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There never was an Arrow – Canada’s legendary jet fighter lives on at Edenvale Aerodrome

Published in Springwater News, 21 August 2023

“As a fighting instrument of war, which must include an aircraft, an engine and a sophisticated fire-control system, then of course there never was an Arrow.” – David Golden, LLB, LLD (Honours), OC, former Deputy Minister of Defense Production, Deputy Minister of Industry and the first president of Telesat Canada

While the above words from David Golden are technically true, then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker apparently attempted to make it seem that the Avro Arrow, the legendary Canadian supersonic, delta-winged, jet fighter-interceptor, never existed in any sense of the word.

The Canadian Air and Space Conservancy at Edenvale Aerodrome, west of Barrie, Ontario, is home to the only full-size replica of the legendary jet. Not only that, but it’s the only full-size representation of the Avro Arrow.

Officially designated as CF-105, the Avro Arrow was produced in the mid-to-late 1950s by A.V. Roe (Canada), at their production plant adjacent to the Malton Airport, now known as Toronto Pearson International Airport. Intended as a replacement for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-100 Canuck, a very successful all-weather jet fighter-interceptor, also produced by A.V. Roe (Canada), the RCAF wanted something that would fly higher and faster, and provided specifications for a very advanced supersonic interceptor which eventually became the Avro Arrow. The Canadian Chiefs of Staff felt such a jet fighter was needed to counter the threat of Soviet bombers attacking North America.

All that came to an end on 20 February 1959, a day became known as “Black Friday” in the Canadian aviation industry, when the Avro Arrow program was cancelled by the government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. At the time, six copies of the Arrow were completed, with several others in various stages of production. Five of the completed copies were flown by test pilots, powered in the interim by the Pratt & Whitney J75 engine, as the Orenda Iroquois engine was not yet ready for use. The only copy of the Arrow that was fitted with the Iroquois engine, Arrow RL-206, was never flown.

The Iroquois engine was reported to be lighter with more thrust. Many experts believe if Arrow RL-206 had flown, it would have succeeded in more-than surpassing Mach 2, something that would have made cancellation of the project harder to justify.

In a very controversial move, Diefenbaker’s government ordered that all completed or partially completed copies of the Arrow were cut up with torches and sold to a scrap dealer in Hamilton, Ontario, for around $4355 for each Arrow.  All design drawings and tools were also ordered destroyed, along with all photos and film footage of the Arrow taxiing and flying. Former A.V. Roe (Canada) test pilot Peter Cope equated the destruction order as a “de-Stalinization” project; an attempt to wipe out all evidence that the Arrow ever existed. That order remains a subject of bitter controversy to this day.

Despite this order from Ottawa, an assortment of Arrow artifacts do remain to this day, along with photographs, drawings and film footage. There are no fully-intact copies of the Avro Arrow remaining, however, despite the insistence of some Arrow enthusiasts. The nose cone section of Avro Arrow RL-206, currently on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, is the largest intact piece of an original Avro Arrow left in existence.

Two wing tips and an Iroquois engine are also a part of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s collection.

While not authentic Arrow components, a Delta Test Vehicle, one of the 12 test models that was fired into Lake Ontario from the Point Petrie Test Range, near Trenton, Ontario, between 1954 and 1957, was recovered after extensive searching in 2018. Later generation test models were also found in September 2020.

These scale models of the Avro Arrow, about nine feet long — a 1/8 scale of the actual plane, were used for flight testing, as A.V. Roe didn’t have access to a big enough wind tunnel that could reach high enough speeds for their testing. It’s also on display in at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

The Avro Arrow Rises Again

In the late 1990s, a group of retired engineers who once worked at Avro Canada decided to build a full-scale replica of the Avro Arrow. Assisted by interns from the adjacent Bombardier aircraft plant, construction of the replica took place at the Toronto Air & Space Museum, an aviation museum established in 1997, in the original De Havilland Plant #1, the oldest aircraft factory remaining in Canada, having stood since 1929.

Headed up by chief engineer Claude Sherwood, a former draftsperson at AVRO, who had some large scale original drawings of the Arrow in his possession, the replica was completed in the autumn of 2006, and was put on display at the museum.

Other aviation artifacts in the museum’s collection included a wartime RCAF de Havilland DH 82C Tiger Moth trainer, and postwar Canadair CT-133, Canadair CT-114 Tutor and Beechcraft CT-134 Musketeer trainers, de Havilland CS-2F Tracker, and Bell CH-136 Kiowa helicopter.

Civilian aircraft included a Fleet 80 Canuck, a Zenair CH 200 homebuilt and the UFM Easy Riser ultralight flown by “Father Goose” Bill Lishman, along with historic archival material and exhibits reflecting major developments in Canada’s aviation history, most of which took place in the Ontario region.

