Written by Bill Zuk on 01 September 2013.

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Mississauga’s Doors Open Features Avro Arrow Display

Mississauga City press release

by Bill Zuk

On September 28, 2013, the City of Mississauga, in conjunction with the Ontario Doors Open program, will host a display on the Avro Arrow at the International Centre (6900 Airport Road, Mississauga). A unique collection of documents, newspaper accounts and artifacts was recently donated in April to the archives of the City of Mississauga, by the estate of J.H. (Bert) Scott, Deputy Chief Engineer, Avro Orenda Engines Limited. Mississauga City press release

With the addition of artifacts on loan from the Canadian Air & Space Museum, including the full-scale replica of RL-203, the showpiece of the museum’s collection, the Avro Arrow Display at Hall 1, Upper Mezzanine of the International Centre, is part of the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS), September 30–October 3, 2013. The Avro Arrow exhibit at CMTS, Canada’s largest manufacturing event, will “showcase a remarkable Canadian manufacturing and technological innovation, which is representative of what the show’s all about,” said Nick Samain, Group Manager of SME Canada, organizer of CMTS.

Editor’s Note:

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Once it was different. The first Avro Arrow at roll out, 1957.

In recent years, the saga of the Avro Arrow has taken on mythic proportions. A cottage industry has materialized with countless books, movies, and a stage play about the Arrow. Among those who designed, built, and flew the Avro Arrow, there is unanimous consent that their beloved aircraft would have achieved greatness. Quoting Avro Canada’s Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Janusz Zurakowski: “It was far ahead of its time, and it showed that this country was in the forefront in aircraft technology worldwide. There will never be another Arrow.”

One of the most enduring elements of the Avro Arrow myth was the tale of the “one that got away.” The story was perpetuated by a Maclean’s magazine article by reporter June Callwood that appeared shortly after the Arrow’s cancellation. Callwood, like many of the period, was enamoured with the aircraft; she once wrote, “it was the most beautiful plane I will ever see… When it lifted straight up into the sky, a slim white arrowhead, it was poetry. I never saw it take off without my eyes stinging…” She had flown in the B-47/Orenda testbed and knew one morning when she was startled awake by the roar of an Arrow’s engines filling the sky above her, that, as she wrote, “someone had flown an Arrow to safety.” Most Avroites knew the truth. None had escaped the wrath of the demolition crew’s axes. But one Avro engineer had almost pulled it off.

The date was April 22, 1959. Gerry Barbour, an Avro Aircraft engineer in the Lofting Department, where blueprint drawings were scribed on metal sections before being cut out, was furious at the decision to cancel the Arrow, but was even more enraged by the scrapping of all the aircraft. As he watched foreman Al Cox begin the butchering of the five flying examples, Barbour formulated an elaborate heist. He had access to the high-security area where he would steal a “mule” (a small tow truck) and tow one of the complete airframes to a horse-breeding farm he had in mind as a hiding place. His plans had gone as far as imagining his friend, Lorne Ursel, as the pilot of the aircraft. He settled on RL-204 as his target. This Arrow sat at the end of the row and unlike RL-205 which was flat on its belly, looked complete. RL-202, RL-203, and 201 were in pieces, but his early morning tour of the area confirmed that the RL-204 was intact. Barbour even mused to his boss, Wilhelm “Woo” Shaw, about the possibility of a plan like his working.

Signing in that evening at the security gate was no problem, and Barbour immediately deked out of the hangar and slipped into the experimental flight test section. Moving stealthily in the dark along the row of Arrows, he stumbled noisily over the remains of RL-201’s wings. Pausing for a few moments to ensure he hadn’t been heard, Barbour found a set of tools he needed in a tool crib and prepared a mule. Returning to RL-204 to hitch up the tow bar, he stared into the darkness, trying to make out its shape. Something was wrong. The plane hunched down on its front undercarriage leg, but the nose wheel had been cut off. Shaw! Now Barbour remembered on his morning visit that he had seen his boss take the foreman off to the side. Abandoning the mule, he stormed off in a rage. When the guard at the gatehouse greeted him with the request to sign out, he angrily refused and stalked off into the night. It would be the last time that he saw the Arrows.

