February 20th, 2016 marks the 57th anniversary of the Canadian Government’s decision to cancel production of the CF-105 Avro Arrow.
The Avro Arrow was originally conceived to be an interceptor plane for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), ready for use from the early 1960s onward.
Following the Second World War, there was a threat that the Soviet Union might send long distance bombers with nuclear weapons over the North Pole to hit targets in North America. The Avro Arrow was going to be Canada‘s answer to intercept and stop the bombers.
Plans for the Avro Arrow started in May of 1953, with the Government accepting the plans in July of the same year.
The first completed Avro Arrow, number RL-201, was rolled out on October 4th, 1957. The first test flight took place on March 25th, 1958. In total five planes were completed, and a sixth was over 90% complete when the project was cancelled.
The project was not without controversy, as the Chiefs of the Army and the Royal Canadian Navy objected to the RCAF receiving extra money to finance the project. Also, there was a change in Government in June 1957 as the Progressive Conservatives lead by John Diefenbaker defeated the incumbent Liberal Party. Part of the Progressive Conservative platform was to reduced federal spending.
In August 1957, the Government signed the North American Air Defense (NORAD), allowing the American Government to take command of joint air defense.
The end of the line came on February 20th, 1959 when the Federal Government unilaterally declared that the project was cancelled in part due to the costs, but also due to a ‘thorough examination’ of defensive measures and threats posed. A full review of the project had been scheduled for March of the same year. The decision to cancel the project put 14,500 Avro employees, plus 15,000 associated jobs, out of work. Many in the aviation industry would term the day “Black Friday”.
Within two months, all aircraft, engines, production tooling and technical data were scrapped over security concerns. However, this also effectively stopped the Government’s ability to start up the project again in the future.
While I believe that in general John Diefenbaker was a successful Prime Minister, the decision to cancel the project was unwise. For one, we do not even have a completed Avro Arrow to keep on display – the Avro Arrow was the height of our aerospace technology – a plane that could fly just shy of Mach 2 at an altitude of 50,000 feet. It is shame that this project was cancelled. The Acro Arrow was, and should have been the highlight of our aerospace industry and an example for future projects. Instead it was scrapped as a way of saving money, despite putting 50,000 out of work.