On 20 September 2011, the museum, then re-named the Canada Air Space Museum, was forced to close when their lease was cancelled, along with other tenants in Plant #1, so that the building could be re-developed. The museum was able to store their collection, including the Arrow replica, at Pearson International Airport until they could secure a new facility.

The museum and their collection remained in limbo until 2018, when Milan Kroupa, owner of the Edenvale Aerodrome, a re-activated World War II RCAF airfield, offered up a hangar at the aerodrome for the museum’s use. Re-named the Canadian Air and Space Conservancy in 2019, the museum “…is dedicated to telling the story of aviation, both civil and military in Canada. From the JN-4 Jenny to the Space Shuttle, Canadians have contributed far more to the aviation and aerospace industries both at home and abroad than is largely known or appreciated. Using the Avro Arrow Replica as the opening of the narrative, CASM will endeavour to tell the story of men and women and the machines they designed, built and flew; who have made Canada what it is today.”

Reasons for the cancellation of the Avro Arrow Program

In the decades since the demise of the CF-105 Avro Arrow, many other theories have been presented:

  • The cancellation was due to a personality conflict between Crawford Gordon, President and General Manager of A.V. Roe (Canada), and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, which resulted in many clashes due to a number of factors including the rising costs and unexpected delays in getting the Avro Arrow into production.
  • That Crawford Gordon, President of A.V. Roe (Canada), aimed too high in trying to design and manufacture an all-Canadian aircraft and the engines to power it.

Jim Floyd’s assessment is that it had to do with the government’s contention that missiles were the future of Canada’s defence. “They had decided that it was missiles from there.  Jets would no longer be needed,” says Floyd.  “It had little to do with the cost of the aircraft,” which is one of the problems the Diefenbaker government cited as a reason to scrap the Arrow project.

Floyd also refutes the theory that Gordon aimed too high, saying that Gordon was only following the orders given to him by the RCAF.

Avro Executive Vice-President (Aeronautical) Fred Smye also disputes the Gordon-Diefenbaker clashes theory, including the fall-out of the one and only meeting between the two men on 17 September 1958 in the Prime Minister’s office, when an intoxicated Gordon was rude and belligerent, while puffing cigarette smoke in Diefenbaker’s face, who was a non-drinker and non-smoker.  This action resulted in Gordon being thrown out of the Prime Minister’s office for his behaviour.

In the 1979 National Film Board documentary, “There never was an Arrow,” Smye disputes this as the reason for the cancellation stating, “What’s that got to do with the air defence policy of the government of Canada?  Whether or not Diefenbaker and Gordon had a personality clash, the only time they met was on that occasion, September 17 for about 20 minutes.”

The Official Government Position

  • Prime Minister John Diefenbaker claimed the decision was based on a number of factors that included defence needs, the cost of defence systems and a feeling that jet fighters were going to be made obsolete with the advent of the missile-age.  The Canadian government had agreed to purchase the new American BOMARC missile system, under the command of the recently formed North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), and Canada could not afford both the Arrow and the Bomarc.

This is a position backed up by Paul Hellyer, who served as a Minister of National Defence (1963-67) and Minister of Transport (1967-69), under Prime Ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, in an interview featured in the documentary, “There never was an Arrow.” While Hellyer believes that the cancellation of the Arrow project was disastrous to Canada’s aviation industry, it’s scientific base and industrial base, he stresses that the escalating costs of the Arrow would have taken up the entire defence budget, leaving nothing for the army and navy, thus making it the only realistic choice.

Some critics of the complete destruction order believe that Diefenbaker wanted to bury any evidence of the plane’s merits to avoid future embarrassment that he was wrong to cancel the Arrow. Many aviation experts considered the Avro Arrow to be the greatest technical and aerodynamic achievement in the history of the Canadian aviation industry, and a jet that would still be technologically advanced today.

There is also suggestion that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), nervous about the prospect of a foreign aircraft outperforming its top-secret U2 spy plane, had a hand in terminating the Arrow and made sure that every last trace of it was erased.

Neither the CIA connection, nor the reasons for the destruction order, have ever been confirmed.

Myths surrounding the Avro Arrow

Many people believe that one Arrow escaped the cutters torches in 1959 and is currently hidden away at a secret location, a theory that the CBC TV movie “The Arrow” promotes. 

Jim Floyd states that he doesn’t believe the conspiracy theorists and has no idea where one would be hidden if it did exist, nor did he keep any souvenirs of the Arrow. “People ask me that question all the time,” chuckles Floyd, in an interview with the author.  “If there is one out there, I have no idea where it is, so friends should stop asking me.”

Another commonly held Arrow myth promoted by the 1997 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) TV movie “The Arrow,” Flight-Lieutenant Jack Woodman, one of the Avro Arrow’s test pilots, wanted to take one of the Arrows out and ditch it in Lake Ontario so that it wouldn’t be destroyed like the other copies.

