Here at the Museum, we often get asked questions about the Avro Arrow. The history of the Avro Arrow is arguably one of the most fascinating stories in Canadian aviation. “The Arrow was a plane without equal and considered by many to be twenty years ahead of its time.” (Avro Aircraft: Arrow by The Arrowheads)
The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was a delta-winged interceptor aircraft that was designed and built by Avro Canada. It was considered to be an advanced technical and aerodynamic achievement within the aviation industry.
The Avro Arrow was the culmination of a series of design studies begun in 1953 examining improved versions of the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck. “In the same year, the St. Laurent government awarded Avro a $27,000,000, five year contract to design two prototypes of a long-range, two-seat, twin-engine, supersonic, all weather interceptor – the Avro CF-105 Arrow. The RCAF anticipated that 500-600 Arrows at $1.5 – $2 million each would be needed to replace the Canucks and Sabre Jets that were already in service. Because of the lack of a suitable jet engine, in 1954 the PS-13 Iroquois, a new and powerful jet engine that Orenda was pursuing as a private venture, was chosen as the power plant for the proposed fighter.
In 1955, the growing Soviet bomber threat led to the acceleration of the development of the Arrow. Avro was awarded a revised $260 million contract for five Arrow I aircraft powered by Pratt and Whitney J-75 engines to be followed by thirty-five Arrow II aircraft fitted with the as yet unavailable Iroquois engines. Contrary to standard industry practice, which was to produce a custom-built prototype, exhaustively test it, and then set up an assembly line, Avro decided to eliminate this expensive and time-consuming process through intensive and thorough preliminary research and model testing. Avro would construct and experiment on full-scale mock-ups of the Arrow and its individual systems, and wind tunnel and rocket-mounted free flight models were to be tested. Both prototypes and pre-production aircraft would then come directly off the assembly line, and it was felt that any increased research and development costs would be more than offset by savings in time and labour which would reduce manufacturing costs.”
“The go-ahead on the production was given in 1955 and the rollout of the first CF-105, marked as RL-201, took place on October 4th, 1957. RL-201 first flew on March 25, 1958 with the Chief Development Test Pilot S/L Janusz Zurakowski at the controls… test flights, limited to ‘proof-of-concept’ and assessing flight characteristics, revealed no serious design faults. The CF-105 demonstrated excellent handling throughout the flight envelope, a large part due to the natural qualities of the delta-wing, but responsibility can also be attributed to the Arrow’s Stability Augmentation System. The aircraft went supersonic on its third flight and on the seventh, broke 1000 mph at 50,000 feet while climbing.
A top speed of Mach 1.98 was achieved, and this was not at the limits of its performance”… issues followed, though, including the stability augmentation system that “required much fine-tuning. Although the CF-105 was not the first aircraft to use such a system, it was one of the first of its kind, and was problematic. By February of 1959, the five aircraft developed had completed the majority of the company test program and were progressing to the RCAF acceptance trials.”
Political issues hampered the continuation of the programme. From 1953, some senior Canadian military officials at the chiefs of staffs began to question the program, especially the navy and army, because of the diversion of substantial funds to the air force. “Air Marshall Hugh Campbell, RCAF Chief of Staff, however, backed it up right until its cancellation.” A change in government in 1957, led by John Diefenbaker, indicated that the aircraft’s prospects would change dramatically. Much changed over the following year. Defence against ballistic missiles was becoming a priority; it became clear that Canada couldn’t afford both the Arrow and the Bomarc/SAGE. More than once, George Pearkes, the Minister of National Defence, requested cancellation of the Arrow. Canada tried to sell the Arrow to the US and Britain, but had no takers…
“After export efforts again failed, the project was cancelled on 20 February 1959. A.V. Roe bitterly fired 14,000 employees; the government ordered all plans and prototypes destroyed; and many Canadians bemoaned the devastation of Canada’s aircraft industry, the resulting flight of scientists and engineers to the US, and Canada’s renewed dependence on the US for interceptor aircraft.”
“The Arrow’s cancellation eventually led to the end of Avro Aircraft Limited (Canada) and its president and general manager, Crawford Gordon Jr. was fired shortly afterward.”
Jack Woodman was the only RCAF pilot to fly the Arrow. He said, “The aircraft, at supersonic speeds, was pleasant and easy to fly. During approach and landing, the handling characteristics were considered good… On my second flight… the general handling characteristics of the Arrow Mark 1 were much improved… On my sixth and last flight… the erratic control in the rolling plane, encountered on the last flight, was no longer there… Excellent progress was being made in the development… from where I sat, the Arrow was performing as predicted and was meeting all guarantees.”