Remembering the Avro Arrow: February 20: Snapshots in History
On February 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the cancellation of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow interceptor aircraft on February 20, 1959 by the then-Progressive Conservative federal government of Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker. For many people, the “Avro Arrow” has been a symbol of Canadian aerodynamic and technological accomplishment. The Mark 2 version of the airplane achieved a supersonic maximum speed of almost Mach 2 at altitudes of 15,000 metres (or 50,000 feet). The first Avro Arrow CF-105 aircraft was wheeled out of the hangar in Malton, Ontario at the AV Roe Canada Limited factory on October 4, 1957 for public viewing, only to be overshadowed by the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite the same day. On March 25, 1958, test pilot Janusz Żurakowski took off for the first test flight in Arrow RL 25201 from the Malton, Ontario airport (now Toronto Pearson International Airport).
The establishment of AV Roe Canada Limited arose out of a desire from the then-Liberal federal government after the Second World War to develop a homegrown, Canadian, and high-technology aviation industry. There was disagreement within the Liberal cabinet about the efficacy of proceeding with the Avro Arrow project but Brooke Claxton, the Minister of National Defense, pushed for the airplane’s development over the concerns of CD Howe, the Minister responsible for the Department of Defense Production but the project was re-evaluated over time. Things came to a head when the newly-elected Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker inherited the Avro Arrow file upon the assumption of office. The government had been forced to assume the cost of developing the fire control and missile systems of the Avro Arrow as well.
Test flights indicated the potential of the Avro Arrow becoming the world’s most advanced and fastest fighter interceptor aircraft. The Diefenbaker government cut costs by stopping work on the fire control and missile systems in October 1958. The United States and the United Kingdom would not commit to buying the Avro Arrow at the expense of their own domestic aerospace industries. However, in the light of the Cold War with the launch of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) by the Soviet Union, the United States was promoting Bomarc missiles as a defensive measure. The Diefenbaker government saw the Bomarc option as a less expensive alternative to the Avro Arrow but its indecision over whether to arm the Bomarc missiles with nuclear warheads contributed to its eventual defeat in the 1963 federal election by Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal Party. Failure to drum up export sales for the Avro Arrow was the final nail in the coffin as far as the Canadian government was concerned. With the project’s cancellation on February 20, 1959, AV Roe Canada Limited fired 14,000 employees, many of whom went on to work in the American aerospace industry and outer space program. Many people questioned the government’s order to destroy the plans and prototypes of the Avro Arrow.
Consider borrowing the following titles from Toronto Public Library collections:
Or, watch the 2005 DVD Supersonic sentinel: the story of the Avro Arrow. This top secret promotional film was originally produced in 1958 and available only to the Canadian government and management officials of the AV Roe Canada Ltd. at the time. This film footage has been digitally rendered and made available in DVD format. Also included on the DVD are the following films: “Arrows in Flight” and “The Avro Jetliner”.
Different branches of Toronto Public Library (including Annette Street, Brentwood, Don Mills and Richview) have hosted a variety of free programs on Canadian aviation history topics (including the Avro Arrow) given by aviation historian and Toronto resident, Keith Hyde. Mr. Hyde recently passed away and staff at those library branches who worked with him on delivering those informative programs mourn his passing and will miss his enthusiasm and commitment to enriching Canadians' knowledge of their country's aviation history. Thank you.