The worlds Most Advanced Fighter Jet Avro Arrow CF-105

Updated: May 22

From 1953-1959, Avro Canada had meet a developed an advanced fight jet for the Royal Canadian Air force that surpassed the F35s of today. The F-35’s stealth profile limits it to a top speed of just Mach 1.6, compared with the Mach 1.8 of the CF-18. Way back in 1958, a test version of the Canadian Avro Arrow hit Mach 1.9, and was expected to later reach Mach 2.5. When it first flew in 1957, the Avro Arrow was the world's best supersonic combat aircraft. It was the proudest achievement of the engineers and designers in Canada's world-leading aircraft industry. The Avro Arrow was important to Canada because it gave the country a sense of national pride. The Avro Arrow made the aerospace industry in Canada one of the best in the world and gave Canada the ability to compete with the best aircraft companies in the world. They had already succeeded in building North America's first passenger jet the Avro C102 jetliner. and in 1952 the worlds most heavily armed fighter jet, the CF-100 Canuck. Canada had the capacity to develop and build its own fighter jets.

In the post-Second World War period, the Soviet Union began developing a capable fleet of long-range bombers with the ability to deliver nuclear weapons across North America and Europe. The main threat was principally from high-speed, high-altitude bombing runs launched from the Soviet Union travelling over the Arctic against military bases and built-up industrial centers in Canada and the United States. To counter this threat, Western countries strenuously undertook the development of interceptors that could engage and destroy these bombers before they reached their targets.

Avro Arrow Roll-out 1957 Full sized replica of the Avro Arrow Remains of the Advanced fighter jet

Intensive discussions between Avro and the RCAF examined a wide range of alternative sizes and configurations for a supersonic interceptor, culminating in RCAF "Specification AIR 7-3" in April 1953. AIR 7-3 called specifically for crew of two, twin engines, with a range of 300 nautical miles (556 km) for a normal low-speed mission, and 200 nmi (370 km) for a high-speed interception mission. It also specified operation from a 6,000 ft (1,830 m) runway; a Mach 1.5 cruising speed at an altitude of 70,000 ft (21,000 m); and maneuverability for 2 g turns with no loss of speed or altitude at Mach 1.5 and 50,000 ft. The specification required five minutes from starting the aircraft's engines to reaching 50,000 ft altitude and Mach 1.5. It was also to have turn-around time on the ground of less than 10 minutes. An RCAF team led by Ray Foottit visited U.S. aircraft producers and surveyed British and French manufacturers before concluding that no existing or planned aircraft could fulfill these requirements.

After considerable study, the RCAF selected a dramatically more powerful design, and serious development began in March 1955. The aircraft was intended to be built directly from the production line, skipping the traditional hand-built prototype phase. The first Arrow Mk. I, RL-201, was rolled out to the public on 4 October 1957, the same day as the launch of Sputnik I. Flight testing began with RL-201 on 25 March 1958, and the design quickly demonstrated excellent handling and overall performance, reaching Mach 1.9 in level flight. Maximum speed: Mach 1.98 (1,307 mph, 2,104 km/h) at 50,000 ft (15,000 m) max. recorded speed; Mach 2+ potential. Powered by the Pratt & Whitney J75, another three were completed, RL-202 through -204. The lighter and more powerful Orenda Iroquois engine was soon ready for testing, and the first Mk.II with the Iroquois, RL-206, was ready for taxi testing in preparation for flight and acceptance tests by RCAF pilots by early 1959.

With specifications comparable to then-current offerings from American and Soviet design bureaus, at the time of its cancellation, the Arrow was considered by one aviation industry observer to be one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. In its planning, design and flight-test programme, this fighter, in almost every way the most advanced of all the fighters of the 1950s, was as impressive, and successful as any aircraft in history.

News of the cancellation came just two weeks before Arrow RL-206 was scheduled to fly with the new Iroquois engine that was also being engineered and built at Avro. Avro engineers had expected that plane to smash the world speed record with a speed of mach 1.98. The cancellation also effectively ended Canada’s likelihood of becoming a major and leading player in the aerospace industry. What was further shocking is that the planes already built and flying were ordered cut up into scrap. RL-206 has just been completed and was slated to try for the world speed and altitude records. In what is still considered a brutal, unnecessary, highly unusual, controversial and mysterious move, all planes, all jigs, all special tools, etc were ordered destroyed.​ The Arrow's cancellation eventually led to the end of Avro Aircraft Limited (Canada) and its president and general manager, Crawford Gordon Jr. was fired shortly afterward. In 1962, the Hawker Siddeley Group formally dissolved A. V. Roe Canada and transferred all its assets to Hawker Siddeley's newly formed subsidiary, Hawker Siddeley Canada. At the time of the Avro Arrow cancelation, Avro Aircraft was the third largest company in Canada.

Destruction of the Canadian Avro Arrow

Diefenbaker claimed the decision was based on "a thorough examination" of threats and defensive measures, and the cost of defensive systems, but to this day conspiracy theories about American involvement to end the Canadian project are still in question. Allegations that American aerospace companies did not want competition for sales from a much superior fighter from Canada, and that they were also eager to hire away the brilliant engineers who created the Arrow. Following the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project, CF-105 chief aerodynamicist Jim Chamberlin led a team of 25 engineers to NASA's Space Task Group to become lead engineers, program managers, and heads of engineering in NASA's manned space programs, projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. The Space Task Group team eventually grew to 32 Avro engineers and technicians, and became emblematic of what many Canadians viewed as a "brain drain" to the United States.

In 1961, the RCAF obtained 66 McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo aircraft, one of the American designs the RCAF originally rejected, to serve in the role originally intended for the Avro Arrow. The controversy surrounding this acquisition, and Canada's acquiring nuclear weapons for the Voodoos and Bomarcs eventually contributed to the collapse of the Diefenbaker government in 1963. The CF-101 Voodoo aircraft had a cost of 1.59 million each. If the Avro arrow program had been allowed to proceed the mass production of the CF-105 would have cost 1.5 million per unit. ​ Although nearly everything connected to the CF-105 and Orenda Iroquois programs was destroyed, the cockpit and nose gear of RL-206, the first Mk 2 Arrow, and two outer panels of RL-203's wings were saved and are on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, alongside an Iroquois engine. On January 6, 2020, CBC News announced that the Arrow's plans, long thought to have been destroyed, were kept. Ken Barnes, a senior draftsman on the project in 1959, was ordered to destroy all documents related to the Avro Arrow project. Instead, he quietly took the blueprints home where they remained stored for decades. The blueprints are currently on display in the "Touch the Sky: The Story of Avro Canada" exhibit at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan until April 2020. Supporting Video The Vintage Space The Canadians Who Got America to the Moon. Avro Arrow CF-105 Advanced Fighter jet