Avro’s Broken Arrow

The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was arguably the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world in the late 1950s. It was a technological masterpiece that would have been the most capable aircraft to have ever defended Canadian airspace. Yet just one year after its first flight the entire Arrow project was literally scrapped in what ranks as one of the most misguided and short sighted political decisions in the history of aviation.

Arrow RL-201 coming in for a landing. Note the open air brakes under the fuselage. (Canadian Department of National Defence) The first CF-105 Arrow built, RL-201, flying over Avro’s Malton, Ontario, factory. (Canadian Department of National Defence) The Arrow banking during its first flight on 25 March 1958. (Canadian Department of National Defence) 3/4 front right view of Arrow RL-201 being towed past one of Avro’s hangars. (Canadian Department of National Defence)

The History Behind the Arrow
The Aircraft
Rollout and First Flight

The Death of the Arrow

Arrow Mania

The History Behind the Arrow

In the post-Second World War period the Soviet Union’s bomber force expanded rapidly and soon had the ability to reach North America. Canada obviously needed an interceptor capable of patrolling the vast swathes of territory in the north of the country, but could not find a suitable foreign aircraft to purchase. Therefore the decision was taken to develop the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck long-range, all-weather interceptor.

The Canuck entered Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) service in April 1953 at a time when the Soviet Union was expanding its nuclear arsenal and building its biggest long-range bombers, like the massive turboprop Tupolev Tu-95, which first flew in November 1952. More alarming was that they were working on more advanced jet-powered bombers, which would pose a serious threat to the security of North America.

In 1952, before the Canuck had even entered service, the RCAF was considering its replacement. At this time Avro was engaged in preliminary studies for a new supersonic, missile-armed fighter capable of operating in all weathers. After it was again realised that no foreign designs could or would meet the RCAF’s demanding requirements, it was decided that the Canuck’s successor would be developed locally. In April 1953 the RCAF issued the extremely demanding Specification AIR 7-3, which called for an aircraft with a cruise speed of Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 15 000 metres (50 000 ft), the ability to handle 2 g turns at this speed and altitude with no loss of performance, and a range of 556 km (345 miles) for a low-speed mission and 370 km (230 miles) for high-speed interception missions, including five minutes of combat at Mach 1.5. Since the aircraft was primarily an interceptor, it had to be airborne as quickly as possible and was required to be flying at Mach 1.5 at 15 000 metres (50 000 ft) in less than five minutes. In addition, turn-around time was to be less than ten minutes. Back in the 1950s such requirements were almost unheard of and even today they are hard to better - yet they were met, and exceeded, by Avro Canada.

Since the new interceptor was to use an advanced radar fire-control system to allow collision-course intercepts, a second crewman in addition to a pilot was deemed necessary to manage the electronics. A twin-engined configuration was mandatory since a single engined design could not carry the huge amount of fuel required for the aircraft. Plus, to meet the performance requirements all weaponry had to be stowed internally, which meant a large weapons bay – something difficult to achieve on a single engined aircraft.

Avro Canada submitted a number of proposed designs to the RCAF. In July 1953 a delta winged configuration was accepted by the Department of Defence Production, marking the birth of the CF-105 Arrow project. The RCAF estimated the need for around 500 or 600 Arrows at a cost of $1.5-2 million each.

Because the design of the Arrow was so advanced and risky, Avro deemed it necessary to validate the design through extensive aerodynamic testing. This was conducted using wind tunnels and fully instrumented 1/8th scale models. These were mounted atop Nike booster rockets, which accelerated them to Mach 1.7, at which point the model would separate and send back telemetry data to engineers on the ground. Much useful information was obtained on the Arrow’s aerodynamics, such as supersonic handling, drag and stability.

Two models were launched at Wallops Island, United States, in order to make use of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA – later NASA) tracking and telemetry equipment. Another nine were launched in Canada over Lake Ontario, which they would splash down into. Numerous attempts have been made to recover some of these models, which landed in the lake during three years of testing beginning in December 1954.

By mid-1954 preliminary design work on the Arrow was complete and in March 1955 the government’s contract with Avro specified the delivery of five Arrow Mk 1 flight-test aircraft, and 35 Arrow Mk 2s with final production engines and fire-control systems, at a cost of $260 million. The Arrow project was rather unusual for its time as no prototypes were ever built. The RCAF originally wanted two hand-built prototypes for engineering purposes, but when it was realised this would take years of extra development time (as with the Canuck), it was decided to simply build several preproduction machines on production jigs. Any changes in the design would be reflected in changes to the jigs. Although this system did save an enormous amount of time in the development of the Arrow, it also caused many technical and engineering problems.

