protégé of Liberal minister C.D. Howe, who was responsible for Canadian industrial production during the Second World War. Gordon immediately diversified the company, turning it into 39 separate companies, including Avro Canada and Orenda Engines.
- The Avro Jetliner was built for Trans Canada Airlines (which became Air Canada.) Only one Jetliner was ever built. It carried airmail from Toronto to New York in April 1950 and set numerous records before C.D. Howe ordered Avro to suspend production and focus on warplanes.
- The sole Jetliner was leased to American aircraft mogul Howard Hughes for six months, who used it as a personal toy. In February 1957 it was cut up for scrap.
- Avro began designing the CF-100 "Canuck" in 1946; the first one flew in January 1950. It is the only operational Canadian combat aircraft ever built. The plane was not ready for use in the Korean war, but 692 were built between 1950 and 1958. Belgium used 53 CF-100s.
- The Canuck took its name from the Curtis JN-4 Canuck trainer used in the First World War. Unofficially, pilots and crew members referred to it as the "Clunk."
- An "interceptor" is any fighter or missile designed to stop enemy aircraft or missiles.
Unveiling the Arrow
The first sleek white Avro Arrow is unveiled in front of a crowd of 12,000 at the Avro Plant in Malton. But the Russians unveil something of their own.
After four years of work by 14,000 people, the first Avro Arrow is wheeled out of a hangar in Malton, Ont. on Oct. 4, 1957. A huge crowd is on hand to marvel at the sleek white craft. But the Arrow's timing turns out to be disastrous: the Soviet Union launches the Sputnik 1 satellite the same day, diverting attention from the Arrow and prompting some Canadians to begin rethinking the country's approach to strategic defence.
Did You Know?
- Sputnik 1 was the world's first artificial satellite. It was the size of a basketball and weighed 83 kilograms. While it didn't really "do" anything other than beep, it caught the West off guard. Many feared the Soviets could use the same rocket technology to launch ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons from Europe to North America. Sputnik began the space race and led directly to the creation of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
- At the unveiling of the Arrow, Defence Minister George Pearkes said that although we are entering the missile age, the era of manned aircraft was not over. He said that aircraft and missiles complement each other, and aircraft have the advantage of introducing human judgement into battle. Unlike missiles, aircraft can turn back. Later, Pearkes was instrumental in the cancellation of the Arrow program.
The Arrow's maiden flight
Canada's first supersonic fighter plane makes its triumphant first flight.
At 9:52 a.m. on March 25, 1958, Arrow RL-201 roars into the skies above Malton for the Avro Arrow's first test flight. Three kilometres below, all non-essential Avro staff pour out of the plant to watch their plane circle overhead. Some 35 minutes later, the Arrow touches down and comes to a halt, braking parachutes trailing behind. Test pilot Janusz Zurakowski, who is given a hero's welcome, complains only that the cockpit has no clock.
Did You Know?
- Arrow RL-201 used just half of the runway before taking off at a steep 45 degree angle. It flew up to 3,350 metres high at speeds up to 250 knots – a small fraction of its capability. The only problem recorded was the failure of two tiny switches (out of 4,000) in the plane's nose gear bay.
- Two chase planes followed the Arrow's maiden flight. Jack Woodman flew a F-86 Sabre and Wladek "Spud" Potocki flew a CF-100 with a photographer aboard.
- Zurakowski and Potocki were both Polish pilots who flew for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War before moving to Canada. The only other pilots to fly the Arrow were Peter Cope and RCAF Lt. Jack Woodman.
- There were many Arrow tests on the ground before the maiden flight. During one taxi test ,all four tires on the main wheels exploded. The landing gear failed during two test flights, causing minor accidents.
- On subsequent test flights, the Arrow flew 15,240 metres high and reached speeds of Mach 1.98 (over 2,000 kilometres per hour, nearly twice the speed of sound.) In 1958 there were 57 Arrow test flights totalling 61 hours.
