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We shot an Arrow into the air
March 25, 2008 8:06 AM   Subscribe

50 years ago today (March 25), the first flight of the AVRO Arrow took place. At the time, the aircraft was considered to be one of the most advanced aircraft then flying, with a flexible airfame design that allowed for a wide variety of missions. To this day, rumours persist that the abrupt cancellation of the AVRO Arrow was due to pressure from US military aircraft contractors who feared losing several of their own lucrative contracts to the new jet. Rumours also recur from time to time that a “missing Arrow” was squirrelled away somewhere, a future treasure find for Canadian Arrow buffs. One thing almost everyone agrees on: cancelling the Arrow in favour of a ballistic missile was the worst disaster ever to befall aviation in Canada. But it probably helped put men on the moon a lot sooner than would otherwise have been the case.
posted by Mike D (32 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Although it was disastrous to Canada in terms of the loss of skilled engineers, Canada's termination of the Arrow program also killed the likelihood that Canada would develop a military industrial complex.
posted by metalfilter at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2008


Fred Smye is my great uncle!
posted by autodidact at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2008


OK, what's with all the Canadian posts all of a sudden?

Nice post by the way - I'd never heard of the Arrow. Also AVRO - or A.V Roe and Company, are probably better known as the makers of the legendary Lancaster Bomber during WWII. Canada produced tens of thousand of aircraft - particularly bombers - under license during the war.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 8:21 AM on March 25, 2008


Many Canadians continue to feel bitter about the cancellation of the Avro program in response to American pressure. This isn't made any better when some Americans accuse us of being parasites of their military because of the relatively smaller size of our own.

But maybe, as per metalfilter's link, the cancellation was a blessing in disguise.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2008


You should watch Danny Aykroyd in "The Arrow". Good story, albeit very pro-Canada.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:25 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


See also the TSR 2.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on March 25, 2008


I'd swear that there were recent revelations that one reason the program was stopped so precipitously was that there were spies in the program?

It's a pretty airplane, but its projected performance was in the same ballpark as the Lightning or MiG-25 or F-106 or F-4 that were also in development then.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2008


The town I live in had just under 10,000 people living in it in 1959. On Black Friday, the plant closed in Malton and there were about 800 local people of the 14,000 laid off at A. V. Roe. It had a huge impact on my town. The bitterness and morning over the Arrow around here still colours people's impression of the Dief.
posted by saucysault at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2008


BREAKING NEWS: Average country cancels average military spending program. Average citizens respond with average outrage. Average crisis averted.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:24 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Diefenbaker was a bit crazy. He did a lot of crazy things. This was the biggest mistake he ever made.
posted by Dasein at 9:25 AM on March 25, 2008


Hey! I was in that Avro Arrow movie! I was the sax player in the dance scene. Just think, if they didn't cancel the Arrow, I would have never met Dan Aykroyd! hehe
posted by sporb at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have long been an admirer of the AVRO Arrow cult. I am insufficiently knowledgeable about the airplane to comment knowledgeably about it. But I love the love it gets.
posted by mwhybark at 10:44 AM on March 25, 2008


I liked your post, Mike D!
posted by Dizzy at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2008


I'm Canadian, but my reaction to this has always been "meh".

That these conspiracy theories are so widely circulated amongst mainstream Canadians (not usually the type to believe that the American moon-landing was faked) indicates to me what a huge chip we have on our national shoulder.

Come on, if Canadian aerospace was so great, would axing ONE project really have such a monumental impact, as claimed by these paranoid hyper-patriots? In fact, Canada has done just fine with industry giants like Bombardier, MacDonald Dettwiler, the substantial Canadian arms of Pratt & Whitney, Bell Helicopter Textron, etc.

GET OVER IT
posted by randomstriker at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2008


I met Janusz Zurakowski, not as the Chief test pilot of the Avro, but as the owner of Kartuzy Lodge, where I spent a few weeks with my Dad and sister in the summer as a kid. The most memorable were a few weeks in winter where I ice sailed, built by Mr. Zurakowski. It was an open cockpit design [like the Isabella Classic - scroll down in ice sailed link] and jeebus was it fast. The lake was snow free and I still remember the ice stinging my face, spraying off the front runner. Crazy good fun.

sporb, that dance scene you mention, was it when Diefenbaker agreed to dance with the USA...
[rimshot]
posted by alicesshoe at 11:27 AM on March 25, 2008


My dad, a native of Winnipeg, has been telling me about this for years. The rumor is that Eisenhower took Diefenbaker out for a private chat. They rowed out to the middle of a lake, and he laid on the persuasive pressure.

randomstriker, Canada was a much smaller country and economy back then. If you consider that a couple of failed contract bids were enough to precipitate the Boeing layoffs in 1969-70, how is it beyond the realm of possibility that one failed effort could completely halt the Canadian aerospace effort, especially when it hadn't even gone commercial. Think about how many venture capital efforts don't succeed ...
posted by Araucaria at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2008


You should watch Danny Aykroyd in "The Arrow". Good story, albeit very pro-Canada.

no you shouldn't. the movie is 'loosely' based on actual events, and some characters were even entirely made up. okay, watch it. it's a really good depiction of how bad Canadian cinema can be, even with relatively decent talent like Aykroyd. don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being pro-Canada. i'm a Canuck through and through, but "The Arrow" was an abomination IMHO, and could have been a lot more respectful to the known events.

oh, by the way; I found the missing Arrow!
posted by spish at 12:39 PM on March 25, 2008


Come on, if Canadian aerospace was so great, would axing ONE project really have such a monumental impact, as claimed by these paranoid hyper-patriots?

