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Canadian History for Kids: Avro Arrow

February 20, 1959 – Military – Defence Minister George Pearkes announces the Diefenbaker Cabinet decision to cancel the AVRO CF-105 Arrow interceptor project because of costs.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive, looks at the history of the Avro Arrow.

It was the greatest mystery in Canada’s aviation history. Why was the Avro Arrow program cancelled on February 20, 1959?

The Royal Canadian Air Force needed an airplane that could be our best defence against Soviet bombers. The planes needed to fly faster, higher and farther.

In December 1953 Avro Canada Ltd. (then called A.V. Roe Canada) was awarded the contract. What they created was the Avro Arrow CF-105. It was a sleek white supersonic, twin-engined, interceptor (a fighter designed to stop enemy aircrafts) jet airplane. It was also the most advanced aircraft of its time.

The Arrow seemed doomed right from the start.

On October 4, 1957, the Arrow was displayed in front of a large crowd in Malton, Ontario. That same day the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik 1 satellite.

In 1957 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, without consulting his cabinet, agreed to join US’s North American Air Defence (NORAD) treaty. The NORAD implemented both the Bomarc and the Semi-Automated Ground Environment (SAGE). The Bomarc, like the Arrow, was an air-craft weapon.

John Diefenbaker became Prime Minister just after the Arrow’s first flight and in September 1958 he announced that his government would only authorize the completion of the airplanes currently in production. He also announced that the entire program would be reviewed in six months.

Before the six months are even over Prime Minister Diefenbaker announces, before the House of Commons, that the Arrow program would be cancelled immediately. That day, February 20, 1959, became known as “Black Friday”. The Arrow program employed more than 40,000 people, approximately 14,000 of whom were now unemployed.

Canada was then forced to purchase Bomarc aircrafts and SAGE systems, as well as Voodoo jet fighters which the RCAF had already rejected as inadequate.

One reason given for cancelling the Arrow program was the mounting cost. Yet the reasons not to cancel were more compelling.

One, the program could have been completed for the cost of the cancellation fees alone.

Two, the program was cheaper than purchasing the Bomarc and SAGE from the US.

Three, the Bomarc and Sage ware ineffective and soon removed in both Canada and the US.

Lastly and most importantly, the cancellation cost taxpayers more than $400 million wasted tax dollars, caused the unemployment of more than 14,000 employees, and meant the end of Avro Canada, the third largest corporation in Canada.

Then an order came from the Ministry of Defence to destroy all evidence of the Arrow. Planes, both completed and in production, models, tools, production lines, blueprints, pictures and film are all completely destroyed. The remains of the planes are sold for scrap metal.

So why was the Arrow program cancelled? No one really knows. And why was the Arrow and all evidence it existed destroyed? Neither the government nor the military is admitting who gave the order to destroy the Arrow.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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