Episode 65 – Avro Arrow: Uncovering the Myth – Part 2

Black and white photograph of two men standing next to an airplane looking towards the horizon 

With the creation of the A.V. Roe Canada company following the Second World War, Canada became a leader in the aerospace industry. The company developed the C-102 jetliner and the CF-100 Canuck, the first Canadian-designed military fighter aircraft. In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, the Royal Canadian Air Force (the RCAF) commissioned A.V. Roe to design a new plane: a supersonic jet that could engage and destroy enemy interceptors before they reached their targets in North America. That supersonic jet was the Avro Arrow. It was intended to serve as the RCAF's primary interceptor, and was one of the most advanced aircraft of its era with the potential to establish Canada as a world leader in scientific research and development. Unfortunately, the project was ultimately cancelled.

In part two of this two-part episode, Palmiro Campagna talks about the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project and some rumors surrounding the aircraft.

Duration: 1:02:17

File size: 60 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: November 4, 2020

  • Transcript of podcast episode 65

    Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.

    In part two of this two-part episode, we once again welcome author and Avro Arrow expert Palmiro Campagna. Palmiro is the author of three books on the Avro Arrow, the most recent being The Avro Arrow: For the Record, released in 2019. In part one of this two-part episode, Palmiro discussed the origins of the Avro Arrow, its development and technical aspects of the aircraft. We also touched on some of the related items we have in the collection here at Library and Archives Canada. In this episode, we'll discuss the cancellation of the project and the impact that had on Canada and its aerospace industry. We will also talk about some of the rumors surrounding the aircraft, and get into the research Palmiro does at Library and Archives Canada.

    [Audio clip]

    Recording of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker: Wouldn't it have been much easier for me, on behalf of the Government, to have continued the Arrow? It was a beautiful aircraft. Wonderful. It didn't operate very far, but it was a fine example of workmanship. I had to make, in the finality, that decision. For over every prime minister's desk, hangs that motto that was referred to one time by President Truman: “The buck stops here.”

    If he makes a decision that's wrong, it can't be repaired. All prime ministers who have been successful in this country have been condemned because they did not make off-the-cuff decisions. Well, I realized what would happen in connection with the Arrow. When one's faced with a problem like this, there is a higher source of strength. If one doesn't have that higher source of strength, he can never bear the attacks made on him.

    Or the statements that one wouldn't make about anyone in private life, he has to have that strength and that faith. He has to believe. He has to be assured that, ultimately, right is going to triumph. This came to me. I knew that 10,000 men and women would be out of work, ultimately, by this decision. I knew that a great industry that had been established would be weakened. But it was right to end it.

    JA: That was a 1959 CBC clip from the Prime Minister at the time, John Diefenbaker, defending his decision to cancel the Avro Arrow project.

    On February 20, 1959, a day that became known as “Black Friday” in the Canadian aviation industry, the Avro Arrow project was cancelled. The decision put over 14,000 Avro employees, as well as approximately 15,000 others working for the various subcontractors, out of work. As Palmiro Campagna writes in his book, “Not only was a military project terminated, but the heart and soul of a nation was destroyed. Canada's aircraft industry would never embark on such an ambitious project again.”

    By July of that same year, all aircraft, engines, blueprints, designs models, and technical data were destroyed. Why?

    First, let's get to the cancellation. Why did it happen? Here's Palmiro Campagna.

    Palmiro Campagna (PC): This is where things get interesting and where the Archives play a major role, at least in my view. The prevailing theory at the time was that the Arrow was cancelled because it cost too much. I've seen comments that the Arrow was too rich for Canada, that it was completely unaffordable, and others that have said all you have to do is just do the math. Well, I've looked into all of that. I've done the math and I can explain why we don't need to do the math, so we'll take it one step at a time.

    The second thing that comes up is that the same day that the Arrow was rolled out in October of 1957, October 4th, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. At the time, there was what we call, or what's been called, the ‘missile gap.' That is, there were discussions that the Soviet Union was way ahead in missile design and development, and that the Western countries needed to get into that field very quickly or we'd be left behind.

    Then, of course, when Sputnik went up, that solidified that fear. The fear was, “Well, if you can put a satellite up in space, you now have the capability to launch a nuclear weapon against the North American continent if you wanted to, on a missile.” There's not much that you can use to try to take out a missile in flight and so that was the second thing: the advent of Sputnik. Now, we can look at “What does the Archives tell us?”

    On January 23, 1958, the Minister of National Defence was asked in the House of Commons, what was the future of the Arrow given Sputnik had just been launched a few months prior to.

    JA: The Minister of National Defence was, at that time, George Pearkes.

    PC: And this is what he said, if I can read. He says, “The future of that aircraft will depend entirely on the nature of the threat. The matter is constantly under examination and as long as the threat exists, development and production of the CF-105 will proceed.”

