There are moments in history that were the turning point of something: IBM Simon released the very first touch screen phone in 1992 or when Wilbur and Orville Wright took the very first brief flight at Kitty Hawk that marked the beginning of human exploration with flying vehicles. When Canada unveiled the gleaming white Avro Arrow in 1957, we thought we were witnessing a revolutionary moment in history when the aircraft industry would be changed forever.

Canada’s Vision

As the curtains of the World War II stage began to close, Canada was already looking at what the post-war world would be. At that time, they still had a large number of aircraft factories that were manufacturing Spitfire and Lancaster planes. With that, they came up with an idea: their country would start a significant aircraft industry that would mark the beginning of the Jet Age, and they would design and build their cutting-edge aircraft in-house, something the world has yet to see. In doing that, Canada hoped that the country would be known as a major player in military and civil markets in the next post-war years. You know, the first ones usually get a suitable spot.

Three Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire Vb on patrol over Djerba Island, off Gabes, on their way to the Mareth Line area in early 1943. (U.S. Army Air Forces, from Royal Air Force, Washington, D.C., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Then comes Avro Canada, an aircraft manufacturing company that became Canada’s third-largest aircraft plant just thirteen years after it started in 1945. It was one of the largest 100 companies in the world, having around 50,000 employees. Upon its entrance into the project, Avro Canada quickly started working on a new jet-powered interceptor called the CF-100 Canuck. Despite the delays during its development, Canuck proved to be an aircraft worth the wait as it ended up being a great aircraft that would be in service until 1981. This was even when it was not as impressive as an interceptor, especially defending against enemy threats.

Even before the Canuck had entered service, Avro had already begun its work on its successor, the Avro Arrow.

Avant-Garde Aircraft

Avro Arrow was supposed to be Canada’s first dive into the cutting-edge aircraft with the following requirements: a plane manned by two pilots with engines that could cruise at Mach 1.5 and reach an altitude of 70,000 feet. Instead, Avro delivered its C105: a 24-meter-long twin-engine aircraft with an internal weapons bay and a shoulder-mounted delta wing. It can carry different guided missiles and free-falling bombs through its weapons bay.

The Arrow’s engines were two Pratt & Whitney J75-P-3 turbojets that could produce 23,500 pounds of thrust with afterburners. In July 1953, the promising proposal named CF-105 was given funding of 27 million CAD to continue its development. A month later, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb and released the Myasishchev M-4. The budget increased to 260 million CAD to pay for five Avro Arrow test planes and 35 Arrow Mk. 2s that had production engines and fire-control systems.

The testing of the designs involved scale models in the wind tunnels and super-advanced computer simulations that resulted in some modifications, like nose and tail cones optimization and lowering of the wingtips. Titanium was also used in some areas to ensure the aircraft would handle extreme performance.

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the Arrow, apart from its state-of-the-art airframe, was its flight-control system. Hydraulic actuators were used to move the control surfaces of the Avro Arrow’s wings and performance. These hydraulics were controlled by an early fly-by-wire system, which turned the pilot’s control column movements into signals sent to the hydraulics. The problem with this was that since the control column was not physically connected to the surfaces, the pilot didn’t get a “feel” of the aircraft, so it was easy to use too much force without them being aware of it.

To solve the issue, Avro used a system that relayed the control surfaces’ movements back to the control column, which was then artificially reproduced with actuators. This returned the feel of the plane to the pilot. Arrow also used Stability Augmentation System (SAS) to maintain its stability in all three axes of movement.

Short-Lived Golden Days

In 1957, Avro unveiled Arrow in front of 13,000 crowds of people before it took its first flight on March 25, 1958. On its third test flight, it broke the sound barrier; by its seventh, it had already passed 1000 mph speed. It almost reached Mach 2 or 1500 MPH during its high-speed flight, displaying its brilliant flying capabilities.

The first Avro Arrow, RL-201, was officially rolled out on October 4, 1957. (Unknown photographer, copyright held initially by the Government of Canada, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Canada was stoked with the aircraft’s promising performance, and its goal of leading the aerospace industry didn’t seem too far.

This, however, did not last long. In mid-1957, the liberal government was booted out and replaced by a Progressive Conservative Party led by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. This new government felt that Arrow’s 1.1 billion CAD total budget was appalling and simply unacceptable. The United States was also offering Canada much cheaper national defense equipment. Lastly, due to the advancing intercontinental ballistic missile technology, people began expecting attacks to come from space instead of heavy bombers. Hence, a jet-fighter like Avro Arrow was no longer needed.

Because of all these reasons, Prime Minister Diefenbaker decided to cancel the Avro CF-105 Arrow jet-fighter interceptor program on February 20, 1959. This decision also resulted in the immediate dismissal of some 14,000 employees of Avro. It also ended the company’s career, dissolved and absorbed by Hawker Siddeley Canada.