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The Avro Arrow Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

February 20th, 1959. Black Friday. The day Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced to the House of Commons that the Arrow project was to be terminated. Many would argue that Canadian aviation died that day. Many others would argue that not only did Canadian aviation die but so did any hope of an entirely independent Canadian foreign policy. The fact that a significant portion of the Canadian aviation industry died that day cannot be disputed. Canada’s aviation sector has never fully recovered from the death of the Arrow and has, in many respects, been reduced to branch plant status similar, in many ways, to other sectors of the Canadian economy. Why, then, would the government cancel a program such as this when it must surely have known that the cancellation would have a detrimental effect on the nation’s foreign policy? There are no easy answers and, as will be demonstrated, it is highly unlikely that this project was cancelled due to foreign policy considerations but rather than in spite of them.

Before examining the cancellation of the Arrow and Iroquois programs and their relation to foreign policy it would be prudent to first look at exactly what these programs were and why they originally came in to being. At the end of World War II Canada’s armed forces were among the world’s largest. The Royal Canadian Air Force was the third largest air force in the world. Although Canada’s post-war governments had decided to reduce the size of the nation’s military forces they still had a role to play in world affairs as was evident by Canada’s small, yet significant, contribution to the United Nation’s forces during the Korean War. Along with the considerable strength of its armed forces Canada, at the end of World War II, had a substantial manufacturing capability. This had been demonstrated during the war, as Canada became one of the main

producers of materials for the Allied war effort. This was particularly true of Canada’s aviation industry. A crown corporation, known as Victory Aircraft, existed in Malton Ontario and, during the war, had been responsible for producing large quantities of the famed Lancaster bomber. It was widely held that the Canadian built Lancasters were superior, in most respects, to those produced elsewhere. Victory Aircraft was bought from the Canadian government by Hawker-Sidley, the British aircraft manufacturer responsible for production of the equally famous Hurricane fighter, and was renamed A.V. Roe Canada.

The new company made headlines when it produced, eight years prior to the first American commercial jet, a jet transport aircraft known as the Avro Jetliner. This plane made history by being the first jet to carry airmail when, in 1950, it made a mail run from Toronto to New York. At the time it seemed that Canada’s aviation industry was poised to capitalize on its post-war potential. The Jetliner, however, was not to be the aircraft which helped the industry reach this potential as it was cancelled at the outbreak of the Korean War. Due to the influence of the aviation lobby within United States government circles there are many who see the cancellation of the Jetliner as being caused by undue American pressure on the Canadian government. There is, however, no direct proof of this.

At the outbreak of the Korean War Canada’s primary foreign affairs focus was with the United Nations.1 It is hardly surprising then that the rationale given by the government for cancellation of the Jetliner was that it wanted Avro to concentrate on the production of the CF 100 Canuck fighter plane. C.D. Howe had insisted that Avro “. . . get the fighter into production at all costs. If that meant stopping work on the Jetliner, then so be it.”2 Seen in this light it is unlikely that American pressure led to the decision to cancel the Jetliner. It is, nonetheless, suspicious that, just as with the Arrow, all existing units of the Jetliner, as well as all blueprints and technical specifications, were destroyed.

In the immediate post-war years it became evident “. . . that the Soviets were no longer our allies.”3 and “. . . were developing potent new combat planes, both fighters and bombers.”4 The CF 100 Canuck was intended to be Canada’s contribution to NATO’s defense against these new Soviet threats. It was also meant to provide protection for Canada’s vast northern regions when it was thought that the Russians would send their bombers to North America via the North Pole. Although 692 CF 100’s were built5 and the model would enjoy a service life of 30 years it was, due to relatively slow speeds, becoming obsolete even before it had entered service.

As a result the RCAF was actively seeking a replacement and in “. . . April 1953 . . . released its specifications for a new supersonic fighter. These surpassed specifications anywhere in the world for an all-weather interceptor”6 In answer to Specifications Air 7-3 “Design Studies of a Prototype Supersonic All-Weather Aircraft”7 from the RCAF Avro developed plans for the CF 105 which was later to be known as the Arrow. Once Ottawa had approved the plans for the CF 105 Canada’s aviation industry was, both literally and figuratively, about to take off.