After four years of work thousands of people watch as the first Arrow is wheeled out of its hanger in Malton, Ontario, on 4 October 1957. (Canadian Department of National Defence) Right side view of the CF-105 Arrow following rollout from the Avro Arrow Industries Hangar at Malton, Ontario, on 4 October 1957. (Canadian Department of National Defence)


The Aircraft

To meet the demanding requirements of the RCAF the CF-105 was inevitably large. At 23.72 metres (77 ft 9.75 in) in length (excluding the nose probe) and 6.48 metres (21 ft 3 in) high, the CF-105 was one of the largest interceptors ever built. Its massive delta wing was also one of the largest ever for a fighter aircraft, having an unprecedented area of 113.8 square metres (1 225 sq ft) – nearly double that of the biggest interceptors today. After various configurations were studied, Avro decided to go with a delta wing to provide the required supersonic performance, fuel volume and ease of construction. A few changes were made to the clean shape of the basic delta. It was swept at 60 degrees and bisected by a dogtooth at half-span to control airflow across the wing, much like a wing fence, but with less drag. In order to give better performance at high angles of attack, greater stability and a reduced tendency for pitch-up, the leading edge of the wing was extended, drooped and slotted. The other notable aerodynamic refinement on the Arrow’s wing was the addition of negative camber – the top of the wing was curved inward slightly to reduce the amount of elevator deflection required at supersonic speeds, thus reducing the extra trim drag that would have otherwise been created with greater elevator deflections.

As noted previously, the Arrow was designed with ease of construction in mind. A shoulder-mounted wing was chosen because it reduced structural problems with the wing spars and missile bay and allowed easy access to the weapons bay and engines. In addition, the wing could be built as a single structure placed atop the fuselage, greatly simplifying construction and improving strength.

There was a price to pay, however. A notable characteristic of the Arrow was its downward sloping wings, which had four degrees of anhedral. This was not for any aerodynamic reason, but to shorten the length of the landing gear, which could only be housed in the wings. Nevertheless, the main gear legs were extremely long at 3.65 metres (12 ft), and had to be constructed from expensive ultra high tensile alloy steel. The main gear had two wheels set in tandem so they would fit in the thin wing. The nose gear also had twin wheels, but they were mounted side-by-side and retracted forward into the fuselage just behind the cockpit. Delta-wing aircraft have characteristically high landing speeds and the Arrow was no exception. As a result, a drag parachute was fitted into a tail cone and two door-type airbrakes were mounted on the underside of the fuselage.

Because the Arrow’s wings were so thin they necessitated the use of a very compact hydraulic system to actuate the flying controls. The only way to achieve the required pressure was to use the world’s first flying 4 000 pounds per square inch (276 bar) hydraulic system. All flight controls were hydraulically boosted and the Arrow featured one of the first Automatic Flight Control Systems, which used electronic control actuation to give almost instant control responses. Three modes were available for different flying conditions: normal, automatic (where the AFCS functioned like an autopilot) and emergency. An artificial feel was built into the control stick so the pilot didn’t rip the flying surfaces off or pull too many gs. All in all, the Arrow’s flight controls were about 20 years ahead of their time.

The Arrow’s fuselage was very large and boxy and was designed around its two massive engines, the weapons bay and cockpit. Although barely noticeable on the Arrow, the area rule principle was applied to the fuselage to reduce transonic drag. To achieve this the tail was bulged slightly, the nose sharpened, the air intake lips thinned and the fuselage pinched around the centre of the wing.

Located behind and below the intake ducts of the Arrow was the giant weapons bay, which stretched from the front to the middle of the wing. It was larger than that of an Avro Lancaster or Boeing B-29 Superfortress at 4.9 metres (16 ft 1 in) long, 2.89 metres (9 ft 6 in) wide and .91 metres (3 ft) high. Missiles were housed in a large removable pack that could be very quickly snapped into place on the ground. This pack would not actually be lowered into the airstream during flight, but missiles were to be mounted on their own hydraulically retractable launching mechanisms and ejected through doors in the pack.

