This project really tells two different but closely connected stories. The first part of the narrative sets the background and talks a little bit about the brief history of the Avro Canada CF105 Arrow, while the second uses photographic images (and photographic compositions) to tell the story of the only known full scale museum quality replica of this magnificent and iconic Canadian aircraft.
Growing Up With the Ghost of the Avro Arrow
The Avro Arrow is long gone. It is a sad but simple fact that with the exception perhaps of a few scattered parts in private or public collections there is nothing physically left of this magnificent piece of aviation history.
The story behind this beautiful and technologically advanced aircraft is well documented and so I will only touch upon the legend for perspective and childhood nostalgia. The photographs used here are of the full scale replica Avro Arrow #RL-203 that were captured at Edenvale Airport during the 2019 Gathering of the Classics show.
I was too young to remember the days when the Avro Arrow was the Canadian dream. The “Avro Canada CF105 Arrow” as it is officially called, was designed and tested before I was born and by the time I was a toddler, the program was already cancelled, the aircraft were all dismantled and destroyed, and the company was dissolved.
I was too young to understand what had happened in those incredible few years. Still, something stirred inside me and like many kids of the late 1950s and early 1960s I was fascinated by the Avro Arrow. I still remember the 1:72 scale plastic model kit that I built (and secretly wish that I still had). Yes, I was much too young to understand the politics behind everything that had happened, but not so young that it didn’t leave a deep imprint on me. Even as I grew up and got busy with life, every once in a while I’d think back to the Arrow and wonder “what if”.
So what really was the deal with the Avro Arrow. Let me add some perspective… 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 centres in Canada and the United States. At the time, there were no aircraft capable of intercepting these advanced bombers.
To counter this serious threat, both Canada and the USA were working on programs to develop interceptor aircraft that could, if necessary, destroy these bombers before they reached their North American targets.
In 1953, under contract to the Royal Canadian Air Force, A.V. Roe and Company (Avro Canada) began design and construction of a highly advanced high altitude supersonic inceptor that would meet these difficult challenges.
The first Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow (#RL-201) began flight testing on March 25, 1958 and reached Mach 1.9 powered by the Pratt & Whitney J75 engine. Soon after, three more Arrows were built with the J75 engine (RL-202, RL-203 and RL-204). In 1959, through their Orenda division, Avro designed and built the lighter and more powerful Iroquois engine to replace the J75. The first Arrow with an Iroquois engine (RL-206), was ready for taxi testing in preparation for flight and acceptance tests by RCAF pilots by early 1959. With the new Iroquois engine, the Arrow was designed to fly at speeds in excess of mach 2 and reach altitudes greater than 50,000 feet. Many believe that it was capable of reaching mach 3. This revolutionary aircraft was the most sophisticated interceptor aircraft ever built to that point in time, and some suggest that even by today's standards, it would have remained a very capable aircraft.
For reasons still not completely understood, on 20 February 1959, the then Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker abruptly halted the development of the Arrow and its Iroquois engines. Two months later, the assembly line, tooling, plans and all aircraft and engine (both completed and in production) were ordered to be destroyed. These decisions were at the time and remain today, a topic of considerable social and political debate and controversy.
As an aside… it is worth noting that Canada didn’t just lose the world’s most advanced aircraft, we also lost a whole industry when the government pulled the plug on the Arrow. The Avro Arrow program naturally attracted some of the industries’ best and brightest minds. When the program was halted, many of these leading edge professionals went on to other important projects. More than thirty Avro engineers and technicians went to work for NASA and contributed to America’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Two Avro engineers made important contributions to the design of the Concorde in Britain, and others went on to work for aircraft and engine manufacturers around the world.
There have always been rumours about the one that got away. It might just be a childhood fantasy, but over the years I had always hoped that it was true. What if RF-206 or one of the other finished Avro Arrows had been secretly whisked away and had been laying in storage somewhere, just waiting to be rediscovered? What if? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see it restored to its original glory and held on public display?
I had recently heard of a ⅗ scale working model being built by a group in Calgary, Alberta. Wow, how very exciting. With completion and testing still being at least 5 years out, it was pushed to the back of my mind as perhaps a wonderful future opportunity to see an example of this majestic aircraft. Maybe… someday.
Then in early 2019, I heard about Avro Arrow #RL-203. A full scale replica of the original. How had I not heard of this before?
As the story goes… in Toronto, back in 1998, a group of about 140 volunteers, some of whom had actually worked on the original Avro Arrow, began working on a full sized replica. The remarkable museum quality model was rolled out in 2006. Some reports suggest that as many as 700 volunteers worked on the project at one time or another.
This new reproduction version of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was based on Arrow #25203 (RL-203). The original RL-203 was the third Avro Arrow built. She was completed and flew for the first time in September 1958 and was dismantled and unceremonious scrapped in May 1959.
Today this replica Avro Arrow RL-203 is all that remains of this iconic aircraft. It was once proudly displayed at the Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM) at Downsview Park in Toronto, but was moved into storage at Pearson International Airport after the CASM closed in 2012. Unfortunately, this beautiful replica aircraft sat unloved and and uncared for in storage outside at Pearson. It eventually fell into a state of disrepair.
In 2018, after learning about the fate of this iconic piece of Canadian aviation history, Milan Kroupa, owner of the Edenvale Aerodrome acquired the collection of what is now known as The Canadian Air and Space Conservancy (CASC), including the full-size replica of Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow RL-203. The collection is now safely stored, protected from the elements in a large hangar at the Aerodrome just south of Stayner, Ontario.
Mr. Kroupa has some very exciting plans for a new facility at Edenvale to house and display the Arrow and the whole CASC collection. I can hardly wait!
As for the magnificent Avro Arrow, the remarkable team that envisioned, designed and built it, and the team that had the foresight and dedication to recreate a full size replica… thank you. Seeing (and briefly touching) this spectacular model was in some ways a boyhood dream come true.
• i.s. | August 10, 2019 . •
I couldn't resist a including a couple of pictorialized photographic interpretations of Avro Arrow #RL203... see below :)