In order to understand the story of the Avro Arrow, it’s necessary to place it against the background of its time. The era of the Arrow was also that of the Korean War, the Soviet H bomb and the advent of television. The day it was unveiled, the world’s eye was fixed not on the Arrow, but by the launch of Sputnik 1, the Soviet Union’s kick-off into the space race. This coincidence was to prove more than just disconcerting. It was to symbolize, in a sense, the conditions that would ultimately lead to the Arrow’s assassination – a shift in the technology paradigm that so baffled decision makers of the time that they seriously believed the day of the fighter-interceptor was over.
The Korean War meant that the five years of peace since WWII were over. It’s a little-remembered fact that Canada at the end of the WWII was the unlikely home of some of the world’s largest land, sea and air forces. In terms of men and equipment the Royal Canadian Air Force was the third largest in the world. Post-war governments made a conscious decision to demobilize the military from its engorged status, but when seen from the postwar perspective the idea of producing a world-class interceptor wasn’t as far-fetched as it seems today.
In terms of industry, Canada had just finished a period of unparalleled growth. Plants and factories had sprung up all over the country during the course of the war. Government-owned Victory Aircraft in Malton, just outside Toronto, later bought by Hawker-Siddeley of Britain and renamed A. V. Roe Canada, had done an excellent job of turning out large numbers of Lancasters during the war for the R.A.F and RCAF. They were rumoured to be among the best Lancasters that flew.
Because the Iroquois would not be available for the first prototypes, it was decided to use the Pratt & Whitney J75 to power the Mark 1 prototypes and pre-series aircraft. The thrust of the J75-P-3 with full afterburner was 8390kg, equivalent to the maximal dry thrust of the Iroquois.
Noise from the Iroquois was said to permanently deafen a human at 100 metres, and perhaps kill at closer ranges. The engines were installed at the extremities of the aft fuselage, with the engine nozzles projecting well beyond the wing trailing edge and the tail. They could be changed in 30 minutes, by extracting them backwards. The Iroquois’ weight-to-thrust ratio made it the most powerful engine of the American continent, and it was said to be fuel efficient. Development costs had not amounted to more than 90 million dollars, considered inexpensive even in the 1950’s.
The Arrow’s complex and expensive radar and fire control system ended up being one of its major Achilles heels, and its story is indicative of the processes that brought down the project.
A search for an alternative weapons system began after it was determined that the Canadian-grown Velvet Glove air-to-air missile developed for the CF-100 would be inadequate for supersonic combat.
The original idea was to fit the Arrow with Falcon guided missiles built by Hughes Aircraft, along with a Hughes guidance system. However the RCAF, against the advice of Avro and the USAF, decided to adopt the more-complex Sparrow II missile, then under development for the U.S. Navy. They ordered a new Canadian-built guidance system called the Astra, designed by weapons-newcomers RCA-Victor, to marry the missile to the Arrow.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy cancelled the Sparrow development in 1956, calling it too ambitious. The project was taken over by Canadair and Westinghouse Canada. The cost of assuming this development was to prove too much in the end, as was the expensive Astra fire control system. Both were cancelled in September 1958, some six months before the Arrow’s cancellation, ostensibly to be replaced with the original Hughes-built Falcon system that Avro had recommended. This vacillating and overspending was to contribute greatly to the image of the Arrow as a money loser.
The Arrow was intended to use only missiles as armament, and they were to be stored in a huge internal missile bay larger than that of a B-29. The internal bay not only protected the missiles from the weather but also reduced drag. Maintenance access was simplified by adopting a high, shoulder wing structure.
Avro Arrow Roll-Out. October 4, 1957 at the Malton, Ontario plant.
The Arrow was rolled out to an admiring public of 12,000 people on Oct 4th, 1957. As fate would have it, the USSR launched Sputnik 1 the same day, stealing headlines and providing an ominous foretaste of a technologically confusing world. But at the Avro plant in Malton, Ont, all was well with the world.
Defence Minister George Pearkes, who would be so instrumental in the demise of the Arrow, was on hand, as was Canadian aviation luminary John A. D. McCurdy. If the space race and missile technology was making Pearkes change his mind about the Arrow, he wasn’t about to mention it here.
After a period of elaborate tests including engine ground running tests, low speed taxi trials, high speed taxi trials and many hours in the most advanced flight simulator in Canada, the aircraft was ready for its first flight. Just before 10 a.m. on March 25th 1958, most of the staff of Avro poured out as loudpeakers invited all non-essential workers to watch the Arrow’s maiden flight, with Janusz Zurakowski at the helm. Two chaser airplanes, a single-seat F-86 Sabre flown by Jack Woodman, and a CF-100 flown by "Spud" Potocki with Avro photographer Hugh Mackechnie on board, were already aloft.
At 9:51 a.m. the Arrow lifted off, barely halfway down the 3,368 metre runway. At 1525 metres Zurakowski requested the CF-100 to close in and check on the nose wheel landing gear door because the safety light in the cockpit indicated it was open. The speed was then boosted from 200 knots to 250 knots and the Arrow moved up to 3350 metres. After 35 minutes, the airplane landed. The first flight was a success, and only two microswitches had failed to respond. Zura’s only complaint was that there was no clock in the cockpit to tell the time. Upon leaving the craft, he was hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd like a hero.
The Arrow Mk.2 was to be powered by two Orenda PS-13 Iroquois engines, the development of which was begun in 1953. It was designed to deliver 8,720kg dry thrust and 11,800kg with afterburner. These engines consumed enormous amounts of fuel when flying at supersonic speeds, close to a quarter ton per minute. Engine weight was important in such a large plane, and to keep the weight down, expensive and rare metals like titanium were used. Of a total weight of about 2000kg, 30% of the weight of the Iroquois was accounted for by titanium parts. The final Arrow Mk.3, with even better engines, was expected to fly at Mach 2.5.
Left to Right: Robert Lindley, Chief Designer; Jim Floyd, VP of Engineering; Guest Hake, Arrow Project Designer; Jim Chamberlain, Chief Aerodynamist.
On August 23rd the aircraft was taken to supersonic speeds for the first time. That week speeds up to Mach 1.7 were recorded. The program had its share of small problems, most noticeable when Zurakowski had the landing gear fail and headed off the runway at some 50 kilometres per hour. No real damage was done, and the problems were fixed. There was a similar accident later with Potocki. In general, as testing continued, the Arrow grew easier to handle. Speeds needed to take off were reduced, as was landing runway length.
The RCAF stipulation that the Arrow be able to pull 2 G’s at 50,000 feet (15240 metres) at a speed of Mach 1.5 was achieved. Avro believed it could be done at 60,000 feet (18288 metres) with the as-yet-untried Iroquois. The aircraft was finally pushed to Mach 1.98, over 2000 kilometres per hour, with Potocki at the controls, and would fly up to a height of 58,000 feet. Jack Woodman, the only RCAF pilot to fly the Arrow and the official representative of the government, reported that the aircraft performing as predicted and was meeting all guarantees. The design team was confident that the Mark-2 Arrows, with their Iroquois engines, would pass Mach 2 easily, and planned on hitting Mach 3 with future series.
Avro Canada was in an excellent position to hire the best engineering minds in the world, as the end of the war released huge numbers of engineers onto the international job market. Avro’s first project was to be a jet transport aircraft for Trans Canada Airlines, later known as Air Canada. In April 1950, eight years before the inception of the first American commercial jet airplane, the Boeing 707, the Avro Jetliner carried the world's first jet airmail, from Toronto to New York, where its crew was welcomed with a ticker tape parade through the streets of Manhattan.
The trip was made in half the flight time of a conventional airplane. American commercial airlines like Hughes Aircraft expressed interest, as did the USAF.
Unfortunately, the Avro Jetliner would never taste success. Instead, it was destined to succumb, in February 1957, to the same bitter welder’s arc that awaited the Arrow. In 1950, when the Korean War broke out, and C.D Howe, the influential Liberal Minister of Munitions and Supply, and who had contributed so much to the industrialization of Canada, ordered Avro to suspend the Jetliner. Only one aircraft was ever completed.
Instead, Howe proclaimed, Avro was to concentrate fully on producing the CF 100 Canuck jet fighter, designed to protect the vast northern wastes of Canada from the advance of Soviet nuke-carrying long range, high-altitude bombers coming in over the Arctic icecap. The CF 100 was a twin-engined, two-seat, high-altitude, all-weather fighter with an Orenda engine, which was also designed and built by Avro Canada’s engine department. In the end, the CF 100 was to be the only Avro Canada aircraft to go into full production and enter active service, achieving a service life of thirty years. In total, 692 Canucks were built, including 53 sold to Belgium.
Despite the relative success of the CF 100, all was not well in the RCAF. Even before the CF-100 went into service, the RCAF was seeking a way to replace it. The reason was the air superiority of the Soviet bombers that would ostensibly carry the nuclear warheads over North America. The Canuck just wasn’t fast enough.
Prior to 1953, Crawford Gordon became the president of A.V. Roe, Canada, Ltd. and shortly after, Avro Canada purchased Canadian Car & Foundry, Co., Ltd.; Dominion Steel & Coal Corp. as well as Canadian Steel Improvements, Ltd.
In April 1953 the RCAF released their demanding specifications for a new supersonic interceptor, known as Air-7-3, "Design Studies of a Prototype Supersonic All-Weather Aircraft", which called for a craft that could function in the uniquely Canadian context of a vast northern wasteland. They were without parallel in the world of aviation. The twin-engined, two-seat fighter should be able to operate from a 6000 ft runway, have a range of 600 nautical miles (11000km). It was to cruise and combat at Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 50,000 feet and be capable of pulling 2g in maneuvers with no loss of speed or altitude. It was to be equipped with a sophisticated fire control system, and to have an all-missile weapon system which would operate either independently or as part of an integrated defence system. The high speed mission radius was to be at least 200 nautical miles. The time from a signal to start the engines to the aircraft's reaching an altitude of 50,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.5 was to be less than five minutes. The turn around time on the ground was to be less than ten minutes.