My “Canada 150” moment begins with the image of Canada’s own supersonic jet fighter – the Avro Arrow.
The delta-winged Arrow was the fastest in the world (Mach 3) at 70,000 feet; could go from standing at idle to almost Mach 1 in 4.5 seconds; used a world-first computerized flight control and weapon systems; could be completely refueled and re-armed for takeoff in less than six minutes; and had a projected range of 750 miles compared to the 350 miles of the Bormarc missiles that were to replace it… and that was 1958!
By Dennis Jarvis – Flickr: DSC_6934 – Canadian Pride, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13276285
As a kid, I created a special hook shot when playing basketball that saw me sinking soaring baskets from centre court. I called it the “Avro Arrow” shot. Such was the impact on my own little world.
Then it was gone! Black Friday, February 20, 1959: The high-tech Arrow program was terminated along with the loss of 30,000 Canadian jobs; our entire jet aviation industry devastated; and a “brain drain” of our brightest engineers and scientists – lost to NASA.
Saying it was too expensive – yet, not waiting two weeks for its international market test debut. The National Post explained that 65% of all Avro funding was returned to the government in taxation. Instead they cut them into pieces.
The real miscalculation: “The scraping of the Arrow program, and the replacement Bormarc Missile System still failing in testing, Canada was left essentially defenseless…” – Avro Museum
We then wasted money buying use US jets – the equivalent of 130 advanced Arrows. “Penny wise and pound foolish?”
Canadians were saddened seeing photos of Arrows being destroyed.
Death Row – destruction of the five flying AVRO Arrow aircraft, 1959
Death row – insuaga.com
“You take what you need /And you leave the rest
But they should never / Have taken the very best”
–The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band
Can it happen again with Canada’s commercial jet aviation industry?
American Boeing has filed a NAFTA free trade ‘America First’ complaint against its Canadian commercial jet rival, Bombardier; yet, wants sell Canada new military jets. Should they have it both ways? As Retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie proposed, let’s investigate a renewed Arrow program, save 100’s of millions buying US jets and re-invest it in our own economy.
As a former Avro employee said, “The real crime of the Avro Arrow cancellation lies not in the economic calamity it unleashed, nasty though that was. The lasting tragedy is that confidence and hope for the future were also demolished for so many of our residents on that Black Friday in 1959 – taken apart, like so many Arrows in a hangar.” Journalist June Callwood called it a “soul-theft.”
Quoting Sir John A. Macdonald – his statue being featured as part of ‘Prime Ministers Path at Baden Ontario’s Castle Kilbride, “We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it. We shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”
Maybe there’ll come a time when we won’t need weapons of war. We can only hope and pray – even as we search for peace. But another “Black Friday?” Oh, Canada!