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That time Toronto went supersonic with the Avro Arrow

Posted by Chris Bateman / January 5, 2013

avro arrowSomewhere in the murky depths of Lake Ontario around Prince Edward County lies several test models of what was once the most technologically advanced fighter aircraft of the 1950s, the Avro "Arrow." Since the models lacked engines and pilots, the prototypes were blasted into the air by booster rocket and observed as they flew (or fell in style.) Once spent, the shells crashed into the water, never to be seen again.

But that hasn't stopped a team of enthusiasts looking. Arrow Recovery Canada, a trust that users SONAR to scour the lake bed, has been trying for more than a decade to find any trace of the aircraft project that was abruptly and contraversially scrapped in the late 1950s amid accusations of Soviet espionage and political conspiracy.

avro arrow diagramThe Arrow and other fighter jets in its class have their roots in the post-war suspicions of long-range nuclear missile exchanges between the Soviet Union and North America. To counter the threat of an incoming warhead, Canada and the United States developed high-speed interceptors capable of catching and destroying incoming threats.

A.V. Roe Canada Limited, developed as a subsidiary of the British Hawker Siddeley Group - the "H" in many of Toronto's older subway cars - operated out of Malton Airport, now Pearson, and was charged with developing two types of interceptor craft: the sub-sonic CF-100 Canuck and a prototype jet capable of breaking the sound barrier.

Supersonic flight would enable an even quicker response to military aggression and was a target pursued on both sides of the Atlantic. "Wave drag," a phenomenon encountered by conventional aircraft approaching the speed of sound led to the development of new wing designs that appear on the famous Concorde airliner and other high-speed jets.

The first prototype Arrows underwent wind-tunnel and computer model testing in 1954. Giant IBM supercomputers provided telemetry data to engineers, as boasted in a full-page ad in the Toronto Star from 1957. It was during this stage of development that the first engineless vessels were strapped to Nike rockets at Point Petre in Prince Edward County for real-world aerodynamic tests. Similar launches took place on the Atlantic coast of Virginia.avro arrow IBMThe Arrow officially went into full-scale production in 1955 and the first completed plane, marked RL-201, was to be presented to the public and media on Oct. 4, 1957. Unfortunately for Avro and the Canadian government, the launch of Sputnik, Earth's first man-made satellite, by the Soviet Union the same day overshadowed the new fighter somewhat.

First world war Polish-born fighter pilot Janusz ┼╗urakowski was at the controls of RL-201 when it took its first official test flight on March 25, 1958. As engineers grew more confident with the design, the plane would be pushed to Mach 1.98 - 2,426 km/h - on subsequent runs. Pilots including ┼╗urakowski consistently reported good handling, though on two occasions the landing gear collapsed on landing at Malton Airport resulting in minor damage.avro arrowBehind the scenes, things weren't looking good for the Arrow. New Progressive Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker was elected in 1957 on a platform of spending cuts that put costly projects like the development of the Arrow firmly in the spotlight. Shortly after entering office, Diefenbaker signed the agreement that established NORAD, the missile-defense program that still monitors all traffic over Canadian and American soil to this day.

With NORAD came a commitment to two different methods of protecting the airspace above North America: an automated system of interceptor missiles developed by the US or aircraft-based defense via the Arrow project. To keep the defense budget down, Minister of National Defence George Pearkes repeatedly recommended the Arrow project be scrapped in favour of automated defense, especially as the threat from space was deemed to be escalating with Sputnik.

The Cabinet Defence Committee, a forerunner to the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, twice refused the cancellation but, controversially, killed the Arrow at the third asking without review in 1959. At this point, five of the aircraft were flight-ready and another, RL-206, was nearing completion. Almost 15,000 staff involved with the project lost their jobs in the aftermath, earning the day of the decision the title "Black Friday" in the aviation industry.

Ostensibly to protect design secrets, all of the aircraft, spare parts, and engines were destroyed. Well, almost all. The nosecone section and two wing panels of the sixth Arrow was, amazingly, smuggled out of Malton Airport and kept hidden at CFB Downsview for many years. The parts and a salvaged engine are on display in Ottawa.

Rumours that an entire aircraft had been spirited to safety went largely unfounded until Air Marshal Wilfred Austin Curtis, the former head of Avro, suggested in a 1968 interview that the location of a hidden plane could only be revealed in a more favourable political climate. He died in 1977 and no surviving Arrow has ever been publicly acknowledged.

With suspicions between the governments of North America and the Soviet Union reaching their chilly nadir in the early 1960s, it was often hinted that a spy had infiltrated Avro and the Arrow project on behalf of the Soviets. That theory was lent some credence in the early 1990s with the release of the Mitrokhin archives, documents obtained by the defection of a top Russian spy. The extent to which Avro may have been compromised is only hinted at and there has been no other confirmation of Soviet espionage within the company.

Quite how destroying the original materials could protect information that may already have been stolen isn't clear, but the lack of a surviving aircraft is likely what spurs "Arrowheads," devoted fans of Canada's first supersonic fighter, to literally plumb the depths for tangible evidence of what was widely considered to be one of the world's most advanced vehicles that nixed before its time.

