Friday, December 20, 2013

The Mystique of the Avro Arrow

The Mystique of the Avro Arrow

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
October 7, 2059


The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was a delta-winged interceptor aircraft, designed and built by Avro Canada as the culmination of a design study that began in 1953. Considered to be both an advanced technical and aerodynamic achievement for the Canadian aviation industry, the CF-105 (Mark 2) held the promise of near Mach 3 speeds at altitudes likely exceeding 60,000 ft. (18,000 m), and was intended to serve as the Royal Canadian Air Force's (RCAF) primary interceptor in the 1960s and beyond.

Not long after the 1958 start of its flight test program, the development of the Arrow (including its Orenda Iroquois jet engines) was abruptly and controversially halted before the project review had taken place, sparking a long and bitter political debate.

The controversy engendered by the cancellation and subsequent destruction of the aircraft in production remains a topic for debate among historians, political observers and industry pundits. "This action effectively put Avro out of business and its highly skilled engineering and production personnel scattered...."

In August 1957, the Diefenbaker government signed the NORAD (North American Air Defense) Agreement with the United States, making Canada a partner with American command and control. The USAF was in the process of completely automating their air defence system with the SAGE project, and offered Canada the opportunity to share this sensitive information for the air defence of North America. One aspect of the SAGE system was the BOMARC nuclear-tipped anti-aircraft missile. This led to studies on basing BOMARCs in Canada in order to push the line further north, even though the deployment was found to be extremely costly.

Defence against ballistic missiles was also becoming a priority. The existence of Sputnik had also raised the spectre of attack from space, and, as the year progressed, word of a "missile gap" began spreading. An American brief of the meeting with Pearkes records that Pearkes "stated that the problem of developing a defence against missiles while at the same time completing and rounding out defence measures against manned bombers posed a serious problem for Canada from the point of view of expense". It is also said Canada could afford the Arrow or Bomarc/SAGE, but not both.

By 11 August 1958, Pearkes requested cancellation of the Arrow, but the Cabinet Defence Committee (CDC) refused. He tabled it again in September, and recommended installation of the Bomarc missile system. The latter was accepted but, again, the CDC refused to cancel the entire Arrow program. The CDC wanted to wait until a major review in 31 March 1959. They did, however, cancel the Sparrow/Astra system in September 1958. Efforts to continue the program through cost-sharing with other countries were then explored.

Within two months of the project cancellation, all aircraft, engines, production tooling and technical data were ordered scrapped. Officially, the reason given for the destruction order from Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff was to destroy classified and "secret" materials used in the Arrow/Iroquois programs. The action has been attributed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police fears that a Soviet "mole" had infiltrated Avro, later confirmed to some degree in the Mitrokhin archives.

Rumours had circulated that Air Marshal W.A. Curtis, a First World War ace who headed Avro, had ignored Diefenbaker and spirited one of the Arrows away to be saved for posterity. These rumours were given life in a 1968 interview, when Curtis was asked point-blank if the rumour was true. He replied: "I don't want to answer that." He proceeded to question the wisdom of printing the story of a missing Arrow, and wondered whether it would be safe to reveal the existence of a surviving airframe only nine years later. "If it is in existence it may have to wait another 10 years. Politically it may cause a lot of trouble." The fanciful legend endures that one of the prototypes remains intact somewhere.

Following the Canadian government's cancellation of the Avro Arrow project in 1959, CF-105 Chief Aerodynamicist Jim Chamberlin led a team of 25 engineers to NASA's Space Task Group to become lead engineers, program managers, and heads of engineering in NASA's manned space programs—Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. The Space Task Group team would eventually grow to 32 Avro engineers and technicians, and become emblematic of what many Canadians viewed as a "brain drain" to the United States. Many other engineers, including Jim Floyd, found work abroad in either the UK or the United States. Work undertaken by both Avro Canada and Floyd benefited supersonic research at Hawker Siddeley, Avro Aircraft's UK parent, and contributed to programs such as the HSA.1000 supersonic transport design studies were ultimately influential in the design of the Concorde.

In 1961, the RCAF obtained 66 CF-101 Voodoo aircraft, one of the American designs the RCAF originally rejected, to serve in the role originally intended for the Avro Arrow. The controversy surrounding this acquisition, and Canada's acquiring nuclear weapons for the Voodoos and Bomarcs eventually contributed to the collapse of the Diefenbaker government in 1963.

Although nearly everything connected to the CF-105 and Orenda Iroquois programs was destroyed, the cockpit and nose gear of RL-206, the first Mk 2 Arrow, and two outer panels of RL-203's wings were saved and are on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, alongside an Iroquois engine.

With specifications comparable to then-current offerings from American and Soviet design bureaus, at the time of its cancellation, the Arrow was considered by one aviation industry observer to be one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. The Arrow's cancellation eventually led to the end of Avro Aircraft Limited (Canada) and its President and General Manager, Crawford Gordon Jr. was fired shortly afterward. In 1962, the Hawker Siddeley Group formally dissolved A.V. Roe Canada and transferred all its assets to Hawker Siddeley's newly formed subsidiary, Hawker Siddeley Canada.

The nosecone section of Avro Arrow RL-206, currently on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, was smuggled out of the Avro Aircraft plant in Malton by members of the RCAF Flying Personnel Medical Establishment, a detachment of RCAF Station Downsview on Avenue Road in Toronto, where it resided for many years and was employed in high-altitude work. The Commanding Officer of the Flying Personnel Medical Establishment, Wing Commander Roy Stubbs, provides this prologue to the former aircraft:

"One day after a change of government, the new RCAF Chief of the Air Staff came to inspect our facilities and programs and after lunch, I asked if he would like to see something special. I showed him a piece of the Arrow; cockpit section and engine nacelles and a few other bits. I asked him what we should do with it and he said to keep it hidden until the climate in Ottawa was right, and then he would arrange to have it placed in the National Aeronautical Museum in Ottawa. Eventually this was done and at least a bit of history was saved."

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