02/20 – The Avro Arrow

The Avro Arrow during one of its many test flights. (The Aviation Geek Club)

On this day in 1959, production of the CF-105 Arrow interceptor aircraft project was cancelled by the Canadian government. Manufactured by Avro Canada, the Arrow was a revolutionary warplane capable of reaching Mach 2 speeds (twice the speed of sound) and taking on the latest generation of Soviet high-speed nuclear bombers. During the late 1950s, many Western military and political leaders were fearful of the “missile gap”, a perception that the Soviet Union was pulling ahead of NATO in the nuclear arms race. The Arrow was a proposed solution to this problem, an advanced, long-range aircraft capable of protecting Canada’s north.

A radar station on the Distant Electronic Warning (DEW) line, a NORAD-operated defence system that ran through Alaska and northern Canada. The SAGE was a part of the NORAD system. (Wikimedia Commons)

The cancellation of the Arrow project remains a sore spot for many Canadians. The Arrow was perhaps the most advanced warplane at the time of its production, but it faced an uphill battle from the start. The conservative government of John Diefenbaker complained of its cost; the British government was hoping to procure the Arrow, but interest dropped after the Royal Air Force decided to invest in air-defence missiles instead. Canada too was pressured by the United States to buy the SAGE system, a series of nuclear-capable air-defence missile launchers, as well as the American-built CF-101 Voodoo jet. The cost of the (some would argue inferior) Voodoo jet and the SAGE system lost Diefenbaker his next election, and the legacy of the Arrow project – once a source of great pride – remains an unhappy moment in Canadian history.

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