Canada’s Globe and Mail is reporting that the largest collection of Avro Arrow memorabilia will be auctioned in Toronto on December 9. It is bound to stoke interest in an event Canadians and aviation historians will never forget – the 1959 cancellation of a supersonic fighter that many believe was the most advanced of its day.
Cancellation of the Arrow by prime minister John Diefenbaker, and the shamefully hurried destruction of the flying prototypes and aircraft in production, is described as the end of Canada’s aerospace industry. While that is not true – today Canada ranks fifth in the world in aerospace sales – it did change the industry’s nature for ever. Defence accounts for only a fraction of the industry’s output and its primes – Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney Canada, CAE, Bell Helicopter Canada – are best known for their civil programmes.
I won’t get into the debate over the Arrow’s merits – you can do that at the many websites devoted to the project – but this elegant fighter was clearly an enormous achievement for the small Canadian industry. I view the Arrow the way I do Britain’s TSR.2 strike aircraft – as a watershed for an industry. The government of the day’s decision to cancel TSR.2 and keep Concorde was the beginning of the end for an independent UK aerospace industry.
Would TSR.2 have cost as much as Concorde did? Would it have been any more successful? Questions that can’t be answered and that are, in any case, irrelevant. The cancellation of the TSR.2, like that of the Arrow, put industry on a different course. It will be up to aviation historians of the future to determine whether it was the right course.
Me? I just wish they had kept the Arrow and TSR.2 alive – the aviation world would be a much more interesting place. You see a documentary on the Arrow at CBC’s website. Or watch this 9min youtube tribute by sythewave: