Between 1952 and 1959, Avro Canada developed an advanced all-weather fighter interceptor called the CF-105 Arrow. This aircraft, with its futuristic, delta-wing design, captured Canadians’ imaginations in a way few projects have, before or since.
The story of the Arrow starts with the establishment of Avro Canada, in December 1945.
Taking over operations at a former government-run military aircraft plant called Victory Aircraft, Avro was founded with the intention of designing aircraft in Canada—not merely building foreign-designed planes on licence.
The Avro team was young and ambitious. The three key players were Frederick Smye, President of Avro Aircraft during the Arrow project; Crawford Gordon, President of A.V. Roe Canada between 1951 and 1959; and James C. Floyd, Avro’s Chief Engineer, who led the team that designed and built the Avro CF-105 Arrow.
Although the CF-100 was just barely entering service, the heightened arms race between superpowers threatened it with obsolescence. The Royal Canadian Air Force needed a new type of aircraft, one that could maintain supersonic speed for an extended length of time, in order to intercept future enemy bombers over northern Canada.
The Royal Canadian Air Force design specifications were formidable and surpassed anything documented in any other country in the Western world.
Chief Engineer Jim Floyd would later comment that, “What the air staff were asking for was the moon.”
––Jim C. Floyd (Shutting Down the National Dream, page 180, from from a June 10, 1979 interview.)
“A full-scale metal mock-up was made from the detail tools as they became available, and this mock-up acted not only as a tool proving device, but was also used to train the production crews.”
—Jim Floyd, British Commonwealth Lecture 1958, “The Canadian Approach to All-Weather Interceptor Development," published in the Journal of Aeronautical Engineers, Vol 62)
In addition to a new aircraft, Avro Aircraft engineers determined that no engine currently in existence would be powerful enough to meet the Royal Canadian Air Force’s advanced specifications.
Sister company Orenda Engines stepped up to create a follow-up to the innovative engine they had designed and built for the CF-100, the Orenda.
Douglas Letterman, reporter for the Hamilton Spectator, summed up the issue nicely:
“Will the Arrow, which will not be in squadron service until 1961, be outdistanced soon by rockets? This is the real contest the Arrow faces. Not against Russian bombers, which she can magnificently demolish—but against the time-scale of the rocket missile age which is rapidly compressing her useful fighting life.”
(—Douglas Letterman, “Canada Unveils the H-Jet,” Hamilton Spectator, October 4, 1957)
Zurakowski would later say:
“The first flight of the Arrow on March 25, 1958 was very simple. Just check the response of controls, engines, undercarriage and air brakes, handling of speed of 400 knots (460 mph), and low speed in a landing configuration. There was certainly more excitement for the several thousand Avro employees watching my first flight than for myself seated in the cockpit trying to remember hundreds of do’s and don’ts.”
(“Test Flying the Arrow”, J. Zurakowski, Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal, 1979)
Prime Minister Diefenbaker, announcing the cancellation in the House of Commons, said:
“Unfortunately these outstanding achievements have been overtaken by events. In recent months it has come to be realized that the bomber threat against which the CF-105 was intended to provide defence has diminished. . . Potential aggressors now seem more likely to put their effort into missile development.”
(Hansard, February 20, 1959)
The Avro CF-105 Arrow captured Canadians’ imaginations in a way few projects have, before or since.
The combination of nationalistic promotion, Cold War fears, and the attractive, futuristic aesthetic of the aircraft created a lasting impression.
Even today, almost 60 years later, the Arrow remains the subject of intense scrutiny, conspiracy theories, countless newspaper and magazine articles, books and even television and theatre.
Created by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 2016.
Avro News Magazine, various issues, 1949-1959
Campagna, Palmiro. Storms of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed Toronto, Canada: Stoddart, 1992.
Dow, James. The Arrow. Toronto: J. Lorimer, 1979.
Organ, Richard. Avro Arrow: The Story of the Avro Arrow from Its Evolution to Its Extinction. Cheltenham, Ont.: Boston Mills, 1980.
Stewart, Greig. An Arrow through the Heart: The Life and times of Crawford Gordon and the Avro Arrow. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1998.
Stewart, Greig. Shutting down the National Dream: A.V. Roe and the Tragedy of the Avro Arrow. Toronto, Canada: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.
Valiquette, Marc-André. Destruction of a Dream: The Tragedy of Avro Canada and the CF-105 Arrow (vol 1-3). Laval, Québec: 2009.