Early in the Arrow programme it was decided that the aircraft would be armed with the US Hughes AIM-4 Falcon guided missile, paired to the Hughes MX-1179 weapons system. Canada had tried producing its own air-to-air missile in the form of the Velvet Glove, but this had been cancelled in 1954 due to technical problems. However, the RCAF wanted an even more advanced missile with a much longer range than the Falcon and looked to the US Navy’s AIM-7 Sparrow II that was then under development. An advanced active radar homing development of the Sparrow I, the Sparrow II, was extremely ambitious for the time – so ambitious that it was cancelled by the US Navy in 1956 and left solely to Canadair and Westinghouse Canada to develop, against the strong recommendations Avro.

When the Sparrow II was to become available, the Arrow would carry eight Falcons and three to four Sparrows in its giant weapons pack. However, Avro was right about the overly complex and expensive Sparrow II and it was cancelled in September 1958 together with its hugely expensive Astra guidance system, designed by RCA-Victor. (Originally estimated to cost $72 million, by 1958 Astra was projected to cost $208 million.) In place were substituted the original Hughes-built Falcon and weapons system that Avro had pushed all along to save costs. After the cancellation the Arrow’s armament was changed to four Falcons plus one or two unguided Genie missiles – basically a rocket with a 1.5 kiloton nuclear warhead for destroying huge fleets of enemy bombers.

The complex fire control system planned for the Arrow had meant the inclusion of a large nose cone and a back seater to operate the electronics. During the Arrow’s brief life the nose remained empty except for ballast and a second crewmember rarely occupied the back seat during test flights. Since the radar operator was meant to do just that, the rear cockpit was only provided with two tiny windows on either side. In order to minimise drag as much as possible both cockpits were faired into a large dorsal spine that held control cables and wiring.

Like the contemporary Convair F-102 Delta Dart and F-106 Delta Dagger, the Arrow’s front cockpit had a drag-reducing V-shaped windscreen. Whilst this did not give the pilot a brilliant view and caused irritating reflections, it was considered suitable for long-range stand-off missions where the pilot was to rely mostly on instrumentation. Anyway, the Arrow’s large wing and airframe were unsuitable for hard dogfight manoeuvres encountered in close-in combat.

A rather unusual aspect of the Arrow’s cockpits was that the canopies were split down the middle and opened in a clamshell manner. Although the view left much to be desired, the Arrow’s cockpit layout was in general very good and applauded as one of the best by a group of US Air Force visitors. Beneath their massive canopies the pilot and radar operator sat on Martin-Baker C5 ejection seats.

A powerful air conditioning system was provided for the Arrow’s crew and instruments to protect against the extreme cold of the Canadian weather and also against the friction-generated airframe heat from sustained supersonic flight. The environmental control system was so powerful it could apparently produce 23 tons (50 000 lb) of ice per day!

The first engine selected to power the Arrow was the afterburning RB.106 under development by Rolls-Royce. This promising engine would have produced around 9 865 kg (21 750 lb) of thrust, but was cancelled in 1954. The Curtiss-Wright J67 was then chosen as a temporary substitute until a more powerful engine became available. When this was cancelled in 1955 the new Pratt & Whitney J75 was chosen for the five initial flight test aircraft, designated Arrow Mk 1. This engine delivered 5 670 kg (12 500 lb) of thrust dry and 8 390 kg (18 500 lb) with afterburner. Final production Arrows (designated Mk 2) were to have the highly advanced PS-13 Iroquois engine, then under development by Avro subsidiary Orenda Engines as a private venture.

The development of the Iroquois, which began in 1953, was similar in achievement to the Arrow. Both were at the leading edge of technology in the 1950s and considered the best in the world. Development was not a straightforward process, since the engine used advanced techniques to manufacture. There were problems with using titanium in the design, which was difficult to work with back in the 1950s. It was worth the trouble, however, because titanium ensured the engine would be relatively light at 2 000 kg (4 400 lb) – 30% of this being titanium by weight. The Iroquois was designed to produce 8 720 kg (19 200 lb) of thrust dry and 11 800 kg (26 000 lb) with afterburner

The United States was so impressed with the Iroquois – then the most powerful jet engine in America – that in November 1957 the Air Force lent a Boeing B-47 Stratojet to the Canadians to test the engine. Unusually the turbojet was mounted under the B-47’s tail and flew more than 125 hours that way. When the Iroquois was removed from the B-47 and the bomber returned to the United States it was found that the airframe had been warped by the tremendous thrust of the Iroquois and the aircraft was scrapped!