Today, the Avro CF-105 Arrow is only a memory, although the nose and front landing gear of RL-206, the outer wing panels of RL-203, and an Avro Iroquois engine are displayed in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. The chopped-off nose section of the ground-breaking Avro C-102 Jetliner sits nearby. Visitors often marvel at the sleek lines of the Avro Arrow, but are saddened when they notice the jagged end of the cockpit where years before, wreckers had sawn and chopped it apart.

At the back of the same museum is a Boeing Bomarc missile. The Bomarc proved to be an expensive dud, only to be replaced by the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo. Prime Minister Diefenbaker had reluctantly ordered this American fighter to replace the long-departed Arrow. A prime argument he had invoked in cancelling the Arrow was that the manned interceptor had been “overtaken by events” in the missile age. Recently released cabinet documents reveal that Diefenbaker recognized the political ramifications of ordering a successor for the Avro Arrow. Only after the Chiefs of Staff demanded a replacement for the obsolete Avro CF-100 Canuck, was the Canadian government forced to act. Some military advisors poignantly noted in the initial development of the Avro Arrow, that the Voodoo had once been rejected as unsuitable.

Not far from the original Avro and Orenda factories in Toronto, the Avro Arrow has been reborn in the form of a replica of RL-203, the third of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrows that flew. Unlike recreations such as the movie model used in the CBC television mini-series, The Arrow, the Canadian Air & Space Museum (formerly Toronto Aerospace Museum) at Downsview Park, has faithfully replicated the Arrow, albeit as a static model.

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Claude Sherwood (centre)

Led by Claude Sherwood, the volunteer crew, including many ex-Avro Canada personnel began their work in 1998. Dating back to his final days at Avro, Sherwood had located technical drawings that he had “squirrelled away” and on the basis of these drawings, the Avro Arrow project was created. Sherwood’s background with the Avro story began in 1956 when he was hired as a draftsman at the age of 18 to work on the CF-105 Arrow. Three years later, along with thousands of other Avro employees, he was out of work, but landed back on his feet with a position at the Ontario Department of Transportation (Ministry of Highways at the time). After a lengthy career with the department, he retired and became one of the leading figures in the Toronto Aerospace Museum.

The steel-framed replica began with a cockpit and nose section, fuselage, tail, and various outer wing panels completed as modular components. One of the project's dilemmas was building the Arrow’s complex landing gear. Messier-Dowty built and donated new versions of the original undercarriage units. Other industry partners include Associated Tube who donated 3,000 metres of stainless-steel tube, Sico who provided paint, and Bombardier Aerospace, who looked after related tools and hardware necessary for the project.

Although the replica was finally completed and shown to the public in 2009, the ravages of time eventually caught up to the museum and many of its supporters. The initial plans that Sherwood had formulated involved introducing the recreated Avro Arrow to the public with its first test pilot, Janusz Zurakowski, in the cockpit. Sadly, the famed pilot passed away on February 9, 2004, in his hometown of Barry’s Bay, Ontario, after courageously battling leukemia for years. The sprawling 400-acre Avro plant, after going through a number of new owners, ceased to exist after 2004, as successive buildings were torn down until only rubble remained as the Toronto Lester Pearson International Airport consumed the facility as part of its expansion.

The giant Avro Orenda plant managed to survive in the form of the International Centre which took over what was formerly Plant #1 where Avro Orenda undertook research and manufacturing of their signature family of jet engines. Even the Canadian Air & Space Museum which had resided in the former de Havilland Canada factory, and whose mandate was to preserve the aviation heritage of the Toronto area, which included the Curtiss-Wright, de Havilland, and A.V. Roe Canada companies, was forced to close its doors in 2013, and is presently looking for a new home.

As of this writing, despite the efforts of a group of historians and concerned citizens in Toronto, there is little left of the Avro Canada legacy. Janusz Zurakowski had once written, “It is impossible to destroy everything … Governments and torches can destroy an aircraft but they cannot destroy hope and aspiration, and the majesty of the questing spirit. In the hearts of the people, the dream lives on.”

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Jan Zurakowski

All photos from the Bill Zuk collection.