- All five of the first Arrows used Pratt & Whitney J75 engines. Orenda Engines, a division of Avro, began developing a much more powerful engine, the PS-13 Iroquois, in 1953. These engines would be installed in the "Arrow Mark 2," beginning with RL-206. These engines used expensive titanium to keep weight down. Avro expected the Arrow to break all world speed records once the Iroquois was installed.
Is the era of manned aircraft over?
The Bomarc missile casts a shadow over the Avro Arrow as Canada enters the missile age.
The Arrow is poised to become the fastest aircraft on the planet, but some critics are asking if it matters anymore. As the Soviets and Americans race into the age of missile defence, the U.S.-built Bomarc missile is now front and centre in North American defence strategy. The Arrow, built to chase bombers, may be on shaky ground.
Did You Know?
- In 1957 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker agreed to join the United States in an integrated North American Air Defence (NORAD) treaty. It was a controversial decision because he did not consult his cabinet first, and the decision raised questions about Canada's sovereignty. And it raised concerns about Canada's commitment to the Arrow.
- NORAD was focussed on implementing two new weapons systems, the Bomarc missile and the Semi-Automated Ground Environment (SAGE) surveillance and weapons control system. The Bomarc was a surface-to-air guided missile with a range of 640 kilometres. In September 1958, Diefenbaker announced that two squadrons of Bomarc-B anti-aircraft missiles would be stationed at North Bay, Ont. and La Macaza, Que.
- The Bomarc was an anti-aircraft weapon, as was the Arrow. It would not defend against nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The Americans were planning to use the Bomarc to destroy bombers that their manned interceptors missed. The Bomarc carried a nuclear warhead and would destroy an enemy plane by detonating a nuclear explosion nearby. Canada was under some pressure to build northern Bomarc stations to avoid these explosions happening over heavily populated Southern Canada.
Crawford Gordon reacts to blow to Arrow program
Crawford Gordon and John Diefenbaker
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker has some bad news for Avro, but Avro president Crawford Gordon puts on a brave face.
Less than a week after the Arrow's first flight, Conservative John Diefenbaker becomes prime minister in a landslide electoral victory, and inherits the Arrow program from Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. Diefenbaker distrusts Avro executives and is gravely concerned about the spiralling costs of the Arrow program. In September 1958 he announces that the government will not complete the full run of Arrow production, but will only authorize completion of planes currently in production.
Diefenbaker then announces that the entire Arrow program will be reviewed in six months. Avro president Crawford Gordon goes on the defensive, taking to the airwaves to reassure the public and Arrow workers that this does not mean the Arrow program is cancelled.
Did You Know?
- Following Diefenbaker's announcement, Avro began a determined campaign to get the decision reversed, lobbying the public, the federal government, and even the United States Air Force to shore up support for the Arrow.
- Ontario's Crawford Gordon was a Liberal protege and had a reputation for volatility. Many believe he shared a mutual animosity with Prime Minister Diefenbaker, a Saskatchewan lawyer who distrusted the Bay Street whiz-kid.
- The Arrow program was becoming increasingly expensive, and consumed a large portion of Canada's defence budget. Avro continually approached the government for more money; by 1958 the government estimated that it would cost over $1 billion to complete production of the Arrow. There were clearly doubts Canada could fund both the Arrow and the Bomarc missile at once.
Diefenbaker announces cancellation of the Arrow
Shocking Parliament and Avro employees, Diefenbaker announces the Arrow and Iroquois engine programs are cancelled immediately.
It's a day that would soon become known as "Black Friday." At 11:00 a.m. on Feb. 20, 1959, Prime Minister Diefenbaker stands before the House of Commons and makes the unexpected announcement that the Arrow and Iroquois engine programs are terminated immediately. Members of Parliament greet the announcement with stunned silence. CBC Radio reporters Norman DePoe and Tom Earle are on hand to witness the announcement and get a first-hand explanation from Prime Minister Diefenbaker.
Did You Know?
