1957: Broken Arrow


The cancellation of the Avro Canada CF-105 interceptor in February 1959 was a traumatic event for Canada's emerging aerospace industry. When Aviation Week reported on the fighter's rollout, in October 1957, the magazine called it "a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years". High praise indeed, for a non-U.S. aircraft, given that the XB-58 supersonic bomber was in flight test and that new aircraft in the works included the A-5 Vigilante and the F-4 Phantom. 

But the Arrow was extraordinary, and more so, given that the industry that produced it was less than a decade old when the prototype contract was issued in March 1955. Avro Canada had been formed by Britain's Hawker Siddeley Group after World War 2 and had quickly produced the CF-100 interceptor, the C-102 jet airliner (the world's second to fly), and the CF-100's Orenda engine, which was also fitted to Canadian-built Sabre fighters.

The CF-105 was a different kettle of fish entirely, designed to shoot down Soviet jet bombers over the Arctic, long before shorter-legged U.S. interceptors could touch them. Key requirements were a big radar, large missile load, long range and high speed, and agility at high speed and altitude. Translated: get out a long way quickly and accomplish multiple engagements before returning to refuel. 

Chief designer Jim Floyd and his team produced a unique configuration, detailed in a 1958 lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society. The delta wing was chosen for supersonic efficiency, and had a cambered and notched leading edge for better maneuverability. It was mounted on top of the fuselage (at the price of a complex landing gear) to gain the benefits of a continuous tip-to-tip structure and a simple fuselage design, with straight inlet ducts, easy engine access, and a large weapon bay. The missile bay was a drop-down pallet, offering the potential of interchangeable units for other missions. 

The performance requirements meant that almost everything on the airplane had to be invented. No existing engine would do the job, so Avro spun off a new Orenda Engines subsidiary to produce the Iroquois, the most powerful supersonic engine of the 1950s. The airframe took Canada into the world of integrally machined skins, and both airframe and engine used titanium. The CF-105 was the first aircraft to use 4,000 psi hydraulics. Canada enlisted Hughes for help with the radar and missiles, but the radar was new and the missile was the active-homing Sparrow II. Management was a huge challenge, both because the aircraft was complex (the second-biggest Mach 2 airplane anywhere) and because of the program's sheer size: at its peak, Avro Canada was the nation's third-largest company and in the world Top 100.

Technically, it went quite well. The first four Arrows proved fast, even with interim J75 engines that delivered only three-quarters of the Iroquois' thrust:  on the seventh test flight, the first CF-105 accelerated through 1,000 mph in a climb at 50,000 feet. By early 1959, the first Iroquois-powered Mk2 was in taxi tests. 

Politically, the story was different. A new Progressive Conservative government had been elected in March 1957, sworn to rein in government spending. In June, Canada agreed to buy an extension of the U.S. Semi-Automatic Ground Environment air defense system and Boeing Bomarc missiles, further stressing the budget. Britain's infamous Defence White Paper of April 1957 declared that the Lightning would be the RAF's last manned fighter: the CF-105 had been seriously considered as its replacement. And despite the progress, there was a good deal of time and money left in the development program. 

On February 20, 1959, prime minister John Diefenbaker announced the cancellation of the CF-105, and within two months almost all the hardware in the program had been destroyed and nearly 30,000 jobs eliminated. 

The Arrow lived on in legends: Diefenbaker had scrapped the project under direct orders from Washington, which saw it as a threat to the U.S. industry;  one of the prototypes had been spirited away before the wrecking crews arrived, and was hidden in Canada or in secret tests in the United States.  Myths and reality have been the subject of more books and movies than many successful projects. As recently as 2012, the Canadian government -- bumbling its way through another fighter procurement -- was forced to deny that a neo-Arrow was a candidate to replace the F/A-18. 

Would it have worked? The late Bill Gunston, technical editor of Flight in the 1950s and a shrewd reader of programs, believed that it would have done, particularly with British support (and the existence of Typhoon today shows how wrong the British government was in 1957). Even with the Soviet Union's backing away from strategic bombers in favor of missiles, the Arrow would have been very useful in Western Europe for defense against Tu-22M regional bombers. But none of that, unfortunately, was foreseen in 1959.

Note: Penultimate paragraph edited for clarity. 

► Read the article from the October 21, 1957 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology:

CF-105 Displays Advanced Engineering (part 1)

CF-105 Displays Advanced Engineering (part 2)

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

Discuss this Blog Entry 48

on Mar 4, 2015

Ummm... The first part of the article is missing - It is a repeat of the Concorde first flight.