Jim Floyd refutes both of these myths in conversation with the author, adding that “Woodman denied that he suggested ditching an Arrow into Lake Ontario. There would have been no sense or reason for that nonsense.  He did request that he be allowed to fly the Arrow once more, but it was to try out a test that he had suggested previously, without having the opportunity to test.”

A further myth involves the nosecone section of Avro Arrow RL-206, currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Ottawa.  The popular belief was that Arrow 206 was smuggled out of the Avro facilities to keep it from being destroyed along the others, and hidden at the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine, a detachment of RCAF Station Downsview, located on Avenue Road in Toronto, where it was employed in high-altitude work.

In reality, the nosecone section was saved under orders from the Department of Defence Production, with approval of then-Minister of National Defence George R. Pearkes, and given to the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine for their use in flight pressurization testing. This was confirmed to the author by Jim Floyd, who said there was no mystery as to why the nosecone section was saved.

Possibly fueling this myth was a portion of a letter written by the commanding officer of the Flying Personnel Medical Establishment, Wing Commander Roy Stubbs, a letter that in retrospect, was likely taken out of context in later years:

“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.”

The decision by A.V. Roe to immediately terminate all 14, 000 employees of “Black Friday” was portrayed by some critics as a deliberate decision to embarrass the government into reversing their decision to cancel the Arrow program.  Fed Smye disputes this accusation, stating that he had advised the Deputy Minister of Defence Production Gordon Hunter that Avro’s decision to lay-off all their employees was because they felt they had no alternative and was not an attempt to embarrass the government. 

Smye specifically addressed this in the 1979 documentary, “There never was an Arrow” by saying “What do you do with 14, 000 employees with no work to do?”

Further, Smye adds that Hunter was informed of this decision before it was officially announced to the employees over the P.A. system, and he was told that if the government didn’t reverse its decision by 2 pm on “Black Friday”, the announcement would be made.

The end of a dream

Whatever the true reason was, the cancellation of the Avro Arrow spelled the end of Crawford Gordon and A. V. Roe (Canada).  Gordon’s mentor and surrogate father Sir Roy Dobson, one of the founders of A.V. Roe (Canada) and later Chairman with A.V. Roe’s parent company Hawker Siddeley Group, requested and received Gordon’s resignation as President of A.V. Roe (Canada).

The collapse of A.V. Roe (Canada) was inevitable after the early cancellation of the Arrow project.  Avro Aircraft had around 20 future programs under study in Jim Floyd’s initial projects office, but none were sufficiently advanced to fill the gap in the company’s operations and thousands of employees were without work.  The timing of the cancellation of the Arrow project had the effect of virtually putting the company out of the high-tech aviation business for good.

The end officially came in 1962, when the Hawker Siddeley Group formally dissolved the company.  Hawker Siddeley Canada, was formed to take over their remaining assets and A.V. Roe Canada faded into history.  Orenda Engines would ultimately survive the dissolution and go onto produce the General Electric J85 engine for use in the Canadair CL-41 Tudor jet trainer, the jet currently flown by the RCAF’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as “The Snowbirds.”

As for Crowford Gordon, he died on 26 January 1967 of liver failure, after a long battle with alcoholism. His friends would say that he drank himself to his death.  As “There never was an Arrow” points out, “Gordon could handle success, but not failure.”

What could have been

In Floyd’s book on the Avro Jetliner, another jet aircraft Floyd was involved in designing and was subsequently scrapped, he includes a section on the Arrow and quotes Arrow test pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jack Woodman as saying that, “The decision to cancel the Arrow program I think denied Canada and the RCAF from being world leaders in high performance airplanes.  In my opinion it was that good.”

Sources: Manitoba History: The Remarkable Career of David A. Golden (mhs.mb.ca), Broken Arrow: The rise and fall of Crawford Gordon and A.V. Roe Canada – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com), A legend in aviation still hard at work – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com), A.V.Roe – Avro Arrow 203, ONTARIO – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com), Avro arrow replica lands at Edenvale Aerodrome | CTV News, Former Toronto Aerospace Museum secures new airport home – Skies Mag, CF-105 AVRO Arrow Full Scale Model being built by the Toronto Aviation Museum. From the Home Page of Michael Kostiuk. (ncf.ca), Canada Aviation and Space Museum | Ottawa • Tapped Out Travellers, basic doc (asc-csa.gc.ca), After decades of failed searches, the ‘holy grail’ of Avro Arrow artifacts uncovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario | National Post, Sunken Avro Arrow model recovered from Lake Ontario | CBC News.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/there-never-was-an-arrow-canadas-legendary-jet-fighter-lives-on-at-edenvale-aerodrome/

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