- A key reason for cancelling the Arrow was the mounting cost of the program. Though the Arrow was an expensive plane, critics of the cancellation later argued that development could have been completed for the cost of the cancellation fees alone. The Arrow program was cheaper than purchasing the Bomarc, SAGE and replacement interceptors from the United States. It was cancelled a month before the end of the six month review period Diefenbaker gave the program.
- Canada still needed jet interceptors. Two years later the RCAF took possession of 66 used McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet fighters from the United States, a plane they had rejected as inadequate before commissioning the Arrow. The planes were eventually given to Canada in exchange for Canadians staffing radar bases on the Arctic's Pinetree Line, the first of three Cold War lines of air defence that included the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line and the Mid-Canada Line.
- The Voodoos were eventually replaced by the MacDonnell-Douglas CF-18 Hornets used today. Between 1982 and 1988 the Canadian government purchased 138 Hornets from the United States at a cost of $5.2 billion.
- Defence Production Sharing was supposed to allow Canadian firms to compete on an equal footing with their American counterparts. But Canadian bids on defence contracts suffered from built-in delays and price penalties that usually favoured U.S. competitors.
- Other nations were also under the impression that manned fighters would become obsolete in the age of missiles. In April 1957, British minister of defence Duncan Sandys published a white paper arguing that all British fighter projects should be cancelled in favour of ground-launched missiles. The paper spelled the end of many British aircraft manufacturers. The United States Air Force cancelled similar interceptor plans.
- Canada and the United States were hotly debating deployment of atomic weapons in Canada. U.S. President John F. Kennedy demanded Canada accept the atomic warheads that the Bomarc was designed to carry. Diefenbaker said he was against it, which prompted the resignation of his Minister of National Defence Douglas Harkness. That forced a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons, leading to the collapse of Diefenbaker's minority government and the subsequent Liberal minority of Lester B. Pearson.
- The nuclear warheads were eventually delivered on Dec. 31, 1963 and remained in the Canadian armoury until 1969.
- The Bomarc and SAGE were ineffective systems, and were soon phased out in both Canada and the United States. Both of Canada's Bomarc squadrons formally disbanded on April 7, 1972, and the missiles were returned to the United States.
Political reaction to the Arrow's cancellation
Despite the huge impact the Avro Arrow's cancellation will have on Canadian industry and defence, opposition leaders won't criticize the decision.
The decision to cancel the Avro Arrow means $400 million wasted tax dollars, instant unemployment for thousands of workers, and a defence department turned upside down. Yet the leaders of the two main opposition parties do not oppose the decision. Liberal leader Lester B. Person and Hazen Argue of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) choose their words carefully.
Did You Know?
- Lester B. Pearson joined the government in 1928 in External Affairs, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1948. He was active in the United Nations and became president of the Seventh UN General Assembly. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his proposal to send a peacekeeping force to the Suez Canal area. He became leader of the federal Liberal party and was elected Prime Minister in 1963.
- Hazen Argue was elected to the CCF in 1945 at age 24 and became party leader in 1960. When the CCF became the New Democratic Party a year later, Argue ran for leader, losing to Tommy Douglas. Argue joined the Liberals and was eventually made a senator by Pearson. He became the first Canadian Senator to face criminal charges (misusing Senate funds) in 1989, but died before the case went to trial. He was Canada's longest serving parliamentarian.
- The cancellation of the Arrow was a tragedy for workers in the Toronto area, and local media criticized the decision. But outside Ontario, there was little reaction.
Avro workers react to massive layoffs
14,525 shocked Avro workers are terminated at once. As they leave, they express their anger to CBC reporters.
Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Despair. These are the reactions of the 14,525 Avro workers who found themselves unemployed en masse on Black Friday. CBC Radio's Bill Beatty is at the plant to witness "a funeral procession" of hundreds of cars, lined up bumper-to-bumper, carrying toolmakers, engineers and office workers from the plant for the last time. Many of them offer Beatty their parting shots.
Did You Know?