Very interested (as a Canadian) in the CF-105 article.

on Mar 4, 2015

Fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

on Mar 5, 2015

NP. Thanx for putting up the article!

on May 11, 2016

How did the 2 cancellations affect Canada's air industry as many people went to Europe & USA? The first jet airliner flew once into New York and
disappeared into history along with the Arrow. It was criminally foolish.

on Mar 4, 2015

How different things would have been with the Arrow and the TSR2!

on Mar 4, 2015

"Britain's infamous Defence White Paper of April 1957 declared that the Lightning would be the RAF's last manned fighter..."

And people keep making similar claims about fighters in current development.....

Cocidius (not verified)
on Mar 4, 2015

Much like stating that fighters don't need a gun.... LOL!

on Feb 27, 2016

Or that cavalry would one day be obsolete!

on Mar 4, 2015

" Diefenbaker had scrapped the project under direct orders from Washington, which saw it as a threat to the U.S. industry."

I'm sure American Presidents wished that they had such power. Simply pick up the phone and have our Allies do whatever we'd like. The truth of course if FAR different. National imperitives overrule even agreed coalition goals in many cases. Who's up for more sanctions against Russia? They're only invading and dismembering a neighboring country. Why should anyone in Europe worry about such a thing?

on Mar 5, 2015

Not only it's quite realistic thinking that the US presidents have the power to block a technology development in their neighborhood, Britons were, and are still close to bankruptcy for the expenses incurred in their last attempt to defeat the German competitor, Hitler was just an unexpected complication, and Canada was highly linked to the UK economy through the 'Commonwealth', but others did the same, the World Bank was reported blocking an irrigation project in Spain on the premises that the selected region received some 250 mm rain a year, enough for the wheat crops there, the French obtained that Valdepeñas vines were uprooted when Spain joined the EU, and the Spanish Phone company formerly acting in a monopolistic position, Telefonica/Movistar, was forced by the EU to open their: 'hardware' to foreing phone companies for free. When the allies entered Belgium after WWII, the car maker Minerva, formerly producing Sleeve-Valve engined cars under a Knight patent, was forced out of business; for a while they build Land-Rovers, but soon closed. Nothing new under the Sun.

on Mar 11, 2015

You are 100% right, USA presidents actually never have such kind of power, because such kind of powers always was reserved for some other people which actually always was true decision maker, and that in USA always was Corporation and they money...Of course that President which was think that he is able to pick up the phone and to forbid further developing of competition but also to forbid endless dirty deeds in it U.S it self never was live longer then few years, But CEO's(live for ever) of Northrope, McDonnel, Lockheed which was actually payed for presidential campaign and some others "stuff" They called president , And then president was do what was must be do it if he not wish to end like many of his mentioned predecessor which was think that they are PRESIDENTS...Plain and Simple...And parallel with Ukraine is more than ridiculous, because this time you do not have to aim for destruction of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and South American Countries, etc, but Russia, so it makes you frustrated ... well, you can only barking, now you see how it is.(Especially because, some of most important ally's in EU beside Queen of Commonwealth) wasn't so keen any more to be involve in pure madness...it is off topic but you are started this nonsense

on Feb 27, 2016

The putinbots are everywhere.

on Mar 4, 2015

It always amazes me how much respect is given to foreign designs of which little is known or projects that still have far to go in their development. Today, the F-35 is roundly criticized based on the copious amounts of information we know about it. China's and Russia's stealth designs of which we know very little are assumed to be far superior in almost every way. Kind of like the Mig-25 Foxbat was until we got our hands on one.

on Mar 5, 2015

Astute point. It seems to be 100% cynicism vs 100% blind optimism on the foreign designs. The F-35 is "junk" and the foreign stealth designs has already rendered it obsolete, not to mention the blanket acceptance of marketing claims about the new radar rendering it's stealth useless.
The truth lies somewhere in between the extremes of course but to think Russia or China is ahead, or even close, to matching the US in stealth or ability to manufacture production aircraft to the incredible tolerances needed is not supported by evidence or history. Also we know zero of how much money is actually being spent over there (Russia would especially seem to be a non-player in this regard). Dogma gets in the way of accuracy.

on Mar 5, 2015

Kind've like the MiG-25 Foxbat was until we got our hands on one.

