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COLUMN: Some of aviation's best minds designed, built Arrow

History colimnist Richard MacLeod continues his series on Avro Arrow with a examination of the design and construction of the storied craft

This is the second article in a series on the Avro Arrow story, exploring the design and construction phases of the storied craft. Next, the story continues with Feb. 20, 1959, the day that became known as Black Friday in Canada, the day the Avro Arrow project was cancelled.

The infamous Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was unveiled to the public Oct. 4, 1957 at Malton Airport (now Pearson) to an audience of more than 12,000 fans. Lost in the story was the fact only five of the planes were ever built. A sixth was close to completion. That one was to be powered by the mighty Iroquois engine, which was by A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. and would have thrust this innovative jet fighter to the top of the aviation world in the 1950s.

Interestingly, the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow rolled out the same day Russia successfully launched its first Sputnik satellite into space, greatly increasing Cold War tensions.

Let us begin our review with a bit of the history of the project leading up to that fateful October in 1957.

In the early 1950s, the Canadian Department of National Defence, in need of a fast, long-range interceptor to protect North America from any Soviet air attack threats, had commissioned the establishment of a research and assembly team with the expertise needed to build such a craft. By the mid-1950s, the A.V. Roe Canada aircraft (Avro) manufacturing plants were in full production, building Avro Arrow interceptors and Orenda jet engines.

As I mentioned in part one, many of those involved in the design and construction of the Arrow resided in the area around Newmarket.

I shall delve into a bit of the technical highlights to clearly illustrate the superiority of this craft.

The crucial element of the project would rest with the engine and its advanced capabilities. Plans were set in place to flight test the Orenda PS-13 Iroquois jet engine by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). They decided to use a Boeing B-47 Stratojet six-engine bomber, on loan from the United States Air Force, to do so.

Canadian company Canadair Ltd. designed and built an outside pod, attaching the Iroquois engine to the B-47’s rear-right fuselage, near the tail. On Nov. 13, 1957, the revolutionary Iroquois jet engine, considered the most powerful in the world, took its first flight to resounding success.

Sadly, the first Mark 2 Arrow RL-206 was on the verge of Iroquois engine-powered flight trials when both projects were suddenly shut down.

Most aircraft of the period could typically only break the sound barrier speed of Mach 1 while in a dive, but the Arrow RL-201 broke the sound barrier in a steep climb on only its third flight, conducted on April 3, 1958.

Designed to fly Mach 1.5, the Mach 1 test aircraft RL-202 was recorded at Mach 1.98 during a test flight on Nov 11, 1958. This led to the World Encyclopedia of Aircraft listing the Canadian Avro Arrow as a Mach 2.4 aircraft.

As I mentioned previously, the real star of the Avro Arrow project seemed to have been the engine, produced by Orenda Engines. Orenda Engines was a Canadian aircraft engine manufacturer and parts supplier. As part of the earlier Avro Canada conglomerate, which became Hawker Siddeley Canada, it produced a number of military jet engines from the early 1950s through to the 1970s and was Canada’s primary engine supplier and repair company.

Officially named the Avro Canada TR.5, Orenda was the first production jet engine from Avro Canada’s gas turbine division. The Orenda outperformed its rivals in nearly every aspect, and the Orenda-powered Canadair Sabres were among the fastest of all first-generation jet fighters. More than 4,000 Orendas of various types were delivered during the 1950s, Avro’s greatest engine success.

The Orenda design started in the summer of 1946, when the RCAF placed an order with Avro Canada for a new night/all-weather fighter. To power the design, Avro decided to build its own engines. Avro had recently purchased Turbo Research, a former Crown corporation set up in Toronto, to develop jet engines. Turbo Research was just beginning to design its first engine, the 3,000 pounds of force or pound-force (lbf) (13 kilonewtons (kN) TR.4 Chinook, which could easily be scaled up for the new fighter design.

Avro’s newly christened gas turbine division started work on the larger 6,000 lbf (27 kN) thrust in the autumn of 1946, and the design work was completed in January 1948, just prior to the first run of the Chinook on March 17, 1948. The TR.5 was named Orenda, an Iroquois word meaning tribal soul on the right path.

Progress on the Orenda was rapid, with parts arriving in 1948, and the engine was run for the first time on Feb. 8, 1949. Avro was so confident of the design that it invited high-ranking officials from the RCAF and Canadian government to witness the first test. On May 10, the engine reached its design thrust of 6,000 lbf (27 kN). At the time, it was the most powerful jet engine in the world. The Orenda passed a total of 2,000 hours by Feb. 10, 1950. After modification by July, it had passed 3,000 hours.

Flight testing started with a converted Avro Lancaster. The two outboard Merlin engines were replaced with the Orenda, and the new aircraft took to the sky on July 10, 1950. The aircraft ran up 500 hours by July 1954, when this portion of flight testing ended.