Thanks to the high-mounted delta wing, access to the Arrow’s engines was quick and easy. The engines could be changed in just 30 minutes by extracting them backwards along rails – this was a straightforward process because there were very few connections to the engines, which were ‘hung’ from the top of the wing and surrounded by a cavity through which cooling air flowed.

Given the thirsty nature of the engines and the range requirements, the arrow needed a large internal fuel capacity. There were two fuel tanks in the fuselage between the engine air intakes and six integral tanks in the wings giving the Arrow a total capacity of around 11 000 litres (3 000 US gallons). Because space was in short supply the hydraulic and control lines ran straight through the wing fuel tanks.

The Arrow was a remarkable technological achievement for its day and for its manufacturer. In its development Arrow had to expand the boundaries of knowledge when it came to materials, electronics and aerodynamics – for example, NASA let Avro use its wind tunnels for free because of the contribution the Arrow was making to science. The Arrow’s achievements can also be recorded in the huge number of patents Avro took out whilst building their supersonic interceptor and the new manufacturing techniques Avro had to invent.

 A classic view of Arrow RL-201 in flight. (Canadian Department of National Defence) The Arrow following its rollout from Avro’s Malton, Ontario, hangar on 4 October 1957. (Canadian Department of National Defence)


Rollout and First Flight

Development of the Arrow proceeded remarkably quickly given the extremely advanced nature of the aircraft and all the testing that was required to validate the design. Construction began in 1955 and just two years later the Arrow was ready for rollout. In the afternoon of 4 October 1957 Arrow RL-201 emerged from a hangar at Avro’s Malton plant. Around 11 000 people, together with 1 000 VIPs that included George Pearkes, Minister of National Defence, witnessed the rollout of what was arguably the world’s most advanced interceptor.

While pictures of the Arrow were published in newspapers around the world, the headlines were snatched by an even more important story: the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. Just three months before, on 21 August, the Soviets had successfully flown the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile atop an R-7 rocket – the same rocket that launched the Sputnik into space.

These were ominous times for manned aircraft as it was (largely incorrectly) thought that missiles would be the way forward and aircraft would be hopelessly obsolete. Nevertheless Pearkes seemed to address these fears at the Arrow’s rollout and said that missiles and manned aircraft weren’t yet competitive and both should be developed to complement one another. In January 1958 Pearkes reiterated his earlier statement by saying, “I do not share the opinion that the Arrow will be obsolete before it is operational. When Russia stops building bombers it will be time for us to start thinking of some other defence.” Unfortunately for the Arrow, this attitude did not last very long.

With the launch of Sputnik, fears of a bomber gap were replaced by fears of a missile gap. Nevertheless Avro continued to advance towards the first flight of the Arrow. Engine runs were made on 4 December 1957, followed 20 days later by taxi trials that revealed problems with the drag parachute and landing gear.

The first flight of the Arrow was meant to take place on 22 March 1958, but a hydraulics leak meant that it was rescheduled for the 25th. Just before 10:00 in the morning of the 25th almost the entire Avro plant emptied as workers were invited to watch the first flight of the aircraft they had put years of effort into building. Two chase planes (a North American F-86 Sabre and a CF-100) took off first. At 9:51 RL-201 lifted off the runway, piloted by Avro test pilot Janusz Zurakowski. When Zurakowski landed after the 35-minute flight he was hoisted triumphantly onto the crowd’s shoulders. Perhaps one of the causes for celebration was the fact that the Arrow did not, as predicted by a computer simulator, crash after 13 seconds in the air!

The first flight was a complete success except for the failure of two micro-switches (out of 4 000) in the nose landing gear bay. Continued testing of RL-201 went well, with the aircraft reaching Mach 1.1 on its third flight and Mach 1.52 on its seventh flight on 18 April. However, a setback came on the aircraft’s 11th flight, on 11 June. Upon landing the left main gear leg did not align correctly and broke off, causing RL-201 to skid off the runway. The damage wasn’t too severe and the Arrow was flying again on 5 October 1958 after repairs and modifications.