    Now, that's not a statement that's secretive or anything like that. It was made publicly in the House [of Commons]. Nowhere in there does he say “this thing is unaffordable.” He is focusing strictly on the threat. The threat being from the bombers, which they are now considering aren't going to be there because they're being replaced by the missiles. He does not talk about cost in that sense.

    We go to January 30th of 1958. Now, this is coming from the Archives in some of the documents that were secret that I was able to get to declassified. Our ambassador, Norman Robertson, he is speaking to the Secretary of the Air Force [of the United States]. Here's what he says. He says, “The CF-105, its development, was related to the evaluation of the manned bomber threat. The state of development of newer and superseding weapons and indeed whether it makes sense for us to commit such a major portion of our resources and money to a weapon system which could become virtually obsolescent by the time it is operational.”

    Here, Robertson is invoking the issue of cost but not in the sense of being affordable. He's basically saying, “Why are we going to spend any money on this thing if we don't have a use for it?” When he says it could become virtually obsolescent, he's not talking about the technical aspects of the airplane because it was highly advanced for the day. What he's talking about is obsolescent in terms of a weapon system. Meaning any aircraft is going to be obsolete if we're going to be attacked by missiles. So just to clarify that, when he says “new and superseding weapons,” he's talking about intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and the Bomarc, which is a missile that we actually did get. Now the Bomarc is not an ICBM; it's designed to take out aircraft. It's just a surface-to-air missile, but it's the new technology that's coming into vogue.

    JA: The Boeing CIM-10 Bomarc Weapon System was a supersonic long-range surface-to-air missile.

    PC: Now, we move to August of 1958. This is a report that was written by the Chiefs of Staff. I need to clarify here that the Chief of the Air Staff was not in agreement, as far as I can tell from the other memos and whatnot that are there. When it says “Chiefs of Staff,” not really. Chairman Chiefs of Staff, yes. Chief of the Alliance Staff, Chief of the Navy, etc.

    What they say in there, in one of their conclusions, actually under a paragraph called cost, they say that they “have grave doubts as to whether a limited number of aircraft of such extreme high cost would provide defence returns commensurate with the expenditures in view of the changing threat and the possibility that an aircraft of comparable performance can be obtained from United States production at much less cost.”

    Right, so let's examine that statement. The last part is almost a throwaway. Yes, you can always buy cheaper airplanes somewhere else, but none were comparable to the Arrow and that comes from their own analyses time and time again, so forget that. The real issue is where he says, “Would provide defence returns commensurate with the expenditure in view of the changing threat.”

    Again, meaning, “Why are we going to spend a lot of money?” Nobody's arguing that the thing is expensive. That's a given. But, if your threat has changed, why are we going to spend any money on it? Again, it's not an issue of affordability, it's not an issue of being too rich for Canada, it's an issue of, we've changed our threat. So it doesn't matter what airplane we're going to get, really. Do we need one? That's what they're saying there.

    In that same report, all they do is, they say they recommend consideration be given to abandoning the Arrow program and getting Bomarc missiles instead. As I said, the Bomarc being an anti-aircraft missile. So if you've got fewer airplanes coming, their theory was we can use the Bomarc against them. That's August 28, 1958. Consistent with Norman Robertson, consistent with the Minister of National Defence.

    So what was this threat? Well, I was able to get a document from the Central Intelligence Agency declassified, it was top-secret at the time, and it's dated March of 1957. That report projected that the Soviet Union might have the capability to launch a satellite into space and it did. Sputnik a few months later, right? So that gave credibility to this report.

    In this report, they were saying that by 1960, they were expecting the Soviets might have up to 100 ICBMs. By 1961 up to 300 and then 500, 700, all the way up to 1,000 by 1965. This is the kind of information that our guys are facing when they're saying that “Do we need an airplane if we're going to be attacked via missiles?” It's a very interesting report. We'll move forward. August was the Army's military response.

    We come to September 7, 1958. The guy who should know what the Arrow was costing is the Minister of Finance, Donald Fleming. What does Donald Fleming say? Again, this is, at the time, in a secret document. He says, “In considering matters of defence, he [Diefenbaker] naturally put the safety of the country ahead of finance. When it had been recommended in 1957, a year ago, that the CF-105 be continued, he supported the recommendation. Now, however, the military view was that the program should be canceled. More importantly, the military authorities had now decided that the aircraft was not necessary.”

    So we'll examine this statement. Here's the guy who knows what it's going to cost. In 1957, he supported the program. Well, they already knew that the Arrow was costing a lot of money in 1957. When Pearkes made his comment in January 1958, they knew how much it was costing and what else it would cost. As for Donald Fleming, the same thing. As the Minister of Finance, he knew what additional costs were going to be coming up, but he doesn't get into any of that. He says, “The military authorities had decided the aircraft was not necessary.”

    Again, perfectly consistent with the August report. Perfectly consistent with Norman Robertson. Perfectly consistent with George Pearkes, the Minister of National Defence. All of whom know what the eventual cost of the airplane is going to be. Move forward, so that's September 1958. We go to a February 6, 1959, top-secret document that I got declassified.