The MiG-25 'was known' as an ultra high performance recce aircraft that was at least 2 generations ahead of our best F-4, only then entering service. It routinely overflew all of Europe, East to West, crossing the Iron Curtain over the Hopf Corridor, turned left at Antwerp and went down the Atlantic Coast to Spain where another turn took it over Italy and the Balkans before 'recovering' into the Czech republic from which it launched.

Of course, it wasn't a Foxbat. It was a DBR-1/Tu-123 Jastreb drone.

Made entirely of titanium, launched on a booster and scrapped after every flight (not even parachute recovery of more than the film capsule), it was monstrously expensive, even for the Soviets who have pails of the stuff just lying around Siberia.

It got so bad that NATO officially took out an article in a 1950s leftist French rag which basically said: "You're embarrassing us, stop. You must cease overflights, stop. The next one will be met with 28KT of Nike Hercules W7 warhead. FULL STOP."

The Soviets got the picture but because this was a platform moving through the night skies at Mach 3 and 85,000ft, 'nobody knew' and everyone assumed too much.


Belenko's MiG was a cast iron fireplace tool by comparison with what the Soviets got by taking the man out of the loop and letting the MISSION design the airframe.

on Mar 5, 2015

Consider the employees and where they headed to work after. Then consider if they had the knowledge/ability to build such a plane. If what they did build later is considered one might conclude they knew quite well what they were doing. Link.


on Mar 5, 2015

Great article - as always from the source Sweetman. Watch for one of the best British books on UK aviation history:
Wood, D.: Project Cancelled. Searching Criticism of the Abandonment of Britain’s Advanced Aircraft Projects, Macdonald
& Jane’s, London, 1975

on Mar 5, 2015

That one is on the shelf. Also essential reading: the RAF Historical Society conference proceedings on the TSR2.

on Mar 5, 2015

A good book on the 'Arrow' is: "Avro Arrow - The Story of the Avro Arrow from its Evolution to its Extinction"
The Boston Mills Press - Erin, Ontario, Canada - 1980

on Mar 5, 2015

The F-106 was similar. The end of the line as multi-role F-4 won the Air War over North Vietnam.

on Mar 5, 2015

That was an enjoyable read, thanks! It was an interesting design with a lot of potential. Not to mention, a beautiful airplane.

Another media problem for the plane: at the time, the rollout of the Arrow was overshadowed by the launch of Sputnik.

on Mar 5, 2015

I am a major fan of the Arrow and believe that almost all of the claims of its superior performance were true. However, the extensive documentation uncovered by Randall Whitcomb in his book "Cold War Tech War" shows that the cancellation was not done on "direct orders" from Washington, nor did one of the aircraft escape destruction. All of the planes were accounted for, the rumour of the escape goes back to a badly researched newspaper story in the 1990s, disproved many times by experts like Whitcomb. The reason for the cancellation was much more complex than a simple sinister directive from DC.

on Mar 5, 2015

Good article but a couple of discrepancies. There were five(5) Arrows built and flying not four (4). The "thing" marked WW 000 was a mock up not a production fixture. The Iroquois engine was never in any Arrow taxiing tests - it was the next airframe to come off the assembly line - #206. The Iroquois only flew in the B-47 test bed. There is a full scale replica of the Arrow at the Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto (now in storage). God, I wish it was still around!!!

on Mar 5, 2015

I recall my father telling me how he felt concerned about the preparedness of the Iroquois to be mated to RL206 which he was then slated to fly. He said he felt they needed to conduct more inflight testing on the B47 test bed he was flying following the serious inflight failure that had occurred on the Iroquois. He felt there was a hurry up to get the Canadian engines into the Canadian airframe asap. When asked in an interview once what he attributed his longevity to after a career of military and civil test flying....he said in his self deprecating manner, "I never had to fly RL206" !!

on Mar 5, 2015

Besides the 'toothed' wing, non existing in the previous analog, this Avro Canada F-105 fighter reminds me a lot the one built as sailplane/glider in Argentina by R Horten, having the reference: IA-37P, as it appears in: 'Revista Nacional de Aeronautica', april 1955 issue. Who was the egg, and which was the chicken? Data welcome, please...

on Mar 5, 2015

Reimer Horten was more a tailless flying wing guy than a delta guy, I think. Lippisch was the big delta wing researcher. Lippisch likely had some contact with the Americans building the first delta wing research aircraft (his small research glider "flew" only in the Langley full scale tunnel ) fighters (F-102) and Bombers (B-58). It wouldn't be a stretch for him to go north of the boarder for a talk. Reimer Horten pursued his research fairly sub rosa and after WW II went to Argentina as a more comfortable place for people that had more than passing contact with the Third Reich, though I'm not sure he ever actually did any particularly national socialist things..

