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The Avro Arrow, Canadian Aviation in the Cold War

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The Avro Arrow, Canadian Aviation in the Cold War

The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was a delta-winged interceptor aircraft designed and built by A.V. Roe Aircraft Limited of Malton, Ontario, Canada. The culmination of a design study that began in 1953 and considered to be both an advanced technical and aerodynamic achievement for the Canadian aviation industry, the Arrow held the promise of Mach 2 speeds at altitudes exceeding 50,000 ft (15,000 m). It was intended to serve as the Royal Canadian Air Force's (RCAF) primary interceptor in the 1960's and beyond. Not long after the 1958 start of its flight test program, the development of the Arrow was abruptly and controversially halted, sparking a long and bitter political debate. Why was the Avro Arrow launched with such promise but production suddenly shut down in 1958?

There were many factors leading to the Arrow's conception, design and development, including the need for a defence against nuclear threat. The Arrow was conceived in response to the threat posed by fleets of Soviet nuclear-armed bombers believed to be under construction cruising into North American airspace from over the poles [1]. The RCAF requirements implied the need for a big aircraft. The final design had a boxy fuselage and a drooping high-set delta wing, with a sweep of 60 degrees and a "dogtooth" leading edge [2]. Although most of the airframe was made of magnesium, key parts were made of titanium to withstand the heat of high-speed flight, and an environmental control system was provided to protect the crew against flight temperatures, as well as the extreme cold of the Canadian north [3]. The high wing led to long landing gear, with main gear legs some 3.65 meters (12 feet) in length. The nose gear retracted forward, while the main gear hinged in the wings to retract towards the fuselage. The nose gear had twin side-by-side wheels, while each of the main gear had two wheels, arranged in a tandem configuration to allow storage in the wing. Delta winged aircraft tend to be "hot" on landing, and so a drag chute was fitted in the tail cone. [4]

The leading edge capabilities of the Avro Arrow gave it great promise to become the new standard of fighter jets. The Arrow was capable of utilizing a crew of two during flight, one to fly and the other to navigate. Also the Arrow was equipped with Twin engines and a range of 300 NM for a normal low speed mission, and 200 NM for high-speed interception missions, making it twice as fast as any other plane of its time [5].Operating from a 6 000 ft runway, the Arrow was capable of reaching Mach 1.5 cruising speed at an altitude of 50 000 ft and capable of 2 g turns with no loss of speed or altitude [6]. From a signal to start the engines, the Arrow could reach 50 000 ft and Mach 1.5 in less than 5 min. This was extremely fast for a Military plane as regular jets took nearly four times as long. Though the first Arrow was flown in 1957, it was so advanced that its performance was only bested 26 years later by the Russian MiG in 1983[7]. The Arrow also had the most advanced weaponry of its time, using technology that is still employed today. Some of the missiles first used by the Arrow were the Sparrow II and III which utilized a system known as active homing radar, the ability to home in on a target automatically [8]. The Arrow also had the most advanced Automatic Flight Control Systems (AFCS) of its time, even though it was not designed for ‘fly-by-wire' performance. Its system was safer to use than any other AFCS that existed before, designed to be in use during long patrols over the vast Canadian landscape [9]. The Arrow was therefore conceived and designed in a way to incorporate many important features and capabilities to defend against the perceived threat from the Soviet Union.

While the Arrow had so much promise, a number of errors led to cost overruns which when combined with conspiracy and politics, lead to the cancellation of the project. Not only was the project cancelled but it was subject to a destruction order. Officially, the reason given for the order from Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff was "to destroy classified and "secret" materials utilized in the Arrow/Iroquois programs" [10]. The action has been attributed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police fears that a Soviet "mole" had infiltrated A.V. Roe. The Arrow fought a losing battle against critics in and out of government who declared that the missile rendered the manned interceptor obsolete. Later, George Pearkes, Canadian Minister of National Defence, said "We did not cancel the CF-105 because there was no bomber threat, but because there was a lesser threat and we got the Bomarc in lieu of more airplanes to look after this". It was also said that Canada could not afford both Arrow and Bomarc/SAGE ballistic missiles. The Arrow project was therefore cancelled due to the combination of poor execution,

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