National Treasure #100: Avro Arrow

The things you learn by looking. “Avro” comes from the name of the original company–A.V. Roe and Company–established in 1910 in England. A.V. Roe is the name of the founder: Alliott Verdon Roe, an English pilot and aircraft developer.

In 1945, the Hawker-Siddely Group bought Victory Aircraft, based in Malton Ontario, and renamed it A.V. Roe Canada Limited, commonly known as Avro Canada.

“It started in 1945 as an aircraft plant and within thirteen years became the third-largest company in Canada, one of the largest 100 companies in the world, and directly employing over 50,000.” – Wikipedia

“Encouraged by A.V. Roe’s success in developing the Avro CF-100 Canuck and recognizing the need for an aircraft to counter the threat of Soviet bombers over the demanding Canadian North, enthusiastic RCAF officers, defence scientists and defence-industry officials had persuaded the Liberal government by December 1953 to authorize two prototype airframes in anticipation of a production run of up to 600 aircraft costing $2 million apiece.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Too big a company to fail, you’d think. Too important a project (to national defence and industrial strategy) to be stopped. Not so much.

Development costs climbed, driving up unit costs. The Government of Canada cut its order to 100 units, and tried to sell the plane to the USA – which was, at the time, more interested in Bomarc missiles.

“Test flights indicated that with the proper engines the plane could well be the world’s fastest and most advanced interceptor.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Nevertheless, on this day in 1959, the Government of John Diefenbaker cancelled the project and ordered all plans and prototypes destroyed. Avro Canada fired 14,000 employees: many apparently moved to the aerospace industry in the USA.

Was it politics? Maybe. Diefenbaker, a Conservative, apparently disliked the Liberal project because it was, well, a Liberal initiative.

Was it poor project management? Maybe. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) apparently specified systems so advanced that they drove the cost, unreasonably.

“The weapons system proved the project’s Achilles’ heel. The RCAF’s insistence on weapons and guidance systems that didn’t exist pushed the cost of the Arrow into an impossible range.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia

For a current look at the outfall of the decision – “The decision had a devastating ripple effect across Canada’s defense aviation industry” – see this article from June 2016.

For access to several articles and lectures, check out this site.

This post marks the 2/3 mark of my sesquicentennial project: 150 posts about national treasures: people (living or dead), places, and things that I think are worth celebrating. I started 01 July 2016, and will finish on 30 June 2017.



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7 Responses to National Treasure #100: Avro Arrow

  1. Ian Hepher says:

    Perhaps the history of Avro Arrow is why the government seems determined to bail out Bombardier, year after year, millions after millions of dollars.

  2. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – The more things change, the more they stay the same – regardless of who is in charge. Just thinking of the Sea King replacement project and the F-35 project.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I agree that the Avro Arrow was — or could have been — a Canadian Treasure. I had a reasonably high opinion of John Diefenbaker (as a person, not necessarily as a leader) up to that point.
    Just don’t list him as a national treasure, please.
    Jim T

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