So far they haven't found much, but the search continues.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Library and Archives Canada,



Paul / January 5, 2013 at 02:52 pm
Canada's loss was NASA's gain as many of the former engineers and design team of the Arrow and other Avro projects eventually moved to the U.S. and worked on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects that successfully put men on the moon from 1969-72. Canada's contribution to the age of space exploration has been huge right up to this day...something we can all be proud of.
Paul Felix Schott / January 5, 2013 at 04:23 pm
Canada has given much to Space Exploration

2013 Feb 14 - 16


Do a little History on this one.

ALL Should Look Up "2012 DA14".

This could take out one of more satellites and the junk and debris from the hit could end up taking out many more satellites very soon after that. All the satellite collision probability will go way up if even one is hit. The velocity that the parts would go to would make them missiles that would start targeting a chain reaction this would not be good.

Most all will be watching this one and pray it goes by us without a hit. Every Scientist alive will be watching this event. Many will be in Florida for a very special viewing of the once in a Lifetime Event. Professors, Scientist, World Leaders, Ham Radio Operators and Every Astronomer will have its eyes on This Event, along with almost every TV set on Earth.

"2012 DA14" goes by Earth twice a year and there is no way anyone for sure, can tell how close the second pass will be till it passes by the Moon and Earth and the GRAVITATIONAL FORCE effect that it will have on this Asteroid.

They may come close but this one is already coming very close to begin with. Too close this time or on its second or 3rd pass? Ad a Meteor Shower like the 13 and 14 of December of 2012, it might go through or bump into one of them? Or all the other orbital debris like Spent Rocket Boosters left in space that can no longer be moved by a control center on Earth.

If a big enough one were to slam into the moon in the night sky you would think the sun was coming up early only it would be 5 to 7 times as bright. From The Sun's Rays Reflection on all the Debris Field.

2012 XM16, 2012 XM55, 2012 XP55, THERE ARE OVER 25 found just this year 2012 that are part of the Near Earth Object Program that will come close to Earth from now till 2012 DA14 comes.

You do not want to know how many are on the "PLANETARY DEFENSE" list.
The PLANETARY DEFENSE is not to protect Earth from men from Mars.
It is for all mankind with most all Nation in on it to stop if can most all collision with EARTH from a ASTEROID IMPACT. It is if you will a AVOIDANCE SHIELD. "N.E.O.S. Near Earth Object Shield".

If only one were to hit or IMPACT EARTH on land get ready for a winter you will never forget. The winter from 1883 -1884 KRAKATOA you will think was a little pebble, and now the stone comes.

A Shock Wave was felt in England from a Event about 7:15 to 7:20 A.M. Siberia time in the morning in June of the year 1908 high in the sky above the Forest in the remote wilderness of Tunguska Siberia heard an explosion that laid flat more than 800 square miles of the forest with all the trees pointing away from the center of the blast with most all the trees laying on their side. Some trees that were right below the blast were still there looking like telephone poles with no bark or branches left on them. This Asteroid did not even hit the Ground and this is known by most as the TUNGUSKA EVENT. For all that lived there it was WORMWOOD Rev 8:11 the wood became full of worms and the rivers water no longer sweet and undrinkable.

If a Meteor Shower is big enough you might think all the stars are falling from Heaven.

About one every 100 years makes it into the Earth’s Atmosphere big enough for all to take note. Some make it to the surface the signs are all over the Planet and moon from the ones that have. If you need a visual sign of a collided impact with a planet look to "SHOEMAKER - LEVY 9" July 1994.

Better to be safe then sorry.


Read your Bible
While you still can,
and May our Lord GOD Bless all that do so.
John 14 : 6
Luke 13 : 27
Matthew 7 : 20 - 27

Matthew 12:39

Matthew 24:3 - 14

The Lord's Little Helper.
Paul Felix Schott.

Help others in are Lord's name Jesus Christ help bring all to know him while you still can.

Craig replying to a comment from Paul Felix Schott / January 5, 2013 at 05:07 pm
I was wondering what the end of worlders would latch on to next after the Mayan thingy fizzeled. Thanks for answering that, crackpot.
kstop replying to a comment from Craig / January 5, 2013 at 05:53 pm
No, you don't understand: those specific verses contain a code for activating the Mayan earth defence system. If we can crack it in time we can divert the asteroids with pyramid energy.

NASA needs your prayer power!
Canterbury Tail / January 6, 2013 at 08:32 am
A NEA poses next to zero risk to satellites. 1) it's in the solar system's orbital plane whereas geostationary satellites are on a different inclined plane to line up with the earth's axial tilt. 2) that asteroid is 45 meters wide, the chances of it hitting anything a few meters in size across a space of thousands of miles is so astronomically small you're much better investing in a single lottery ticket as your retirement plan.

A 45 meter asteroid hitting earth may be a bad day for whatever is directly under whatever makes it through the atmosphere, but it isn't a world shattering event. True if it comes down in a city there would be a lot of damage and potential death but it wouldn't start a nuclear winter (where do the fissile materials for this come from by the way?) or end all life on earth or the likes.

Next up taking out one satellite in orbit isn't a massive risk to everything in orbit. Once you have debris if it is slower or faster than everything in that orbit it will then change orbit to a higher or lower one. Collisions are only of real risk to satellites close by and most satellites are hundreds of kilometres from the next. Space debris is more of a risk to things passing through orbits (rockets and other spacecraft) than those already in orbit. A catastrophic chain reaction through the satellite system is extremely unlikely (though slight higher than your lottery odds admittedly.)

Canterbury Tail (who spent too much time working on satellite impact analysis and protection systems at university.)
Canterbury Tail / January 6, 2013 at 08:37 am
P.S. Is there a single blog out there that you haven't posted that garbage on and not been laughed off of? A quick Google search show's you've been pasting it everywhere you can and generally being ridiculed for it, mainly for your rather interesting twisting of facts.
scottd replying to a comment from Paul Felix Schott / January 6, 2013 at 01:57 pm
I cant wait for Rapture when god will take all the nutbars from this planet.
seanm / January 6, 2013 at 06:18 pm
One can only imagine what would've happened had the Arrow entered regular production, and if Avro was still around. Perhaps we wouldn't be in the F-35 debacle we're in now, but rather be the ones leading development of the next generation fighters. The Arrow was truly a remarkable development while it lasted, thanks for the detailed write-up.
Lucas replying to a comment from seanm / January 6, 2013 at 07:06 pm
Not really... it isn't that hard to image what would have happened.

"...looking back on the first flight of the CF-105 Arrow and retelling the fable of the aircraft's performance and demise should examine the fate of a fighter aircraft that took off on its maiden flight only two months later: the F-4 Phantom.

In contrast to the Avro Arrow, the Phantom was successful because its performance matched or exceeded expectations. Phantoms set 16 world records. In the span of just over six months the Phantom was ordered into production. More than 5,000 aircraft were to be built.

After the last flight of Arrow 201 on Feb. 19, 1959, the total flying time of all Arrows was less than 71 hours, hardly a serious flight test program. Avro, despite its talented aircraft design engineers and builders, simply overreached itself. Had the aircraft been put into production, its inherent design flaws, such as a weak landing gear, would have made it less than ordinary.

Only nostalgia and wishful thinking have made it a world-beater."

this is a copy and paste from an article, but I know the author... aerospace PhD, former UofT prof... and my dad.
Lytton / January 7, 2013 at 09:36 am
A great time in Canadian history indeed. I've done some volunteer work at the Canadian Air & Space Museum at Downsview Park -- which was abruptly evicted by Downsview Park 1 1/2 years ago to make way for hockey rinks.

They have a full-size metal replica of the Avro Arrow -- very cool. But with the eviction, it has no adequate storage facility. The Museum is fundraising to save the Arrow and the rest of its Collection. Please excuse the blatent call for help, but if anyone feels moved to donate (they have levels for as little as $5), their fundraising page is on

I've seen what they do at the Museum to preserve Canadian history, and its comendable.
Brad replying to a comment from Paul / January 11, 2013 at 02:44 pm
lucas your a idiot
Mike McAllister / February 2, 2013 at 07:57 am
Nice story Chris
However one thing, Wilf Curtis was an Air Vice Marshall, the head of A.V.Roe Canada Ltd. was Crawford Gordon Jr. (the house where he lived still stands in Toronto, I went to see it last year)
and to Lucas, I am more prone to believe the evidence and records of the National Research Council, and the words of the people, who actually designed, built, tested and flew the aircraft, than an outsider with zero experience in the field of aviation. Mach 1.98 was an unofficial speed record in 1958, just not officially recorded. The Orenda Iroquois, as reported by the British aviation magazine "the Aeroplane" in it's Feb 21 1958 "Powerplant Number" had the highest power to weight ratio of any jet engine in the world, and was due to replace the P&W J-75s with which the Arrow achieved Mach 1.98 while in a 60 degree climb and still accelerating, when the test was cut short. Stop listening to daddy and do some of your own research.
Mike McAllister replying to a comment from Mike McAllister / February 2, 2013 at 08:01 am
I can't edit the above comment,and as I appear to have overlooked something, I would like to change the word 'zero' in my post to the word 'little'.....thanks. / September 25, 2013 at 09:23 pm
Although the roach were not huge, probably in the 4oz range,
they kept on coming before all went quiet.
Richie Williams fishing 80 mile beach from Falmouth Coastguard said:" There were a few fish are used inside alchemy occupation, you will never ruefulness buying one.
kolowrotki cormoran / September 26, 2013 at 12:46 am
One man on the site had a quirky list fih 7 co
of things he couldn't do without, which was one of four
week's previous, still.
Asish Kumar Halder / March 13, 2015 at 12:12 pm
It is sad that the world's first supersonic , first delta wing super aircraft was not still born - BUT - was killed due to political power battle. SAD.
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