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Flight Test: The Avro Arrow and a Career in Aeronautical Engineering

By David Waechter

Cover Flight Test

Flight Test describes the work of the author’s late father, Ralph William Waechter, and those with whom he worked at Avro Aircraft Limited. Ralph Waechter’s work at Avro included Machmeter calibration and aircraft performance analysis. The book reproduces and explains key excerpts from documents that Ralph Waechter retained after leaving the company. Among these documents were a report on the Avro Arrow’s highest speed flight and a report on a visit to Edwards Air Force Base and other establishments in California to discuss methods of testing supersonic aircraft. At the base, future Mercury and Gemini astronaut, Captain Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, served as an escort for the Avro visitors.

The book also provides information on the Avro Jetliner, the CF-100 and Ralph Waechter’s post-Avro career. While the main text is written for the general reader, additional information for the technically inclined reader can be found in sidebar articles, figure captions, and Avro report excerpts. This approach makes the book accessible to a wide readership while also making it a valuable resource for historians of science and technology. Chapters 5 and 9 are more technical than most, but are worthwhile reading for those who wish to know more about how the Arrow's airspeed was measured (chapter 5) and how its performance was assessed (chapter 9).

The foreword was provided by Hon. Col. Gerald P. J. Haddon (RCAF), the grandson of J. A. Douglas McCurdy. In 1909, McCurdy piloted the Silver Dart at Baddeck, Nova Scotia for the first controlled powered flight in the British Empire. Nearly half a century later, McCurdy was an invited guest at the rollout ceremony for the Avro Arrow.

About the Author

Author David Waechter Photo Courtesy The Waterloo Chronicle
Photo Courtesy The Waterloo Chronicle

David Waechter is a professional engineer who has worked in research and development for his entire career. He received B.A.Sc. and M.A.Sc. degrees from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. degree from Carleton University (Ottawa), all in electrical engineering. He has worked on technologies used in aerospace, defence, energy, and medical applications. He resides in Southern Ontario.

Self-published by Author
ISBN 978-0-9948065-0-5 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9948065-1-2 (bound)
Available through
Telephone: Volumes Direct 1–519–571-1908


Under the watchful eye of 147 people standing on the ice, the Silver Dart broke loose from the frozen bonds of Bras d’Or Lake, Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on February 23, 1909, and majestically took to the skies, travelling at 35 mph at a height of 30 feet for ¾ of a mile. This historic flight signalled the first flight in Canada and the British Empire. The pilot was a brilliant engineer from the University of Toronto, John Alexander Douglas McCurdy, whom many consider to be the father of Canadian aviation.

Ralph Waechter was also an engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. But in his case, his field of study was the relatively new specialty of aeronautical engineering—a specialty that only came into being because of the pioneering work of McCurdy and his contemporaries. Waechter began working for Avro in 1948 where he was mainly involved with flight testing, aircraft performance analysis, Machmeter calibration, and the determination of engine thrust and aircraft drag. His son David, himself an engineer, has written a fascinating account of the contributions his father made to the development of the CF-100 all-weather fighter, the Jetliner, and the Avro Arrow. The author writes about his father as only a son can do after it became necessary to look after his father’s affairs when Ralph Waechter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The immediate period after the Second World War proved to be an auspicious time for Ralph Waechter to begin his career. The jet engine had been invented by Frank Whittle in England in the 1930s, and its development really began due to the engine’s obvious military as well as civilian applications. In 1956, Waechter began work on the Arrow as an “engineering aerodynamicist” where he crossed paths with the two principal men of the Arrow project—Jim Chamberlin, one of the Avro engineers; and Jim Floyd, former Avro chief engineer—both of whom did the initial design work on the CF-105 Arrow in 1953.

Sitting on the dais when the Arrow was rolled out on October 4, 1957, at the A. V. Roe Canada plant in Malton was the Honourable J. A. D. McCurdy, president of Montreal Aircraft Industries Limited. McCurdy knew Floyd and Chamberlin and, therefore, was kept briefed on the obstacles that the aeronautical team faced in building and flying the Arrow. In the spring of 1959, in conversations with his grandson who wrote this foreword, McCurdy related how dismayed and disappointed he was about the February 20, 1959, decision by Prime Minister Diefenbaker to kill the Arrow project and the Iroquois engine program. At the time, Diefenbaker did, however, concede that the aircraft and its engines were “a credit to those who conceived and designed them.” The author lists several plausible reasons for the Arrow’s demise; like many, his father moved on with his life after the decision was taken and rarely talked about the Arrow’s cancellation.

Flight Test, is an engrossing chronicle of events surrounding the Avro Arrow as seen through the lens of a particular engineer’s career. The book includes numerous excerpts from Avro engineering reports, the significance of which are analyzed and explained. This first-class narrative will be appreciated by all those who have an abiding interest in Canadian Aviation, the Avro Arrow, and “the work of the engineering profession in Canada’s Aviation History,” as the author puts it.

Ralph Waechter died in 2012, but his work was important for the design, building, and operation of the aircraft with which he was involved during his long career. His post-Avro career included work with de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, Canadair Limited, as well as American Airlines, and an American consulting company. When asked what job he enjoyed the most, he replied, “I liked them all.”

Honorary Colonel Gerald Philip John Haddon
Royal Canadian Air Force
Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering