The Avro Arrow

At the time it was developed in the sixties, it was the best fighter plane in the world. It was a project of the Canadian government, and was cancelled just as it had proved itself, specifically by the prime minister John Diefenbaker.

Why was it cancelled? Canada’s prodigious capacity for navel gazing continually touches on it (including a very long movie about it by the CBC, chief institute for navel gazing in Canada, God bless 'em), but I’ve never seen a good explanation of why it happened. Granted, Dief was a little nuts himself (he simultaneously declared Canada a nuclear free zone, then accepted U.S. nuclear missiles stationed in Canada); but that’s not the proximate cause.


Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

The Arrow was developed (if I remember correctly) for intercepting supersonic bombers. When the Russians gave up on bombers in favor of ballistic missiles, the Arrow lost its primary mission.

You sound like you know more about it than I do, so if my explaination sounds stupid, just ignore it.

I believe that the Arrow was a heavier fighter than the F series of American planes, somewhat on a par with the F-14 tomcat (which is really big); however, it was apparently one of the fastest and most maneuverable jets at the time. From a military perspective, I doubt that strategy changes that quickly, and economically, it would be a godsend for Canada to be manufacturing and selling the (arguably) best fighter in the world.

That raises the possibility, I suppose, of the American military-industrial complex squashing it through political pressure (something the American State does all the time to smaller economies that create competitive industries), but that doesn’t seem plausible considering that Canada buys the Leopard II tank, and not the Abrams, and that Britain has the Harrier, and not the F series. In other words, the American military-industrial complex doesn’t seem very good (or interested) in stopping competing military industries among its allies.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

From a site devoted to the Arrow:

There’s a lot more on the aircraft as well as the project history at the site linked above.

You know, just because Americans never choose to view their history as anything but a series of jingoistic patriotisms doesn’t make us navelgazers.

Seems a bit harsh towards our American cousins, Matt. Let me couch it in more diplomatic terms:

Actually, the more I think about it, the more it sums it up nicely, in one neat little sentence. :slight_smile:

A better question would have been, not why was the project cancelled, there might have been political justifications for that, but why were project records destroyed? Why were the last prototypes, designs, blueprints, models completely destroyed? That is what’s keeping Canadians scratching their heads for the past 40 years.

The seemingly wanton destruction, needless waste of effort – never capatalizing on lessons, aeronautical or other, learnt is what is puzzling.


I don’t know if I would consider it to be the best in the world at the time.

America had the F-106 Delta Dart, which was very comparable to the Arrow.

Very interesting thread! It certainly shows how military planners can make mistakes! Just another thought-Sweden (a neutral nation) makes the excellent SAAB

Saab is a manufacturer, not a product. Saab have made fighter aircraft for quite some time you - the Viggen, Draaken and Gripen spring to mind (apologies if I’ve spelled any of the above wrong).

Yes, and a quick check of my aviation reference book reveals that the SAAB aeroplanes are very capable machines.

The Arrow saga is mostly legend. If Canada were as big as the U.S. and had many such developmental projects, it would have been a forgotten footnote in aviation. The reason Canadians cling to the Arrow so steadfastly is because it was really the turning point in the downfall of the Canadian Aerospace industry, which was a world leader at the time. We were designing and building front-line fighters and large commercial jets, and soon after the Arrow was cancelled much of the talent in Canada emigrated to the U.S., and became a huge asset to Americans.

But the Arrow itself was very large, not that manoeverable, and very expensive. I hear people make the claim that it would still be one of the best fighters today, and that’s simply ludicrous. It was arguably not even the best fighter/interceptor of its time, although it was certainly competitive with the best. Right around the time of the Arrow the U.S. built the F-104 Starfighter, the F-106 Delta Dart, and a couple of other aircraft that could match its specifications or beat them in one way or another.

People point out that it was very fast and could climb very high, but so could a lot of other aircraft back then. In fact, I believe the F-104 still holds a number of speed and altitude records. This was because the perceived role of these aircraft was high-speed intercept. Later on, the design role changed, and there was no need to make aircraft that fast.

Blaming this on the U.S. is ridiculous. It was just a typical shortsighted government decision, and the U.S. has made plenty of its own. The XB-70 Valkyrie was breaking records right and left when it was cancelled after a mid-air collision destroyed the prototype. The X-plane program was cancelled prematurely even though it was well on its way to putting a shuttle-type plane into orbit a decade before the space shuttle, and for about 1/10 the cost. The Corsair was almost scrapped in WWII because the Navy didn’t believe it was safe to land on carriers, and they only changed their minds after the British started flying it off carriers with great success. And the list goes on.