The other four Arrow Mk 1s were delivered between August 1958 and January 1959 where they joined the flight test programme. Few serious problems emerged, although on 11 November 1958 the second Arrow (202) also veered off the runway when the tyres burst and the right landing gear leg broke off. This was largely a pilot error since too much pressure was put on the brakes, causing them to lock and burst. The landing gear was probably the weakest point of the Arrow and there were various problems with nose gear door retraction, and indicator lights and switches.

The Automatic Flight Control System turned out to function quite well, although a close call was had on Arrow 201’s second flight. The roll-damping system had been put in backwards, so when the Arrow took off and one wing dropped a bit, the damping system accentuated the motion and nearly flew the aircraft into the ground. Fortunately Zurakowski quickly switched off the roll-damping system and saved RL-201.

Extensive use was made of telemetry during testing and a lot of test equipment was mounted in the weapons pack. Data was sent back to engineers on the ground in real time, so they could see results immediately and give the pilot further instructions.

The Arrow showed enormous promise during testing and on 11 November 1958 reached its highest ever speed of Mach 1.96 at 15 000 metres (50 000 ft). Using the heavier J75 engines (and extra ballast to offset the extra weight) this speed was reached in a climb at three quarters throttle, promising a top speed of more than Mach 2 even with the low-powered Pratt & Whitney powerplant. (This flight was made on Arrow number two’s 22nd flight – the same flight that experienced the landing gear failure on touchdown.)

The Mark 2 version of the Arrow was to be fitted with the lighter and more powerful Iroquois engines, which would have given a top speed in excess of Mach 2.5. With Iroquois engines the Arrow would have had a thrust to weight ratio exceeding unity, meaning that the only limit to top speed would have been airframe heating due to air friction.

To address the problems of Mach 2.5+ speed, even more advanced versions of the arrow were planned. The Mark 2A Arrow was to have variable geometry jet pipes, extra fuel and a re-designed wing leading edge, while the Mark 3 was to have more powerful Iroquois engines, variable geometry air intakes and engine exhausts and an insulated structure incorporating stainless steel and/or titanium to withstand flight at Mach 3.

By early 1959 the first Arrow Mark 2 (RL-206) was almost ready for flight testing while another four were virtually complete. With its Iroquois engines the Mark 2 was expected to break all existing speed and altitude records. Even the J75 powered Mark 1s were most likely capable of exceeding the record 2 255 km/h (1 403 mph) reached by a Lockheed YF-104A Starfighter on 16 May 1958. Unfortunately the Mk 1s were never pushed even close to their limits and the Mark 2 never even left the ground.

3/4 front right side view of the CF-105 Arrow at its rollout on 4 October 1957 at Avro’s Malton, Ontario, plant. (Canadian Department of National Defence) Side view of Arrow RL-204, the fourth Arrow built. (Canadian Department of National Defence) 3/4 front left side view of a CF-105 Arrow. Note the clamshell cockpit canopy and the long ladder that was needed to reach the cockpit. (Canadian Department of National Defence)


The death of the Arrow

Trouble was brewing for the Arrow long before its first flight. For a start it was feared that manned aircraft were obsolete, and this was reflected in Britain’s Defence White Paper of 1957 that cancelled all but a few aircraft projects, ravaging Britain’s aviation industry in the process. In late 1956 the Canadian government began worrying about the cost and role of the Arrow and limited development to eleven aircraft. In February 1957 a $216 million spending cap was placed on the Arrow project by the Cabinet, which at the time was controlled by a Liberal government led by Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent.

In June 1957 a minority Conservative government was elected with John Diefenbaker at the head. While Diefenbaker was determined to reign in St-Laurent’s ‘industrial welfare’ projects, he couldn’t do much about the Arrow while he was head of a minority government. However, on 31 March 1958 the Conservatives won a huge landslide election and the Arrow situation changed quickly.

On 12 May 1958 Canada signed its first NORAD (North American Air Defence) agreement with the United States, which meant air defence integration with the US Air Force. Most importantly, being part of NORAD meant involvement in its two main components: the Bomarc anti-aircraft missile and SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) guidance system.

The high cost of the Arrow project was apparently a huge cause for concern and the main reason why it was opposed, with Diefenbaker claiming that the 169 aircraft planned for the RCAF would cost $12 million each, instead of $1.5-2 million as initially projected. In September 1958 the hugely expensive Astra and Sparrow II were cancelled and Avro was told to cut the costs of the Arrow programme. With off-the-shelf equipment replacing that being cancelled, Avro was able to offer Arrows at just $3.75 million apiece. However, the company was not out of trouble and was told the entire project would be reviewed in six month’s time, on 31 March 1959.

In August and September 1958 George Pearkes advised the government to cancel the Arrow programme and buy the cheaper Bomarc/SAGE system, which was supposedly just as good as or even better than the Arrow. Pearkes got his way and in September Prime Minister Diefenbaker announced an agreement with the United States to deploy two squadrons of Bomarc-Bs in Canada.

It seems that the United States played a role in the demise of the Arrow. Firstly the US pushed the NORAD agreement and the associated Bomarc anti-aircraft missile. More significant was an encounter Minister of Defence Pearkes had with an American official whilst travelling to Colorado. In an interview conducted many years after the event, Pearkes stated that the American told him to cancel the Arrow and buy the Bomarc instead. The reasoning was that cheaper aircraft were available from the United States and USAF aircraft could be deployed to Canada in an emergency or based there permanently. It was at this moment that Pearkes became convinced the Arrow had to go. He then struck a deal allowing American training in Goose Bay and Cold Lake in exchange for protection. This was kept secret so the Canadian people wouldn’t resent being sheltered by the United States.

Avro had tried to interest the United States and Britain in the Arrow in 1955 and, in an attempt to reduce costs and find export orders to safeguard the Arrow’s future, the company tried again in December 1958. However, the US declined since they had the F-102 and F-106 and were working on the North American XF-108 Rapier, which was very similar to the Arrow – similar too in that it was later cancelled.

Meanwhile, Britain was in no position to buy aircraft after the 1957 Defence White Paper and actually tried to sell Canada their own aircraft when they rejected the Arrow in January 1959. Because the Arrow had not entered RCAF service other foreign nations were reluctant to order the largely unproven aircraft. France was the one ray of hope as the country wanted to buy 200 Iroquois engines initially and possibly another 100 later on. However, this plan was scrapped in 1958 when it was realised the Iroquois was in serious jeopardy and would probably never fly.

On Friday 20 February 1959 Prime Minister Diefenbaker made an announcement that would send shockwaves through the Canadian aviation industry. At 11:00 in the morning he addressed the House of Commons: “The government of Canada has carefully examined and re-examined the probable need for the Arrow aircraft and Iroquois engine known as the CF-105. … The conclusion arrived at is that the development of the aircraft and Iroquois engine should be terminated now.” The decision had been reached behind closed doors with no public discussion. As a result Avro was caught completely off guard, since the company had thought they were safe until at least the 31 March 1959 review.

Avro and Orenda were ordered to halt work immediately. With no other work available Avro management was forced to lay off 14 500 workers on what became known as Black Friday. The government was slightly shocked at the suddenness of the massive layoff, which caused considerable embarrassment. As time went by the government’s decision became more evidently a huge mistake. Part of the government’s reasoning was supposedly costs, yet the government had to pay Avro cancellation penalties and costs that amounted to between $33 and $100 million. Some estimate that this was enough to buy a whole squadron of Arrows.

At the time of cancellation the five Arrow Mk 1s had flown a mere 70.5 hours. The first arrow (RL-201) made a total of 25 flights between 25 March 1958 and 19 February 1959, and accumulated the most flying time at 25 hours, 40 minutes in the air. The other three Arrows (RL-202, RL-203 and RL-204) flew 22, 12 and 6 times respectively whilst RL-205 made just one brief flight. As mentioned previously, the single Arrow Mk 2 never had the chance to fly.

Very little evidence remains of the Arrow because of the government’s decision to eliminate almost all trace of the project, something that has been likened to an act of vandalism. On 26 March 1959 Chief of Air Staff Hugh Campbell recommended the Arrow be scrapped. Pearkes agreed on 8 April. Although it’s not clear why such orders were given, security seems to have played a part. There were fears that a Soviet mole had infiltrated Avro and that it would be too difficult to keep the Arrows under tight security. The Canadian National Research Council gave this latter argument when they were offered the Arrow after it had been cancelled.

And so on 22 April 1959 workers moved into the Arrow factory and began the systematic destruction of production tooling, technical drawings, blueprints, manuals and all Arrows, including the incomplete aircraft on the production line. Lax Brothers Salvage paid $300 000 to scrap aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Arrows were sawn up and smelted down under tight government supervision while the fixtures in the factory were blowtorched and burnt.

