Tuesday, May 27, 2008


click on these images to enlarge. Visited the aviation museum this weekend. This pair caught my eye. A quite poignant pair of airplanes tucked away in the corner. The Avro Arrow, and the Bomarc missile. The Bomarck is complete, and mounted upright because, well, it was a rocket. The Arrow is the partial airplane facing us in the above picture.
The Bomarc was the choice of airframe for Northern Defense when the AV Roe Arrow project was cancelled.

The Arrow was the most technologically advanced fighter aircraft in the world....the project started in 1953 and was suddenly terminated six years later. It is hard to imagine such an advanced machine so early...a huge delta wing fighter with two huge axial flow engines in an era which was still rumbling propeller airliners traveling across the ocean!

This was the big Iroqois engine made at the Orneda plant. It was not the first axial jet engine, in fact, it wasn't the first anything, but it broke records for weight vs power which has not been exceeded even today. It never got installed in the Arrow....good thing since events overtook the project. Even with the less powerful test engines, the Arrow broke every record on its test flight. The only thing it could not pass would have been a gas station.

In 1957, the Canadian Conservative government was annoyed enough with the slow pace of development and the cost overruns (400%, steep by even government standards!) that they shut the project down. The leader of the project was so pissed off at the cancellation that he had all six completed airplanes brought out into the apron in front of the hanger and cut up into bits. His team of engineers and aircraft workers went on to Florida, to Cape Canaveral, to put a man on the moon. He actuated his golden parachute, and retired to the Muskokas. The Conservative government under John Diefenbaker was rocked by this scandal, and eventually fell.

These few pieces are all that is left of the only real chance Canada had to enter the space race with a viable engineering project.

Even now, 51 years later, I cannot forgive the people involved for their incredibly bad decisions. The government still paid the whole amount because of early termination penalties, so they saved zero money. The Bomarc missile sat idle for 30 years with US warheads on them guarding the permafrost, so Boeing made their pile. AV Roe restructured and became Avro, which still bids on repair contracts in Toronto, and Boeing took over their hangers to make airliner wings for about 40 years.

You can't prove a negative....maybe the Bomarc missile was the correct choice for the cold war, and its very threat was good enough to prevent the nuclear conflict we all worried about back then, or maybe it was not. Certainly the Arrow was not needed for defense. A few years later, Defense doctrine changed yet again, and we bought a bunch of used fighters from the States, which again, were never needed. But I can't help but wonder that if the AV Roe team of engineers had completed that contract, and gone on to other contracts, what Canada would have accomplished in the field of battlefield aviation.

Somehow fire fighting water bombers don't have the same romance.

1 comment:

Frustrated Writer said...

Having worked in a General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin plant for 11 years, I know the frustration of seeing something with great potential not be given a chance to perform. We built F-16's and the prototype parts for the first three F-22's with lots of replacement parts for F-111's (until they were scrapped) and also built cruise missiles, Abrams A-1 Tank rotors, Phalanx, and standard missile parts. Our biggest competition at the time was the F-20 Tiger Shark by Northrup which lost the race to be the #1 fighter for the U.S. When they shut us down we had just completed the 3,600 F-16... which says a lot for a plane that was originally built to be just a prototype. Love aviation!