Due to its wartime success Avro was able to attract some of the best aviation minds in the world and these were soon put to use developing the new fighter. It “. . . was to be a twin-engined, long-range, all-weather machine capable of high speeds to enable it to catch the bombers which it was anticipated would be in the Soviet inventory by the late 50’s and early 60’s.” The plane was also to be supersonic and capable of carrying “. . . a highly sophisticated fire control and weapons system . . .” In 1953 the government of Louis St. Laurent gave approval for the development of Avro’s design10 and production began immediately. In order to conserve expenditures Avro decided to dispense with the production of prototypes and proceeded to manufacture the new plane directly from blueprints. This decision was revolutionary and was only “. . . repeated thirty years later on the Stealth bomber using advanced, computer-aided design techniques not available to Avro at the time.”11 The fact that the Arrow was as successful as it was, despite the fact that no prototypes were ever produced, is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the engineers employed on the project. This decision also allowed the first aircraft to roll off the production lines a mere 28 months after the original drawings had been released.

October 4th, 1957 was a momentous day in the history of aviation as the Soviets launched Sputnik. It was also a momentous day for Canadian aviation as this was the day of the official roll out for the CF 105. The fact that this coincided with the launch of Sputnik “. . . relegated the Arrow to a secondary importance in the media.”13 Approximately “. . . 12,000 people viewed the roll out, including representatives of Military, Government and Industry from NATO countries . . .”14 At the time it seemed that Canada was poised to take its rightful place among the world’s most technologically advanced nations. The as yet untried Arrow was, potentially, the most advanced aircraft of its age. Once the test flight program got underway it would quickly be confirmed that the CF 105 was, indeed, without equal.

The first flight in an Arrow took place “. . . March 25th, 1958, when test pilot Jan Zurakowski took 25201 into the air for 35 minutes, then touched down routinely . . .” Avro then initiated “. . . a rigorous flying program to evaluate every aspect of the Arrow.”16 It soon became apparent to all involved with the project that their creation would surpass all expectations as laid out in the RCAF’s specifications. Despite this the RCAF began to insist that Canadian fire control and weapons systems be installed in place of the American systems which were already in use. One of the advantages of the

Arrow was that the designers were able to incorporate these new systems without making any changes to the aircraft’s design. Soon after the Canadian components were installed the RCAF reversed its previous decision and demanded that Avro reinstall the American systems.

During the test flight program the CF 105 continued to meet, or exceed, all specifications and was, from all accounts, a joy to fly. Two minor crashes, however, did take place at this time. One was the result of the undercarriage collapsing on landing but this was a fairly common problem for new aircraft. The second crash resulted from a punctured tire and this, too, was a minor incident. Hopes for the Arrow were higher than ever because new, all Canadian, engines17 were ready and these were promptly installed in place of the American engines which had been used up to this point. The Arrow, when equipped with these new engines, was expected to easily break the world speed record. One of the worst decisions in Canadian history, however, was made at this time and the Arrow was never to fly again.

On February 20th, 1959, the day which quickly became known as Black Friday, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker announced to the House of Commons that the Arrow project was to be terminated. The announcement was made simultaneously, via telex, to Avro and its employees were informed that they were to stop work immediately. By the end of the day 14,000 employees were unemployed.

In the years since the Arrow’s demise countless theories have been put forward in attempts to explain the government’s decision. Many are fanciful and are not worthy of serious consideration20 In his speech to the House of Commons announcing the cancellation of the project Diefenbaker stated “The government has carefully examined and re-examined the probable need for the Arrow . . . It has made a thorough examination in the light of all the information available . . . The conclusion arrived at is . . . the Arrow . . . should be terminated now.” Diefenbaker further justified the cancellation by asserting “. . . that the development of an advanced supersonic aircraft such as the 105 . . . was highly hazardous, and therefore all decisions to proceed with it were tentative and subject to change . . .” The government seemed to be convinced that the missile er

a which the world was then entering had made manned interceptor aircraft obsolete. Evidence for this

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is provided by Diefenbaker’s proclamation that “Potential aggressors now seem more likely to put their effort into missile development than into increasing their bomber force.”

In the present day it is obvious that ICBM’s did not, in any way, render the manned interceptor obsolete. The government of the day should have realized this as well. Although it is not possible for a politician to foresee the future this was not necessary to see that missiles would not render manned aircraft obsolete. All the Diefenbaker government had to do was look a decade into the past and they would have seen evidence that manned aircraft were able to compete, on fairly even ground, with missiles. During World War II Germany had launched V1 and V2 rockets at Britain and the most effective way for the Royal Air Force to protect against this threat was to send the latest model of Spitfire up to attack the rockets. Once the rocket had been visually identified the Spitfire pilots would either shoot the rocket down with cannon shells or would fly alongside and slide their wingtips under the wings of the rocket in order to turn it over and redirect it towards the English Channel. This method was not foolproof but did, nevertheless, present a highly effective countermeasure. Had the Diefenbaker government simply looked to history they would have seen that manned aircraft were still the best solution to the threat of missiles.

While it can be argued that there is no comparison between a V1 rocket and an ICBM the concept remains the same. Spitfires and V1’s were the manned interceptors and ICBM’s of their day. Had the government realized this they would have seen that manned interceptors were far more effective against missiles than other missiles could possibly be. If a Spitfire, traveling at a few hundred miles per hour, was able to make contact with a V1 rocket which was also traveling at a few hundred miles per hour then it stands to reason that the Arrow, traveling beyond the speed of sound, would be able to make contact with an ICBM which was also traveling beyond the speed of sound. Perhaps the Diefenbaker government was ignorant of history and did not think in these terms. The possibility also exists, however, that their stated reasons for canceling the Arrow were not their real reasons after all.

Not long after the cancellation of the Arrow the government announced that it planned to purchase the Bomarc missile from the United States and that these would be used in place of manned interceptors in order to meet Canada’s commitments to NORAD. The Bomarc, in order to be successful, had to be armed with a nuclear warhead as it was not capable of directly striking an incoming missile. The Bomarc was intended to destroy enemy missiles by detonating its warhead in the vicinity of that missile. The only problem with this concept was that, as Soviet missiles were expected to make their way to North America via the North Pole, any detonation of a nuclear warhead in response to an incoming missile would take place over Canadian soil. If the Canadian government purchased the Bomarc from the United States they would be able to determine where in Canada these missiles were deployed and they determined that the best places for such a deployment were Northern Ontario and Northern Quebec.

This would eliminate the possibility of a nuclear detonation over a major Canadian city such as Toronto or Montreal. If they did not purchase the missile from the United States, however, the Americans planned to station them directly south of the Great Lakes which would mean that any detonation would, indeed, take place over a Canadian city. As the Canadian government could not afford both the Arrow and the Bomarc the decision was, obviously, made to purchase the Bomarc. Canada’s foreign policy was thus dictated by American intentions to place nuclear-armed missiles within range of the Canadian border with the intention of deploying them over Canadian soil in the event of an attack by the Soviets. Perhaps this is the real reason for the decision to cancel the Arrow.

Canada, however, should never have agreed to purchase the Bomarc. The system was designed to protect America rather than North America and was not suited to Canada’s unique geographical situation. It was, in reality, a flawed system which Canada purchased even as the Americans were deciding to phase it out. Prior to the purchase of the Bomarc John Diefenbaker had stated that nuclear weapons would never be deployed on Canadian soil. How, then, could his government justify the purchase of a missile system which was patently useless unless it was armed with nuclear weapons? If Diefenbaker had remained true to his assertion that nuclear weapons would never be deployed on Canadian soil then his government could have exercised a different form of foreign policy and could have refused to purchase the Bomarc.

Had they done this, and continued to develop the Arrow, Canada would have been in a position to defend both itself and America from the threat of Soviet attack. If they had continued with the Arrow program the Canadian government, with its decidedly anti-nuclear philosophy, would have been able to bargain with the Americans regarding the deployment of nuclear weapons close to the Canadian border from a position of strength rather than weakness. If the Americans had followed through on their threat to station nuclear weapons near the border, with the intention of deploying them over Canadian soil, the Canadian government, if its air force had been equipped with the Arrow, would have been able to threaten to shoot down any American missiles which over flew Canadian airspace.