All pieces of the Arrow were destroyed except for the nose section of RL-206 and sections of RL-203’s wings. They can be seen at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa alongside a lone Iroquois engine.

The vicious destruction of the Arrow had huge consequences for the Canadian aviation industry and Avro, which at the time was the third largest corporation in the country. Only 200 engineers continued working at Avro until the company closed down in 1962. Around 650 subcontracts were cancelled and at least 25 000 people were put out of work. The government lost out too, since it was estimated that 65% of the cost of the Arrow programme came back to the government in taxes.

At the beginning of the Arrow programme Avro had recruited some of the brightest minds in the aeronautical industry. When the Arrow was killed off these people went on to other projects – 31 Avro engineers and technicians went to work for NASA and contributed to America’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes. And in Britain, former Avro engineers made huge contributions to the design of the Concorde. Others went to work for the big engine makers and aircraft manufacturers in the US, Britain and Holland.

Very soon after the Arrow’s cancellation it was evident that the decision had been a blunder. In February 1960 the head of NORAD told the RCAF that it needed a supersonic replacement for the Canuck and should buy six squadrons of McDonnell F-101 Voodoos. In June 1961 Diefenbaker announced they were to receive 66 second-hand F-101s from the United States – an aircraft the RCAF had originally rejected as being unsuitable for its requirements. The Bomarc also turned out badly for the government, as the missiles were ineffective and costly. The US quickly lost faith in the programme and only built 12 of the 40 planned Bomarc bases. Finally, a dispute over whether Canada should accept the nuclear warheads of the Bomarc contributed to the collapse of the Diefenbaker government in 1963.

CF-105 Arrow RL-201 is towed in front of a line-up of Avro CF-100 Canucks. (Canadian Department of National Defence)


Arrow Mania

At the time of cancellation the Arrow did not have as strong an appeal as it does today. In fact, there were many in the press and general public who approved of the Arrow’s cancellation and it was largely only in Avro’s home of Ontario that the decision was opposed. However, today most Canadians hold the Arrow close to their hearts as a symbol of national pride, prestige and achievement. Interest in the Arrow has increased rapidly in the last two decades thanks to plays, books and documentaries coming out and the uncovering of formerly classified documents.

A number of Arrow replicas have been built, the first of which was designed by Allan Jackson. He began construction of a full-scale replica in 1989 and had completed 70% of it when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) approached him in 1996. They were filming a fictionalised account of the Arrow story and agreed to complete the replica for use in their docu-drama. However, the CBC imitated the workers who scrapped the Arrow and Jackson got his replica back in pieces! He soon put it back together and it went on display outside the Reynolds-Alberta Museum. Unfortunately it was damaged in a windstorm and Jackson had to repair it again - it now resides in the museum.

Another full-scale Arrow replica was built for the Canadian Air and Space Museum by 140 volunteers, with the help of 50 aerospace companies. Construction of the $1.5 million replica began in 1998 and it began public display on 6 October 2006. The all-metal replica is quite sophisticated and features many moveable parts as well as a realistic cockpit.

Not content with unflying replicas, the Avro Museum of Canada in Calgary completed a .6-scale remote control Arrow replica. After eight years of intensive research, construction began in September 2005 by a group of volunteers. The aircraft has been flown on a number of occasions.

The cancellation of the Arrow continues to be lamented by Canadians even fifty years after it flew. One of the reasons for this is because the cancellation set back Canada’s aviation industry by more than twenty years and caused it to lose the parity it had reached with America and Britain. The way the project was terminated also contributed to the bad feeling against the Canadian government. All material evidence of the Arrow was ruthlessly destroyed. Many other famous might-have-been aircraft (such as the North American XB-70 Valkyrie and Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III to name just a couple) were at least thoroughly tested after cancellation, whilst the Arrow was destroyed before it had a chance to fly to its full potential.

After four years of work by 14,000 people, the first Avro Arrow is wheeled out of a hangar in Malton, Ontario, on 4 October 1957. A huge crowd is on hand to marvel at the sleek white craft. (Canadian Department of National Defence)


The Arrow is one of aviation’s best known ‘what if’ aircraft. Instead of fading quietly, the Arrow is becoming even more strongly admired thanks to the wealth of information now becoming available and the efforts of enthusiasts to build replicas and flying models.

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