Um, that would be because it put thousands of very talented people in a specialized industry out of work all at once, many of whom left the country?

Canada's population at the time was only about 17 million. ~14,000 unemployed in any industry would have had significant knock on effects, much less in such a cutting edge one.

I haven't read it yet, but space aficionados/arrowheads might want to check this title out.
posted by Zinger at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2008


BREAKING NEWS: Average country cancels average military spending program. Average citizens respond with average outrage. Average crisis averted.

In other words, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative Withdrawn.
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


In following links from the "Who Killed the Arrow" site I came across this monstrosity.

Bristol Brabazon

Here's a YouTube Presentation


Thanks for the post.
posted by mattoxic at 3:51 PM on March 25, 2008


Does the Dan Aykroyd film have UFOs?
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on March 25, 2008


BREAKING NEWS: Average country cancels average military spending program.

So I wonder. What if the average country in question decided it would be in their national interest to build their own fighter. And, in contrast to another country, this average country has had successive years of budget surpluses and has not mired itself in certain expensive wars etc. etc. Would this average country be 'permitted' to develop their own plane in this day and age?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:56 PM on March 25, 2008


its projected performance was in the same ballpark as the Lightning or MiG-25 or F-106 or F-4 that were also in development then

... ? So... let's not develop a home-grown product that can rival its peers?

would axing ONE project really have such a monumental impact

Industries live or die by success stories and infamous failures. And in this case, I think part of the implication is a "drop this and anything like it" rider.

But it's hard to say. Trouble is, half the things I know to be true about that period sound half-baked but are better documented.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2008


... ? So... let's not develop a home-grown product that can rival its peers?

Well, if you're wee Canada, it probably would make more sense just to buy some Lightnings from the muvver country. Many problems can be solved by the judicious or even excessive purchase of English Electric Lightnings.

But more to the point, Arrow enthusiasts sometimes assert that the plane was like the BEST. PLANE. EVAR!!!! when it seems more like part of the substantial crop of late-fifties high-speed interceptors.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2008


But more to the point, Arrow enthusiasts sometimes assert that the plane was like the BEST. PLANE. EVAR!!!! when it seems more like part of the substantial crop of late-fifties high-speed interceptors.

Heh. To me the AVRO Vulcan was the BEST. PLANE. EVAR!!!!

This is partly due to the fact that one used to overfly my house, and my god... the sound it made, and the way it would seem to just hover there in the sky the way things that size really shouldn't.

It also came with a succession of of colour coded British nuclear weapons, ending with Blue Steel, which was eventually dumped for some yankie thing.
posted by Artw at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2008


Oooh, I got to see a Vulcan at a Ramstein Flugtag sometime between 78 and 81. Didn't get to see it fly, I don't think, but it was an awfully impressive plane just sitting there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:16 PM on March 25, 2008


When it's overflying at low altitude it's basically the star destroyer from the opening scene of Star Wars rumbling overhead, but real and more exciting/frightening.

(Growing up on a hill overlooking an RAF base underneath the flight path for airshows was pretty awesome)
posted by Artw at 8:38 PM on March 25, 2008


Get thee to The Strategic Air and Space Museum. They have an Avro Vulcan, a Blackbird, a B-1, and lots of other great planes that you can touch.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:45 PM on March 25, 2008


Artw, back in the mid-80s my family and I were stopped near the top of a pass on our way into Wales from London or someplace or other. My father and I were wandering around, looking at what might have been a boundary stone or something, when the walls of the mountain valley were filled with this intense, huge sound that just KEPT GETTING LOUDER.

We could not figure out what it was or where it was coming from, when up from the English side of the rounded hill of the road popped a Vulcan, booking at something like 20 feet up. From where we were it looked like it was about two feet off the ground and moving WAY TOO FAST.

I would guess that the pilot was having fun but not really opening up; still, even if he was being cautious he may well have been at over 100mph.

We both freaked out; my dad jumped behind the boulder and I started yelling and jumping up and down like a chimp as he buzzed us.

A minute later his wingman came by, higher up, and banked a bit as he passed by so he could see us. I assume his mate radioed him about us and he pulled up a bit.

I wrote about it at a bit greater length a few years ago and in researching it, trying to recall if it was a dream or if it had really happened or what, realized that given the timing, the planes were likely being flown on the way to decommission, which might explain why that stick-jockey was doing something as silly as buzzing the Llanberis pass road.

It was a hoot!
posted by mwhybark at 6:50 PM on March 27, 2008


Lovely!

On the downside of all this I did spend my childhood convinced that I would die in a nuclear war between Russia and America, so, you know, ups and downs...
posted by Artw at 8:24 PM on March 27, 2008


Hey, check it out, looks like they have one of the old bats airborne!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8LVRobNHm8

Sez 'first flight, Oct '07' and other youtube comments say it's on the UK airshow circuit - it's not too late!
posted by mwhybark at 10:17 PM on March 28, 2008


Heh, and I am just now remembering building a model kit of the plane about a year after that haircut on the pass. I remember being very picky about the stripey camo painting and getting frustrated that the grey paint I used was gloss, not matte!
posted by mwhybark at 10:20 PM on March 28, 2008


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