It is probably prudent to look at a few of the firsts for this aircraft before we continue with the story. The RL-201, the prototype CF-105 Arrow, took its inaugural flight from the Malton Airport on March 25, 1958.

It was less than one year later, on Feb. 20, 1959, that the Avro Arrow and its Orenda PS-13 Iroquois engine project were abruptly cancelled by the Canadian government, which had commissioned the aircraft for the RCAF in the first place.

To say the cancellation was a complete shock to the thousands of A.V. Roe employees, and those involved at Orenda Engines Ltd., let alone the nation and the world, would be an understatement. It is important to understand the Iroquois jet engine would have soon taken the Avro Arrow to speeds more than Mach 2.

In part three, we shall look at the cancellation of the project and the ensuing fallout, along with some of the more popular conspiracy theories.

How advanced was the Avro Arrow’s technology? It is said many of aviation’s best minds worked for A.V. Roe and its subsidiary, Orenda Engines Ltd., designing and building jet fighters and turbine engines. After the cancellation of the Arrow program, NASA hired many of its engineers from A.V. Roe to help put the first man on the moon in 1969. Other former A.V. Roe employees went to the United Kingdom and France and helped design and build the world’s first supersonic passenger jet airliner, the Concorde. Incredible when you think about it, Canadian technology sat at the pinnacle of these historic projects.

It is important we tip our caps to the test pilots who pioneered these feats of technology. Those first Arrows were test flown in succession by four test pilots: Jan (Zura) Zurakowski, RCAF Flight Lt. Jack Woodman, W. (Spud) Potocki and Peter Cope. It is interesting to note Zurakowski, a Second World War fighter pilot, a career test pilot and the first person to fly the Arrow, never held a regulation pilot’s licence.

Potocki was the only pilot to fly all five Arrow test aircraft. He also recorded the fastest flight of an Arrow in the RL-202 when he reached Mach 1.98 on Nov 11, 1958. He was the only pilot to fly the RL-205 before it was ordered destroyed by the government. It had only completed its 40-minute maiden flight on Jan 11, 1959.

Avro design engineer Red Darrah was the only passenger to ever fly in an Arrow, charged with checking the fly-by-wire systems in the RL-203 for Potocki on Feb 19, 1959. Sadly, the next day, the Arrow program was cancelled.

For those who love their tech data, here are some interesting facts. The Arrow was a large aircraft, thus its 100,000-horsepower engine consumed, to fly supersonic, a quarter-ton, or 100 gallons, of fuel per minute. Empty, the Arrow weighed 48,821 pounds, while full of fuel, it weighed about 68,664 pounds.

The Arrow carried 19,849 pounds, or 2,544 gallons, of fuel constantly being pumped through 14 tanks to preserve the balance of the aircraft in flight.

The first five Mark 1 Arrows had Pratt & Whitney J75 engines, with each having a dry thrust of 12,500 pounds and some 19,250 pounds of wet thrust with afterburner. The Mark 2 Arrows with the Canadian Iroquois engines would have had 19,250 pounds of dry thrust and 26,000 pounds of wet or afterburner thrust. The Iroquois could go from idle to full dry thrust in just 2.8 seconds or to full afterburner 26,000-pound thrust in only 4.5 seconds after opening the throttle.

The conundrum the design team faced was they were being asked to design a fast plane, and that they accomplished. Its purpose was to be an interceptor, which necessitated it to be well armed. It was designed to carry both a traditional and a nuclear payload. Experts indicate its ability to accomplish its mission was apparently shimmied by its perceived inability to successfully provide a deterrent to Russian bombers using a traditional payload. It is also clear the government would never have allowed the Arrow to carry a nuclear payload.

Next, we shall look at the fallout from the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project and some of the conspiracy theories that sprung up afterward. 

Sources: Requiem for a Giant: A.V. Roe Canada and the Avro Arrow by Palmiro Campagna; Avro Aircraft since 1908 by Aubrey J. Jackson; Canadian Aircraft since 1909 by Ken M. Molson and Harold A. Taylor; AV Roe & Company at BAE Systems website; A.V. Roe and Company (Avro); A. V. Roe, 1877-1958 website; clippings about Avro in the 20th Century Press Archives website; Toronto’s Long History of Aerospace Achievement, Boeing Frontiers (online) by Mike Lombardi and Larry Merritt; Library and Archives Canada (official repository of most government documents relating to the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow project); Remembering the Avro Arrow: A True Canadian Icon — Our Canada by Gordon Baron, Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Canada archives; The Toronto Star and Newmarket Era archives; Canadian Museum of Flight website; Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft, by David Donald; Aircraft Engines of the World by Paul Wilkinson

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod has been a local historian for more than 40 years.