Yesterday, February 20th was the 61st anniversary of what is known as "Black Friday" in Canada's aviation history. A once proud and world class aerospace industry was decimated when then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker rose in the House of Commons and terminated the Canadian designed and built A.V. Roe Arrow, the world's most advanced military aircraft.
Immediately following the cancellation, thousands of people lost valuable and good paying jobs and worse still, Canada suffered the loss of many talented engineers and tradespeople, a brain-drain to the USA, where the newly formed NASA gobbled up the talent for their fledgling space program. These loses included all the businesses who were suppliers of materials to the Arrow program too. All the aircraft, both operational and on the production line, destroyed by cutting torches for and sold for scrap. All the tooling/blueprints and research ordered destroyed. Iroquois engine program gone. Dark days indeed.
Over the past sixty years, debate has raged on endlessly about what could have been had the Arrow made it to production. Theories abound that at least one aircraft was spirited away before the axes fell - I'd love to believe it, but no concrete evidence supports this theory. Where would Canada's military and aerospace industry be now if the Arrow program was allowed to develop? Was the Arrow a victim of government shortsightedness or the geo-political realities of an emerging space/ballistic missile threat? Was it pressure by the USA to purchase anti-ballistic missiles instead? Maybe a combination of some or all of the above!
I was born much too late to know much about the politics of the time and it would be another 20 years before I really began to understand the ramifications of what the cancellation meant to so many. What I do know is that it saddens me to think our nation missed the chance to be an unstoppable aerospace giant.
Interest in the Arrow continues unabated today with several groups keeping the memories alive, both from a historical preservation view to groups wanting to resurrect the Arrow program.
A couple of documentaries and at least one made for TV movie about the Arrow are available for viewing online if you search for them. The TV movie (through the magic of film) did a good job of capturing the essence of what happened, but an even better spin off from the production was of a scale replica of the Arrow for film use. After the completion of the filming, the Toronto Space and Aviation Museum took ownership of the Arrow replica and displayed it for a short time at their facility in Downsview.
At that time the Downsview museum had plans to further renovate the premises to better house their large exhibits and to provide more detailed information for visitors and school programs. Plans included specific galleries to house the full-sized Avro Arrow replica, another for the Avro Lancaster and additional galleries dedicated to the history of the de Havilland aircraft company, Canadian achievements in space, including a theatre and planetarium.
Unfortunately in the coming years, the museum struggled to establish a viable following and was given the notice of eviction from its hangar ostensibly for failure to pay over C$100,000 in back rent, even though the museum was in the process of repaying the rent owed and had been assured they would not be evicted. The museum relocated the collection to a secure storage location at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
In November 2018 it was announced that the museum's collection would be relocated to Edenvale Airport, 100 km northwest of Toronto. By mid-December 2018 the museum's Avro Arrow replica had been relocated from outdoor storage where it had begun to deteriorate, to an Edenvale hangar.
Thanks to foresight of the airport owner and the work of dedicated volunteers at Edenvale, the Arrow replica had it's environmental and neglect damage repaired, it was cleaned up, reassembled and placed on public display.
I went with Dad last weekend to have a look - all I can say is wow!
The first impression I was struck with is how big an airplane the Arrow was. I'd seen a real Arrow cockpit artifact on display at the National Aviation Museum in Otttawa, but this really brought home the size. It's massive.
The orginal creators of the replica were able to get the original main and nose landing gear manufacturer Dowty Limited to make a real set from their original production plans. Hard to believe these gear and brakes would be large enough to support and stop such a large plane, but they did it well. The single row of wheels allowed the gear to fit in the thin wing instead of the fuselage body, freeing up room for more internal weapon loads, groundbreaking technology and design at the time.
I snuck up a set of maintenance steps to take the next two shots which give a good view of the famous delta wing. The tip of the rudder is 29 feet from the ground!
This picture gives a good view of the weapons pack or pod. More than just doors, the entire pod could be swapped out. A packed pod could be a combination of missiles and other munitions, electronic warfare gear or even supplementary fuel tanks. By carrying it internally, the aircraft could still fly supersonic, regardless of load.
Back to my build which now seems a lot less complicated!!
With my stailizer back open for final debur of the new stab fence rivet holes and assembly of the centre hinge support, I got a chance to complete the centre hinge assembly.
The plans call for AN3-5 bolts through the centre support and spar flanges. I placed them in backwards first to check that the nylon lock nuts would fit with enough thread showing when two washers are added - much easier to see this way. The plans and the assembly pictures aren't very clear on whether the washers are doubled up together or one on each side of the sandwich. I decided one on each side was best, one under the bolt head, one under the nut - it doesn't change the amount of threads available to the nut and distributes the load better across the aluminum.
The final A5 rivets are added to the support flange.
Overall, the fit is beautiful and rock solid. I still need to torque the bolts to 22.5 inch/pounds, just waiting for the proper torque wrench.
Next I cleaned and primed the elevator pieces in preparation for assembly.
I still like the Cortec primer. It's a bit tricky to get the right consistency when thining it, but at least it is water based and cleans up nice when I'm done.
The elevator trim servo installed very easily. I've replaced the plastic servo arm with an billet aluminum one which will be much stronger in use.
According to the plans, the trim servo cover plate is supposed to be riveted in place. I don't like this as I may want to service the trim servo and definitely want access during annual inspections without having to drill out rivets! So, I'll do the same as I did for the fuel tank covers on the 701 wing repair and install rivnuts.
I started with evenly spaced holes in the cover and place the cover over the hole to transfer the holes to the elevator skin around the access hole.
I pilot drilled matching holes then widened them up carefully to mount rivnuts.
I finished by flanging the cover plate edges. The fit is excellent and very serviable with little if any increase in weight. I think any is worth being able to look in there easily.
With all the parts Cortec primed and dry, I reassembled the elevator and started to drive rivets, working from the center section outwards to the elevator tips.
It's clear how the use of A5 rivets in the centre section makes this elevator assembly incredibly strong yet light.
Elevator lower skin is now in place. Still have to rivet the attachment points to the tip ribs and rivet the trim tab in place. I'll flip the elevator over next and temporarily rivet the nose and rear skins down for storage. Temporary only so it can be opened up for pre-close inspection by MDRA inspector.
Another one of Ron's projects is a Cessna 170 he is rebuilding. I gave him a hand moving it down from the barn to the shop where we worked together to get the engine off for work. It was cold and blustery, but we got it done. Happy for the chance to pay back some of the generosity Ron has shown me.
I've always known aviation is my passion and I've come to realize shop time is my happy place, whether I'm working on my build or helping Ron with his. In the coming week the tail will be done and I'll be moving on to the flaps and slats.
We'll never know what the Arrow could have been, but my dream is alive!
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more!
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Husband, father and 911 dispatcher. Long time pilot with a licence that burns a hole in my pocket where my student loan money used to be. First time aircraft builder. Looking to fly my own airplane.