Post details: A Canadian Legend - The Fall of the Arrow


Permalink 07:00:00 am, by Email , 1877 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, War And Conflict, Americana

A Canadian Legend - The Fall of the Arrow

Before starting this post, I wish to make everyone understand some things...

First of all, I am not an expert on the Avro Arrow... I am an interested person who's reading and study of the aircraft date to when his mom and dad first told me about it when I was a young lad.

The information mentioned below is from various sources... but for brevity sake is condensed and certain things may not get the attention that some feel they deserve. I've done my best to give a quick overview of an amazing achievement in aviation... and it's downfall.

If you wish more and better information, I cannot state that reading the books below listed in the "Resources" are all worthy reads... as are many, many others...

I have tried my best, and I apologise to those that feel I've made mistakes or "missed important things"... We do have a "comment section" below and I am ALWAYS willing to learn more. (Please give resources when possible as well.)

Space! The Final Frontier!

RL 201 Rollout

Above is a picture of the "rollout" of a Canadian jet fighter. By most accounts, when it was designed and built, it was at least thirty-years ahead of it's time... if not moreso.

According to one of the folks that was in charge of it's design and construction, "We didn't know that it couldn't be done... We just did it."

Canada has always had a proud aviation background... in fact, the Canadian bush pilot is still a thing of legend amongst pilots from all around the world. What many people, especially Canadians, don't know is that in the 1950's, we were also miles ahead in aerospace engineering and design... and that all but came to an end with the cancellation of the aircraft above... The Avro CF-105 Arrow.

Canada wanted a supersonic fighter/interceptor aitrcraft to replace it's aging fleet of CF-100 "Canuck" fighters. They wanted something fast, agile, capable of "all weather" flight, and genuinely being the best plane they could have...

On October 4th, 1957, A.V. Roe Canada wheeled out it's new plane... and the legend of the Avro Arrow started... oddly enough, the same day the Russian's launched Sputnik.

RL 201 in flight

Avro was building the air-superiority fighter, a new engine for it through it's Orenda works, (The Orenda Iroquois,) and wanted to add the RCA-Victor Astra fire-control system... a highly advanced missile system.

For testing and pre-production, however, the Arrows were fitted with Pratt and Whitney J-75 Engines... and awaited the new Canadian designed and made Iroquois....

RL 205 in a steep climb

Built with a "fly-by-wire" control system, the aircraft met and exceeded all specification given to it... and was considered by everyone to be beyond "excellent", but incredible.

Of the five completed Arrows, there were a total of 66 test flights at over 70 hours of flying time... and almost 8 of those were at super-sonic speeds.

RL 201 in flight

The project was more-or-less under tight scrutiny of the then reigning Conservative party in Canada... which was constantly complaining about costs and budgets... to help out, the Astra system was abandoned, and the designer went with a less expensive model from Hughes.

Despite excellent reviews and an amazing flight record (only two "test flights" had problems... and both times with the landing gear which was strengthened after the accidents...) on February 20th, 1959, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker stood up in the House of Commons and announced the termination of the Avro Arrow and the Orenda Iroquois engine... putting fourteen-thousand out of work.

For the chop

Canada, instead, would spend even more money than the Arrow project was costing to buy F-104 Starfighters and Bomarc missiles from America.

The curious bit was that there was an armed forces and government order sent closely behind the termination of the project to destroy all documents, plans, and information about the Avro Arrow... then, the destruction of the six fly-able aircraft... five with the Pratt and Whitney engines, and the sixth, as yet not flown fitted with the new, tested and approved Iroquois.


The cutting-up of the aircraft proceeded with utmost security... and the junk dealer who'd bought the scrap metal was told NOT to sell or use it until it was completely unrecognizable.

Only a few small pieces survive... and they are on display at The Canadian Aviation Museum.


The cutting up of the aircraft was "off limits" to photographers... and the images we see were taken by a newspaper photographer who rented a plane to take these shots.

Most of the extraordinary engineers and artisans that worked on the arrow were recruited to NASA... the rest went to British and American companies happy to grab the geniuses that built this amazing plane. This led to a period that is called, in Ontario, "The Great Brain Drain".

RL 201, 202, and 204

But why was the project cancelled?

There are MANY theories...

One of the most popular (and probable) was gentle pressure from the Americans... for multiple reasons. First, the Canadian aviation industry had produced a better aircraft than they had... in fact, at the time, the Arrow was the only aircraft that was a legitimate threat to the U2 spy planes.

Also, reports have shown that American "interests" were concerned that Avro (with not only the Arrow, but the Avro Jetliner) would surpass the major aircraft manufacturers of the day... all American companies such as Boeing, Douglas, North American, and others... in terms of research, development, manufacturing, and (more importantly) orders.

There's no doubt that there were costs involved with the Arrow... but considering that the designs were more-or-less completed and flight trials successful, it's doubtful that anyone really believed that cost was the main factor for the cancellation... and then, why scrap everything? Wouldn't it be wiser to try and get some "payback" for the initial investment?

There's talk of John Diefenbaker and Avro chief Crawford Gordon did not get along at all... in fact, in a movie put out starring Dan Aykroyd as Gordon, they made this abundantly clear. This tension is likely... even probable... but considering Diefenbaker was a politician first, I doubt his dislike of Gordon did much to advance his decision.

The "public reason" the Armed Forces gave, at one point, was that in their estimation, the age of air warfare with planes was "dead" and missiles were the wave of the future... hence the decision to get the Bomarcs. Interestingly enough, the Bomarcs were delivered from the Americans... and their launch bays are still near North Bay, Ontario... but they never sent warheads for "our" missiles.