- Before noon on Feb. 20, 1959, the Department of Defence production told Avro executives that the Arrow and Iroquois programs were cancelled and that all work on the projects must cease that day. At 4:00 p.m. an announcement was made over the plant loudspeaker that all employees were laid off immediately. Later on, a small number of workers were called back to the plant to work on other projects, and a compensation package was offered.
- At the time of the cancellation of the Arrow, Avro was the third-largest corporation in Canada. The Arrow program employed more than 40,000 people at Avro and related suppliers. The Malton and Brampton suburbs of Toronto were hardest hit. About a quarter of Brampton's workers were employed at Avro.
- On Black Friday, chief engineer Robert Lindley asked Avro executives if he could fly the Iroquois-equipped RL-206 just one time, but his request was rejected.
- News of the cancellation came just two weeks before Arrow RL-206 was scheduled to fly with the new Iroquois engine. Avro engineers had expected that plane to smash the world speed record.
- The end of the Arrow and Iroquois meant the end of Avro Canada Ltd. Avro president Crawford Gordon and executive vice-president Fred Smye believed the message from the government was that the projects were cancelled and no more projects would be offered.
The Arrow is destroyed
In an astonishing act of devastation, all traces of the Avro Arrow are ordered destroyed.
To the horror of Avro employees, an order comes from the Ministry of Defence Production to erase all traces of the Avro Arrow. Complete planes and those in production are chopped into pieces, as are all models, tools and the entire production line. Blueprints, pictures and film are destroyed. The remains of the mighty plane are sold to a Hamilton scrap metal dealer and melted down to make pots and pans.
Did You Know?
- Exactly who ordered the destruction of the Arrow remains a mystery – nobody in the government or military admitted to giving the order. Avro's Fred Smye said he got the call from the Department of Defence Production, and issued the order to have the planes destroyed. He called it "the worst mistake I ever made in my life." Pierre Sevigny, associate deputy minister for Diefenbaker, believed a spiteful Crawford Gordon issued the order himself.
- Lax Brothers Salvage in Hamilton carried out the destruction and bought the scrap from the entire Arrow program for $300,000. The production line was cut up with acetylene torches, while the planes were chopped up with saws. Everything went to the smelter. Metal from the cut-up Arrows was sold for about 14 cents a kilogram - an entire 30,000 kilogram Avro Arrow went for a little over $4,000.
- Cameras were not allowed inside the Avro plant when the planes were destroyed, but the Montreal Standard's Weekend Magazine chartered a helicopter and had a photographer take pictures as the planes were dismantled.
- Test pilot Peter Cope compares the destruction of the Arrow to "a destalinization project." Mario Pesando, chief of project research at Avro, says it was "like the Romans at Carthage."
- Some pieces of the Arrow project survived the destruction and can be found in museums across Canada. Many small pieces were smuggled out by employees. In 1998, two Arrow Pratt & Whitney J-75 engines were found at Ottawa's National Research Council. The National Aviation Museum in Ottawa has the nose and cockpit and landing gear from RL-206, a pair of wings, and an Iroquois engine. Ironically, the museum also houses Canada's only remaining Bomarc missile.
Brain drain to the United States
In the months following Black Friday, Avro's team of world-class engineers find jobs south of the border.
Avro's greatest asset is the team of top-notch engineers it has assembled from across Canada and around the world. But since Black Friday it looks like Canada's aviation industry is on its last legs, and there is no longer a future for these bright minds in this country. Efforts are made to keep them together, but soon the exodus begins – particularly to an eager United States and its burgeoning space program.
Did You Know?
- Avro vice president of engineering Jim Floyd worked to install teams of Avro engineers in American companies like Lockheed and Boeing, hoping they could eventually return to Avro. But Avro never reopened, and Floyd himself returned to Britain to work on the Supersonic Transport studies that led to the Corcorde. Other Avro engineers found work at General Electric and Pratt & Whitney in the U.S.