on Mar 5, 2015

The comment about ' how wrong the British government was in 1957', forgets the curtailing development of manned interceptors was supported by the leading RAF officers of the day.
The pure interceptor s time had passed, the best example being the Mig 25, but of course they still had targets which continue to today like AWACS.
What did happen was the requirement for a air superiority fighter such as the F15 and F14. But they were over a decade later than 1957

on Mar 5, 2015

From the article: "Key requirements were a big radar, large missile load, long range and high speed, and agility at high speed and altitude."

I'm with them on the big radar, mx load, range and speed. But what is meant by "agility"?

The Arrow was, as the article notes, an interceptor. That is to say, fast, but not agile. Or at least, not agile as in maneuverable (turn rate).

on Mar 6, 2015

The performance requirement was something along the lines of being able to execute 5 g maneuvers during a supersonic interception at 50,000 ft without changing altitude. Not the same thing as 9 g sustained turns in dogfights with an F-16, but still something that few (if any) aircraft could achieve today.

on May 11, 2015

While the F16 is a neat package, its sustained g is a little less than 9 at 30K and above.

on Mar 6, 2015

The first Mk 2, s/n 25206, was not in taxi trials. It was 98% complete on "Black Friday" and was scheduled to begin acceptance testing in a couple of weeks, but no Iroquois-powered Arrow ever moved under its own power.

The USAF offered to pay for a squadron of Arrows, not force its cancellation as so many True Believers claim. The MND at the time refused (on his own initiative) and said that Canada "would not accept such charity". Concerns over potential espionage were a factor in the destruction, but I have a copy of a memo from a mid-level RCAF officer that basically said, we're done with them, we don't need them any more, we might as well scrap them.

The Arrow was a one-mission aircraft: designed solely to get way up north ASAP to shoot down bomber hordes, but the bombers weren't coming any more. It was a fantastic accomplishment, but it wasn't needed any more, some thing few Arrowheads will accept.

By far the bigger tragedy was the cancellation of the Iroquois. France was interested in it for the Mirage IV, Republic for the F-105, and Boeing (minus afterburners) for the B-52, and there would have been others following suit. Had its development continued, Orenda would be one of the biggest big-jet enginemakers in the world today and a counterpart to P&WC in the small engine category.

The cancellation of the Jetliner several years earlier was also a bigger tragedy than the Arrow's cancellation.

on Mar 6, 2015

You are spot on regarding the Iroquois and yes, the Jetliner had much more potential for export business than the Arrow. That Saskatchewan hick just destroyed Ontario's aviation industry and the entrails ended up in Quebec. The rest of the country subsidizes the carcass (Bombardier).

on Mar 6, 2015

The Jetliner cancellation was a result of the previous Liberal government, actually - they wanted the company to focus its resources on the CF-100 program. More's the pity - what Avro Canada really needed was business not subject to the the political winds of government.

on Mar 6, 2015

As an aside to the Iroquois engine - a sample of it was used to "engineer" the Olympus engine for the Concord. I understand that this engine is now in the hands of a "collector" on the west coast who wants to re-assemble it, having been returned from England. Do not know of any details.
Also did you know that there were some 30 Arrow airframes on the assembly line when it was cancelled. Talk about disgusting!!!

on Mar 8, 2015

Having referred to the Concorde, I often wonder if it would still be economically viable if 'Washington' had not refused to permit flights over land.

on May 11, 2015

Ah, those all knowing politicians (and of course they don't pick up the tab.)

on Mar 7, 2015

Just in case to say that carcass ( Bombardier) CANADIAN's company still amongt the first in train, third in aircraft makers ( 1880 and + CRJ jet's sold worldwide !! ( 200/700/900 and 1000 CRJ séries) and without forget the private jet line of Challenger 604/605/650 and it's small brother Challenger 300/350 that got about 50% of the private jet Market. And remember of BRP ( 51% propriatary of Bombardier familly members ) that is amongt the best in recreationnal product. More than 55000 people around the world work for Bombardier carcass like you propose to spell it !!! .... PS is our Air Canada Toronto's base company will pourchase our new CANADIAN airplane CSeries CS100/CS300 or .... That money will go to Boeing or so ???? Think about it ! And i forgot to talk about The Havilland managed by Bombardier in Toronto area ) with Dash8/Q400/Q400 Next Gen.And yes on stand by for now but the jet line of Learjet with a brand new all in one composite airframe cellule. And firefighter CL215/415 and military product like CL-289 ( Canadair )..... Well...like you said earlier carcass isn't it ? And now how much ( subventionned )money return in all sort of taxes to our Fed Gouv. ??? The answer.... More than you tought!