Arrow Drawing

The real reasons are probably a combination of all of the above. There is no doubt that President Eisenhower did talk to Prime Minister Diefenbaker about the project... and did suggest better courses of "action" for Canadian defence... without further development of the Avro Arrow... and when Francis "Frank" Gary Powers was shot down in a U2 spy plane on May 1st, 1960, it became apparent that America was flying U2 spy planes over Canadian airspace to do missions at 70,000 feet over Russia... something that no one was particularly proud of... and something that, if needed, an Avro Arrow could have intercepted.

The destruction of certain documentation is "par for the course" Canadian military procedure with any cancellation of any project...

...but the Arrow's demise is an odd one... shrouded with mystery. There's even been speculation that "one Arrow made it"... one was spirited off and is currently in a barn in Northern Ontario. This is added to by the "missing" RL-202 aircraft from the "flightline" in the destruction photos.

According to Palmiro Campagna's book, Storms of Controversy, the answer given as to where 202 was is that she was being repaired and re-fitted for the new Hughes and Falcon firing systems... There is, however, a persistent rumour that late one night, the plant was cordoned off and several covered trucks made their way out with a mysterious cargo. He says that if indeed, an Arrow survived, it's most likely in a Canadian military base, not in a farm.

As you can see by the above and in many, many books on the subject, the folks that built the Arrow ignored the warnings where they could and managed to get many documents away from the shredders... and the photos and even movies survive to show this marvellous and innovated aircraft... but the questions remain... and probably always will...

Why was the Arrow cancelled? Why were all the plans and the planes scrapped? Did Arrow RL-202 survive?

I doubt we'll honestly ever know...

One thing's for sure... The Arrow, as it was designed, would have matched the best fighter Canada has in the air today...

Arrow and CF-18

The CF-18's engines put out about 11,000 pounds of thrust with 16,000 pounds if the afterburners are engaged. The Orenda Iroqouis did test out to 19,500 pounds of thrust and 30,000 pounds possible with afterburner. The F-18 is capable of a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and the Arrows with the weaker J-75 engines flew to Mach 1.98... this would have been dramatically improved with the Orenda engines. Both airplanes are "Fly-by-Wire" and with the Arrow's weapons pack being designed internally rather than externally, it would have been far more aerodynamic. Still, it is rather impossible to say that the Arrow was a "better plane" than the F-18...

...because thanks to some very strange decisions, we'll never really know for sure since there are no Arrows to compare anything to.

Space! The Final Frontier!

Interestingly enough, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was/is loved and revered in Canada... and was a popular Conservative figure. The destruction of the Arrow was a political poison to "Dief" as it hurt him in Avro's home province of Ontario... still, many people have turned what is a historical situation into a "political legend" by trying to come up with reasons that the Arrow was not a great aircraft...

People with little or no knowledge have said the aircraft was "obsolete" which is beyond not true as show with the information shown above with a modern F-18 aircraft... and future "Arrow" developments were on the books that were astounding. Some have said they were "accident prone" which is again false... there were two accidents during the test flights, both times the pilots walked away from the crash and the planes repaired as it was simply a collapse of the landing gear... which was quickly fixed by strengthening the gear. The F-18 had FAR more accidents in its development. They say the costs were prohibitive which again is false. The costs to "replace" the Arrow after cancellation was far more.

To be fair and honest... and NON-political... the cancellation and destruction of The Avro Arrow was a bad idea and a poor plan... and yes, a "folly of" or "black mark on" the Prime Ministerial reign of John George Diefenbaker. Only zealots and those who haven't done their homework argue that it was a good idea.

Those folks need to understand, everyone makes mistakes... and John Diefenbaker was a "fan" of Dwight Eisenhower... and even admitted he was a "hero" of his... one has to wonder if that "hero worship" tainted a decision that was not in the best interest of his country and an entire industry.

Space! The Final Frontier!


Palmiro Campagna - Storms of Controversy ISBN 0-77375861-5
The Arrowheads - Avro Arrow: From Its Evolution To Its Extinction ISBN 0-919822-35-5
Peter Zuuring - The Arrow Scrapbook ISBN 1-55056-690-3
Murray Peden - Fall of an Arrow ISBN 1-55002-453-1
CBC Arrow Archive



Comment from: Matt [Visitor] ·
Nice piece, Matt. It sums up all of the aspects in a straight-forward way. BTW - I have a VHS w/ footage of the Arrow in-flight :)
PermalinkPermalink 02/27/07 @ 10:13
Comment from: matthew [Member] Email ·
Hey Matt... Thanks... I bought probably the same video at the CNE Airshow about five years ago... but perhaps we should compare titles and see if perhaps we should trade for a bit.

My biggest concern is that I had a decent library of Arrow books... that were all lost to a flood in a basement apartment.

My only other comment is what a GREAT story this is... and how, sadly, the CBC movie didn't really do it justice. One hopes someone might pick-up that ball again and do a better job... one day.

Of note: Peter Zuuring and the Arrow Alliance I believe is STILL hoping to have a fully-fly-able, 1 to 1 scale model of The Arrow in the air for 2009... I can't imagine that, but that's their hope. THAT would be a wonder, eh? (I love the pic I put here of the CF-18 and RL-201.)

Oh yeah, next time we're together IRL, I'd love to swap Arrow lore... I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with Jan Zurakowski before he passed... and I worked at the old Honeywell plant in Scarborough where the Arrow air-conditioning systems were built and was able to talk to a few of the "old fellows" who worked on the aircraft for Honeywell...
PermalinkPermalink 02/27/07 @ 16:15

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