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 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 wasn’t cost-effective despite the National Post’s position that 65% of all funding was returned to the government in taxation – and not waiting two weeks for a scheduled record-breaking operational review and worldwide marketing début – the government shut down the plant, and later, quietly ordered the Arrows to be cut into pieces. Canadians were filled with ineffable sadness to see newspaper-released photos publicly revealing the ignoble destruction of our Arrows.
The real miscalculation: “The scraping of the Arrow program, and the replacement Bormarc Missile System still failing in testing, Canada was left essentially defenseless for two and a half years during the height of the Cold War with Russia.” – Avro Museum
More money was then wasted buying used, inferior US jets – the equivalent of 130 new, advanced Arrows. “Penny wise and pound foolish?”
Death row – destruction of the Arrows, 1959 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, why not objectively 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 the ‘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!