Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Avro Arrow

The Story of the Great Canadian Cold War Combat Jet -- In Pictures and Documents

Published earlier this year, this book is proof that the Avro Arrow didn't die when the plane was scrapped in 1959.

It still exists in the numerous video clips that can be found on the Internet, in the feature-length film with Dan Ackroyd, and in the many publications that it continues to inspire, one of which -- Storms of Controversy -- is now in its 4th edition. The Arrow even has its own Heritage Minute.
But if you're new to the subject, this slim volume by Lawrence Miller is a great place to start. It's along the lines of a photo album and can easily be read in a single sitting. Even those familiar with the story will find in the photos a compelling visual statement.

The Arrow was produced by Avro Canada, which in the 1950s was a world leader in aircraft design. The plane was a revolutionary supersonic interceptor, its purpose to counter long-range bombers from the USSR that might penetrate Canadian airspace on their way to the US.

But the Arrow had the bad luck to be rolled out on the very same day that Sputnik was launched. Suddenly the Space Age had begun and warplanes seemed on the verge of obsolescence. Production of the Arrow was cut by the government after only six had been produced. Avro at the time was Canada's third largest employer, and released 14,000 people. Including subcontractors, 40,000 to 50,000 workers suddenly found themselves jobless.

Miller's book brackets the main story with interesting details about some of Avro's other projects, including the Jetliner that came out prior to the Arrow, and the “flying saucer” that it worked on afterwards. The former was a jet-equipped airliner much admired by Howard Hughes and the American press, but it too was stepped on by the Canadian government.

The Legend Grows

The government not only scrapped the Arrow, it ordered every vestige of the project be eradicated. Even the airworthy Arrows were cut up and destroyed. Later (with a smacking of foreheads) the government realized it needed interceptors after all, and had to make do with a number of used Voodoos, an airplane that it had rejected years previously.

Just how good was the Arrow? Well, more than 50 years later, Major-General Lewis Mackenzie claimed in the National Post that “the Arrow’s basic design and platform still exceed any current fighter jet” and was a cheaper alternative than the problematic F-35 with its ever-spiralling price tag.

Miller's book doesn't dredge up any of the tantalizing conspiracy theories surrounding the Arrow, or the persistent rumour that one of them escaped the cutting torch.

The Arrow remains a thorn embedded in our national psyche. Its sheer physical beauty, cutting-edge technology, and savage dismemberment have turned it into an aeronautical unicorn.