on Mar 16, 2015

Good on ya Ben ! off topic some but, Yet as an Anglo Quebecker and well aware of the millions upon millions of fed govt bailouts to Bombardier in past and the continued french only march in linguistics within the province and the Bilingualism bombs that are dropped continually outside the province. Quebec internally must show a more adoptive appreciative attitude towards the English living within the province rather than the dictatorial french only imperative slogan they now preach. This is the way it's been in western Quebec forever. Yet Quebec City where you couldn't to find a Canadian flag flying that was not in disgraceful condition. Has the audacity to advertise world wide to the English to visit the beautiful Quebec City area yet harboring the hatred that festers in their hearts. They sure love the tax payers funding and vacationers bucks but really do not want English within the province.sad to say that's the way I see it from western Quebec. The Arrow was an incredible aircraft long live it's sad history. No more free Bailouts to Bombardier Loans at bank avg. rates yes.

on Mar 8, 2015

Is this the TSR2 that the poms stopped building because the USA said the F111 was better or is it DeJa Vu?

on Mar 8, 2015

Did anyone mention the Harrier jumpjet. Should we continue? LOL

on Mar 9, 2015

I'm surprised that no one mentioned that the abrupt cancellation of the Arrow directly resulted in the Space Task Group scooping up thirty five laid-off Avro engineers who came to Langley in 1959 to work on what would become Apollo. Guys like Owen Maynard, Rod Rose and the others--a "mix of Scotsmen, Welshmen, Irishmen, and even a Frenchman" according to the description of their coming to NASA in Murray&Cox's Apollo: The Race to the Moon. Glynn Lunney called NASA's talent windfall courtesy of Canada the "leavening of the bread" as far as the US getting the extra engineering talent it needed at just the right time. Unsung heroes all---unsung at least to students of Apollo.

on Mar 11, 2015

Spot on! I was just going to make the same comment about how the cancellation of the Arrow was a godsend for the nascent NASA. Numerous engineers came down to the States to help us compete with the USSR in space which culminated with the Apollo Lunar landings. It is an interesting thought experiment to ponder how different NASA would have been without the Avro infusion.

on Mar 21, 2015

So very true !

on Mar 16, 2015

Me thinks it time for the Renaissance to put Putin back in his cage where he belongs. And also time the UN got itself together in acting on the behalf of the innocent people it was inherently formed to work for and throw out the majority of dictators they are presently serving. They are nothing short of "useless" presently.

on Sep 15, 2015

I would say that the US should be trailed for mass murder, being involved in illegal operations and for funding illegals organizations.
And on top of that to the federal state for enslaving their citizens by tacking their money and recording their conversations!

on May 11, 2015

The Arrow was a beautiful bird and a piece of elegant engineering. It is a fact that the Iroquois engine however, was quite advanced but not ready for prime time. It boasted a lot of features that were to show up year later in other fighter engines. As to the cancellation, it seems that I remember reading that our president convinced Mr. D that Canadian $$ would be better spent to leverage off US Technology and USA made systems. ( I think Bomarc might have been one along with others.) Cutting up the aircraft and not saving at least 'one' was attributed to the government but other sources blame the upper management of the company. At any rate, it was one pretty aircraft in flight.

on Dec 20, 2015

I remember reading of the cancellation of the Avro CF-105 when the story ran in Aviation Week. At the time I was appalled.

In 1960 Powers was shot down and reality sank in. There was no "Bomber Gap." There was a "Bomber Lack."

The Arrow may have been a great technical accomplishment. The Iroquois may have been an outstanding accomplishment.

The program was way behind schedule, way over cost, and it had no reason to exist. It's target, swarms of Soviet bombers didn't exist.

A great deal of North American money was spent in the 1950s to defend against fear of a threat that never existed. Each potential threat from the Soviets (and the Soviet Union was threatening) was exaggerated by attributing to each all of the money the soviets could spend upon anything.

Everything was cast as the worst case scenario because there was a lack of good intelligence.

on Aug 24, 2016

There is a group in Calgary? Possibly Manitoba? I think that is heavy into the Arrow history and building a replica

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