- In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had formed the Space Task Group to put astronauts in space. Thirty-three Avro engineers and scientists were recruited, and went on to help develop the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
- Avro chief of design Jim Chamberlain lead the Canadians at the Space Task Group and was a key designer of the Mercury capsule that put John Glenn into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962 – the third anniversary of Black Friday. Several ex-Avro employees went on to work at NASA's Mission Control.
- Avro president Crawford Gordon, who once drew a salary greater than that of the president of the United States, was fired after the cancellation. He worked in Montreal for a while, squandering a $3-million fortune, and died impoverished in New York City in January 1967. Friends say he drank himself to death.
More than three decades after the Arrow's first flight, the doomed plane is suddenly popular again.
More than 30 years after the Arrow met its demise, "Arrow heads" across Canada are rebuilding the legend. Arrow books and movies are being written, replicas are being built, and parts of the plane are turning up after years of concealment. On CBC Radio's Morningside, Peter Gzowski finds out about the plane's popularity by talking to Arrow fans including journalist June Callwood, who believes that one Arrow may have escaped.
Did You Know?
- In 2002, volunteers at the Toronto Aerospace Museum were building a full-scale, all metal replica of the Avro Arrow. It won't fly, but it is designed to taxi along at six kilometres an hour.
- Another initiative, the "Arrow 2000 Project," hopes to build a flying 2/3-scale replica of the Avro Arrow.
- During the testing period of the Arrow's construction, nine 1/8-scale magnesium alloy models of the plane were launched from Nike missiles into the skies over Lake Ontario. In recent years, several groups have hunted for the models on the lake bottom, and at least two have been found.
- There are many legends of a lone Arrow escaping destruction. In addition to Callwood's speculation about an Iroquois-equipped arrow flying away at dawn, there are tales of an Arrow being spirited away on a covered flatbed truck. Some say that RL-202 cannot be seen in the aerial photos of the destruction, and may have been being fitted with missiles at a different location. None of these stories can be confirmed.
Debating the Arrow's legacy
Historian Michael Bliss and broadcaster and former Avro employee Elwy Yost go head to head on what the Arrow meant to Canada.
In January 1997, CBC broadcasts a four-hour miniseries called The Arrow that generates powerful reactions from Canadians who love or hate the legendary plane. Calling in to CBC's Radio Noon, historian Michael Bliss calls the miniseries "an orgy of mythologizing," arguing that Avro was a disaster and the Arrow got what it deserved. Broadcaster Elwy Yost, who worked at Avro for six years, says that's the most stupid statement he's heard in 40 years.
Did You Know?
- The Arrow was a two-part series starring Dan Aykroyd as Crawford Gordon. It co-starred Sara Botsford, Michael Ironside, Michael Moriarity and Christopher Plummer. It was shot in Winnipeg, Man. and featured a scale replica of the Arrow built in Wetaskiwin, Alta. by sales estimator Allan Jackson. It was broadcast on Jan. 12 and 13, 1997. The movie's "docudrama" format was generally well received, but irritated some viewers who wanted greater historical accuracy.
- Michael Bliss is a University of Toronto history professor. He has published a dozen books and is noted for his studies of Canadian medical history.
- Bliss tells his history students that the last Avro Arrow did indeed escape, and is stored in a barn in Saskatchewan. "It is taken out and flown once a year. By Elvis."
- Film historian Elwy Yost hosted TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies from 1970 to 1999. News programs aside, it is Canada's longest running television series that is still on the air.
- Yost worked in the personnel department of Avro and was involved in laying off thousands of workers. The last pink slip he issued was to himself.
CBC News Online: Avro Arrow model found in Lake Ontario
Avroland: A site dedicated to the people and aircraft of AVRO Canada & Orenda Engines Limited
Canadian Aviation Museum: Avro Arrow
FlightDeck Presents: Canada's Legendary Avro Arrow
Homage to the Avro Arrow
Arrow Alliance: The Arrow is Released
Avro Arrow Recovery Canada
The Legend of the Arrow
National Defence Historical Aircraft: Avro CF-105 Arrow Mk. 1
++Content © 2005 CBC
*Web Design © 2005 Brian Bogdan
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