Another twist on this-how does a small, neutral nation like Sweden bear the heavy expense of building modern fighter aircraft? Third world nations won’t buy from a nation that has a small market share (as sweden would). So how does SAAB afford to make their own design? I figure it would be cheaper for the swedes to make F-16s under licence.

I am one to believe the CBC, whether that is misguided or not, i shan’t say. That being said, the CBC made some outstanding claims. NOt that the Arrow would surpass all present fighter planes, but that it would in fact surpass greatly the fighters that are currently in our possesion and use.

It said that we purchased some manner of missile defense system shortlyafter the scrapping of the Arrow program which very wuickly became obsolete. We were then forced to buy some crappy fighter planes from the states which we have tot his day (see above). The combined cost of buying these two sets of defensive equipment was something like four times the cost to finish the Arrow Project not to mention the cost to shut down it down which was only slightly less than the completion cost.

As mentioned earlier, though, these are merely VERy short sighted decisions… what boggles the mind is that all records of the project were destroyed.

“C’mon, it’s not even tomorrow yet…” - Rupert

If you need a graphic solution, http:\\Piglet

As dear as the CBC is to my heart, BigRory, you really shouldn’t take them too seriously. They’re simply more obvious about their point of view than most. I can believe that the Arrow was the best in its day, but I’m skeptical that it would still be at the top.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

The CBC is nuts. First of all, Canada does not fly some outdated fighters. Canada’s frontline fighter is the F-18, which is arguably the best in the world.

The Arrow would not be competitive with today’s fighters for the simple reason that modern fighter aircraft are not much more than platforms for extensive avionics and weapons systems, none of which the Arrow had. Also, the Arrow was HUGE, and would make a big, fat target on enemy radars and gunsights. It couldn’t dogfight worth a damn. It was really designed for one thing - intercepting bombers at high altitude.

The Americans had a number of aircraft like the Arrow. Big, ungainly, with a delta-wing planform. And they were getting their butt kicked in Vietnam, 30 years ago.

Forget modern fighters - in a dogfight, a 1960’s era Phantom II would chew up an Arrow and spit it out.

About the only area where the Arrow would still be competitive is in maximum speed and high altitude flight. And… Who cares? Those two characteristics just aren’t important to modern fighter aircraft.

A more interesting question is what the state of Canada’s aviation industry would be if we had kept the Arrow and the Avro company had managed to hang on to all that marvelous talent.

Avro did make other planes, such as the Vulcan, a heavy bomber.

The problem with the Phantom II dogfight idea is that the Phantom appeared after the Arrow, so it wouldn’t be a fair fight.

“About the only area where the Arrow would still be competitive is in maximum speed and high altitude flight. And… Who cares? Those two characteristics just aren’t important to modern fighter aircraft.”

No kidding, look what happened to my all time favorite military plane the SR-70.

Well, I really don’t know how important ceiling and speed are to a modern fighter. What advantages does an F-15 have over an F-16 anyway? F-16s are supposed to be extremely maneuvable, and the late models can carry AMRAAMs, and they’re both single-seaters. So I really can’t think of any advantage the F-15 would have left over the F-16, except for high-altitude performance. I could be overlooking something. Sensors?

It’s interesting to note that Ben Rich, successor to Kelly Johnson at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, thought that the idea of developing the SR-71 as an interceptor was really viable.

I’ll grant that high-altitude, high-speed interceptors aren’t the optimum air-to-air scheme nowadays, but I’d like to point out that a lot of planes in this mold are still flown and considered viable. The Italians use modernized Starfighters; the Germans use Phantoms; Iran and the U.S. Navy use Tomcats. Now, I’m not saying those planes are as unmaneuverable or as specialized as the Arrow (I know diddly about the Arrow), but I think it’s conceivable that a plane of that ilk could have evolved to keep up with the times.

Still I think the CF-18 was a better choice, although I don’t know what the Canadians used in the interim … Northrop F-5s IIRC …?

  • Boris B, Hellacious Ornithologist

Yeah, Canada used F-5’s and CF-105 Voodoos. Before that, they had P-80 Shooting Stars. The training role uses Canadair Tutors (the same airplane the Snowbirds use), and Beechcraft Musketeers. Plus we have a whole bunch of Hercules transports, Sea-King helicopters, and a lot of Twin Hueys and Vertol Chinooks. Then we had a huge inventory of jets used for anti-sub patrols, which was Canada’s main NATO role.

All-in-all, a pretty good airforce.