Canada, in terms of foreign policy, has always served foreign empires, and thus foreign interests, rather than its own. In the early years Canada served the French empire. Later it was the British Empire. In the post-war years it served the growing American empire. Canada, due its relatively small population, had never been in a position to fully exert itself in terms of foreign policy. The Arrow could have changed that and propelled

Canada to its rightful post-war place among the world’s superpowers. The size of Canada’s armed forces at the end of World War II was enough to vaunt Canada to the position of superpower had the Canadian government decided to flex its considerable muscle on the world stage. They decided, instead, to drastically reduce the size of the armed forces. Despite this diminished military capacity Canada still sought to flex its muscles on the world stage. The only problem was that Canada no longer had muscles to flex. Had the Diefenbaker government not been so short sighted the Arrow would have provided them with considerable muscle which might have been used to temper the excesses of American domination of post World War II international affairs. While it is impossible to see what might have been had the Arrow program been allowed to proceed it is, at the least, highly likely that Canada’s traditions of peacekeeping and toleration might have been more easily exported had the Canadian government had the muscle of the Arrow behind it.

The economic benefits of continuing the Arrow program might also have had considerable impact on Canadian foreign policy. Several countries, including the United States, had expressed interest in purchasing the Arrow. If Canada had continued the program they would have had economic muscle to add to their military muscle thus making Canada’s opinions more readily heard on the world stage. If a country such as Israel, for example, had wished to purchase the Arrow it is highly likely that Canada would have agreed to sell to them. If this had happened perhaps Canada might now be in a position to broker a peace deal in the Middle East. If Israel relied upon Canada for military hardware such as they do with the United States perhaps they would be more inclined to listen to Canada just as they currently listen to the Americans. This might have allowed Canada to be the voice of reason, backed by both military and economic muscle, in international disputes. This would have provided untold benefits for Canadian foreign policy.

Many of the top engineers from Avro had been courted, for many years, by countries such as the United States but virtually all of them had decided to remain in Canada. With the cancellation of the Arrow, however, a great number of these people finally accepted employment in the United States. Many of them went to work for NASA and were instrumental in the success of the American space program. Had these people remained in Canada it is entirely possible that Canada might have taken part in the space race with its resulting economic benefits. Even if the Canadian government had decided not to take part in the space race the knowledge possessed by those who had worked at Avro might have enabled Canada to become a major research center for aviation technology.

The economic benefits of this are inestimable. Canada’s aviation industry would not have been reduced to branch plant status as has happened in the last 30 years. Canada would have enjoyed considerable economic benefits from industries which supported the aviation industry as well as those industries which relied on the spending power of the employees. These economic benefits might have enabled the nation to rely less heavily on the American economy thus enabling Canada to follow foreign policy initiatives different from those of the United States without fear of the adverse economic impact which might result from disagreeing with the Americans.

Even more astounding than the cancellation the CF 105 program is the decision to destroy all evidence of the Arrow’s existence. The existing planes were cut into pieces, many of which were deposited on the bottom of Lake Ontario, while all drawings, blueprints, technical specifications, and manuals were shredded. This destruction, more than anything else, has fed the myth of the Arrow as well as the conspiracy theorists who now abound.

There are many, especially today, who see the dark specter of American influence behind the decision to cancel the Arrow. These beliefs, while unprovable, may not be entirely without merit. Canada did, after all, purchase an American missile system after the Arrow was cancelled. There is also the school of thought that believes that the Arrow was cancelled because it represented a threat to the CIA’s new U2 spy plane. The U2, prior to the development of the Arrow, could fly higher than any other plane in existence thus making it the perfect platform from which to spy on other nations. The Arrow could easily operate at altitudes higher than the U2 was capable of achieving. This made the Arrow, whether in the hands of the Canadian military or that of another nation, a threat to the U2. Might the American government have pressured the Canadian government into canceling the Arrow in order to protect the U2? It is likely but will never be proven. The American government knew that Canada could not afford both the Arrow and the Bomarc and, perhaps, threatened to station Bomarc’s immediately south of the Canadian border in order to scare the Canadian government into choosing the missile over the CF

105. Perhaps this tactic was also used to protect the U2. The answers to these questions will likely never be answered and remain fodder for the conspiracy theorists among us.

It is clear, then, that the Arrow was developed to meet Canada’s foreign policy needs with regards to both the United Nations and NORAD. It is also clear that its cancellation was ill conceived due to the erroneous impression that manned interceptors were obsolete due to the onset of the missile age. This decision was particularly ill conceived in light of Canada’s experiences during World War II when it was firmly established that manned aircraft were more than capable of downing unmanned rockets or missiles. The effect that the decision to cancel the program had on Canada’s economic and foreign affairs is inestimable and hampered, to a large extent, Canada’s ability to develop, and maintain, a foreign policy independent of that of the United States.


Arrowheads, The. Avro Arrow: The Story Of The Avro Arrow From Its Evolution To Its Extinction. (c) Boston Mills Press, 1980.

Campagna, Palmiro. Storms Of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed. (c) Stoddart, 1992.

Dow, James. The Arrow. (c) J. Lorimer, 1979.

Milberry, Larry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

Molson, Kenneth M. Canadian Aircraft Since 1909. (c) Canada’s Wings, 1982.

Peden, Murray. Fall Of An Arrow. (c) Canada’s Wings, 1978.

Stewart, Greig. Arrow Through The Heart: The Life And Times Of Crawford Gordon And The Avro Arrow. (c) McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1998.

Stewart, Greig. Shutting Down The National Dream: A.V. Rowe And The Tragedy Of The Avro Arrow. (c) McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.

Zuuring, Peter. The Arrow Scrapbook: Rebuilding A Dream And A Nation. (c) Alliance Pres, 1999.

1 Greig Stewart. Shutting Down The National Dream: A.V. Rowe And The Tragedy Of The Avro Arrow. (c)

McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988. Pg. 119.

2 Greig Stewart. Shutting Down The National Dream: A.V. Rowe And The Tragedy Of The Avro Arrow. (c)

McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988. Pg. 119.

3 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984. Pg.


4 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984. Pg.


5 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984. Pg.


6 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984. Pg.


7 The Arrowheads. Avro Arrow: The Story Of The Avro Arrow From Its Evolution To Its Extinction. (c)

Boston Mills Press, 1980. Pg. 13.

8 Murray Peden. Fall Of An Arrow. (c) Canada’s Wings, 1978. Pg. 25.

9 Murray Peden. Fall Of An Arrow. (c) Canada’s Wings, 1978. Pg. 25.

10 Murray Peden. Fall Of An Arrow. (c) Canada’s Wings, 1978. Pg. 25.

11 Palmiro Campagna. Storms Of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed. (c) Stoddart, 1992.

Pg. 53.

12 The Arrowheads. Avro Arrow: The Story Of The Avro Arrow From Its Evolution To Its Extinction. (c)

Boston Mills Press, 1980. Pg. 21.

13 The Arrowheads. Avro Arrow: The Story Of The Avro Arrow From Its Evolution To Its Extinction. (c)

Boston Mills Press, 1980. Pg. 35.

14 The Arrowheads. Avro Arrow: The Story Of The Avro Arrow From Its Evolution To Its Extinction. (c)

Boston Mills Press, 1980. Pg. 35.

15 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

Pp. 317-318.

16 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

Pg. 318.

17 Known as the Iroquois.

18 As the Iroquois was intended, at that time, solely for use in the Arrow this program was also terminated.

19 Palmiro Campagna. Storms Of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed. (c) Stoddart, 1992.

Pg. 139.

20 Such as the theory which states that the Arrow program was cancelled to reward Duplessis for his help

during the previous election.

21 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

Pg. 320.

22 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

Pg. 320.

23 Larry Milberry. Sixty Years: The RCAF And CF Air Command 1924-1984, (c) CANAV Books, 1984.

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