My “Canada 150” birthday moment begins with the image of Canada’s own supersonic jet fighter – the Avro Arrow.
The delta-winged Arrow was created to be one of the fastest aircraft in the world (Mach 3 at 70,000 feet at full potential) that could go from standing at idle to almost Mach 1 in 4.5 seconds); used a world-first computerized flight control and weapon systems; could be completely refueled and re-armed for takeoff in less than six minutes; and had a projected range of 750 miles compared to the 350 miles of the Bormarc missiles that were to replace it… and that was 1959!
By Dennis Jarvis – Flickr: DSC_6934 – Canadian Pride, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13276285
As a kid, I created a special hook shot when playing basketball that saw me sinking soaring baskets from centre court. I called it the “Avro Arrow” shot. Such was the impact on my own little world.
Then it was gone! Black Friday, February 20, 1959: The high-tech Arrow program was terminated along with thousands of Canadian jobs; our entire jet aviation industry devastated; and a “brain drain” of our brightest engineers and scientists – lost to NASA and other US jet aircraft builders.
Saying it wasn’t cost-effective – despite the National Post’s position that 65% of all funding was returned to the government in taxation – plus, not waiting two weeks for a scheduled record-breaking operational review and worldwide marketing début – the government of the day, used incomplete cost accounting methods to justify that it was too costly: not taking into account the 500 Arrows ordered by the country’s own air force; and in additional, sales from the newly developed Arrow jet engine . A more balanced Return-On-Investment (ROI) analysis would have given Canadians the true cost of the program: as an investment, not solely a cost.
Many felt it was purely political as the government quietly ordered the completed Arrows to be cut into pieces. Canadians were filled with ineffable sadness to see newspaper-released photos publicly revealing the ignoble destruction of our Arrows. Not one was saved.
Over the intervening years, a couple of full-size replicas were created by volunteers who refused to pretend this world-class jet interceptor hadn’t existed. Yet, being non-powered, they are strikingly beautiful shells of the real thing. Yet, we have the stashed away films, photos and blueprints to prove that it was a triumph of the will of a people to overcome obstacles: a proud achievement that, for a brief moment, captured our imagination and moved our soul… feeling what it means to be a world-class leader again!
The real miscalculation: “The scraping of the Arrow program, and the replacement Bormarc Missile System still failing in testing, Canada was left essentially defenseless for two and a half years during the height of the Cold War with Russia.” – Avro Museum
More money was then wasted buying inferior, older-generation US jets – the equivalent of 130 new, advanced Arrows. “Penny wise and pound foolish?”
Death row – destruction of the Arrows, 1959 insuaga.com
“You take what you need /And you leave the rest
But they should never / Have taken the very best”
–The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band
Can it happen again with Canada’s commercial jet aviation industry?
As a former employee said, “The real crime of the Avro Arrow cancellation lies not in the economic calamity it unleashed, nasty though that was. The lasting tragedy is that confidence and hope for the future were also demolished for so many of our residents on that Black Friday in 1959 – taken apart, like so many Arrows in a hangar.” Journalist June Callwood called it a “soul-theft.” A single phone call instantly put 30,000 factory and contracted suppliers out of work: no notice, no negotiations, no prospects for them and their families.
The impact on the country’s economy was beyond simple calculation. Even now, over 60 years later, that type of hit would stagger the nation – even now, at over twice our size today. Our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald said, “We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it. We shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”
In more recent years, American Boeing has filed a NAFTA free trade ‘America First’ complaint against its Canadian commercial jet rival, Bombardier; yet, wanted to sell Canada’s new military jets. Should they have it both ways? As Retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie proposed, why not objectively investigate a renewed Arrow program (by a major business consulting firm), and if deemed to be proven valid, then why not save the $100’s of millions and re-invest it in our own economy?
Yet, we do play a part in NATO(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) since 1949, following WWII. It’s aim is to offer joint military and political protection to it’s membership. However, in reality, it owes it’s existence to the USA … they will have the last say. In fact, former US president Trump threaten to withdraw because, as he saw it, the USA was paying more than its share.
As the most powerful member, they can dictate whatever terms it wants. On paper, NATO is a shared leadership responsibility, but in reality, does anyone believe the Americans will leave it to others call the shots for them… like the Canadians using the Arrows to defend our own territory? Of course we are allies, but with the 4th generational Arrow we would better carry our own weight.
As former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told ab American official, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
A few years back, I was in a Legion (a support and social organization for existing Canadian military personnel and our veterans) and read a plaque on the wall – paraphrasing, it described what we felt about how the Arrow was handled: “Only Canadians could have made it; only Canadians could have shot it down.” The current Canadian government has now signed off on all future military jet sales the be made in the USA… also claiming the majority of support contractors to be non-Canadians built… without the benefit of having a consulting firm objectively assess this decision.
Maybe there will come a time when we won’t need weapons of war. We can only hope and pray – even as we search for peace. But another “Black Friday?” Oh, Canada!
That’s the way I figure it. FP