    This one is again from the military, the Chiefs of Staff. They say that they are “still of the opinion that the changing threat and rapid advances in technology, particularly in the missile field, along with the diminishing requirements for manned interceptors in Canada, create grave doubts as to whether a limited number of aircraft of such extreme high cost would provide defence returns commensurate with the expenditures.”

    So here again, they're repeating basically what they did in the '58 report. That the issue is not one of money alone, it's the combination of, what are we going to get for that money? Even today, we keep talking about bang for the buck. If we're going to spend anything, let's spend it on something worthwhile. In their minds they feel that it's not going to be money well spent. Not that we don't have that money to spend.

    So they go ahead and they cancel. All right. They cancelled on February 20, 1959. Let's go to February 6, 1960. We're now looking at the Cabinet Defence Committee documents. Again, secret. The prime minister, John Diefenbaker, he's always the one that's been blamed for the cancellation and everything else.

    Yes, he had to take the final decision, but he's being advised. Anyways, what it says in this record, “The Prime Minister thought the public had been convinced of the wisdom of the decision to cancel the Arrow. To obtain other aircraft now in the face of statements that the threat of the manned bomber was diminishing and that the day of the interceptor would soon be over, would be most embarrassing, unless a reasonable explanation could be given. He had been against canceling the Arrow but had been persuaded otherwise.”

    So here we are in 1960, they're still saying that the reason for the cancellation is the changing threat, but the interesting piece of information is that he, Diefenbaker, was against cancelling the Arrow. Now, as far as I know later on in public statements, he said this was the right decision blah, blah, blah. These were the decision documents, these secret documents. I don’t care what he said so much after the fact, it’s what was happening during the fact. And he says he was interested in keeping it but was persuaded otherwise.

    Again, we're still on the subject of, if it's not for this missile thing, we'd have the Arrow. That's February 1960. We'll take it one more step. Cabinet discussion, July of 1960, not long after. Again, secret. Paragraph B in this thing. “The United States were now re-emphasizing the bomber because on their own experience, missiles had not developed to the extent expected and presumably, the USSR was running into similar problems in its missile program. In fact, it was said that only five US ICBMs were operational. This was quite a different figure from that which the Prime Minister had been given in Washington in June.” Here we are, not long after we've killed the Arrow, all of a sudden airplanes are important again and we need airplanes. Had they waited and gotten this information, I'm convinced we would have Arrows flying around, or would have had Arrows going into production.

    This is incredible. The fact that the Prime Minister was given incorrect information prior to really makes you wonder about the intelligence that's going on here. Surely, they must have known how many ICBMs they had in their own country. Yes, you don't know what's going on in the Soviet Union or somewhere else, but this is pretty clear in what it's saying.

    When we ask why was the Arrow cancelled, in my view, based on these documents, which were decision documents, secret and top-secret at the time, the answer is very simply that our people for whatever reason believed that the missiles were going to be the new enemy way of attacking and that jet fighters were no longer going to be in vogue. That's why the Arrow was cancelled.

    Rightly or wrongly, whether we were given duff information on purpose or not—that's a whole other discussion—but the bottom line seems to be, and it's very consistent in all these documents, that the Arrow was cancelled not because it was unaffordable, not because it was too rich, but because of the changing threat.

    JA: George Pearkes, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, stated that keeping the Avro Arrow project going would depend on military factors. Like Palmiro mentions, and based on the many documents he has uncovered here at Library and Archives Canada, cost didn't seem to be a factor. He claimed that the threat from manned bombers seemed to be diminishing and the Boeing Bomarc missile system was being thought of as the best weapon to handle intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) possibly coming from the Soviet Union.

    Was it possible that the Arrow wasn't as advanced as first thought? Could that have been another reason why the government cancelled the project? Palmiro sheds some light on that…

    PC: In terms of aircraft, the Arrow had an advanced flying control system. What we mean by that is most airplanes, when the pilot moves his control column, whatnot, there's a series of linkages and hydraulics and whatnot that make the ailerons on the aircraft move so that they can go up or down or what have you. The Arrow was doing that through a system that we call today fly-by-wire. It was all electronically controlled.

    Yes, there were still hydraulics, of course, at the endpoint, but getting the signal from the pilot to where it needed to be was through wires, through electronics. We had… The electronics themselves in the Arrow were all transistorized. We're talking 1950s. The transistors really didn't come into vogue until much later, so here we are fairly advanced using transistors. The Iroquois engine itself was designed with the concept of titanium—titanium being a much lighter, stronger material than steel or aluminum, [or] what-have-you. Again, advances were made in that area.

    We had advances in hydraulics, where the Arrow did employ hydraulics. Most aircraft at the time used what we call 3,000 pounds per square inch [psi] of pressure to move the surfaces. The Arrow was at 4,000 psi. What that means is that they could use thinner tubes, lighter tubing, and still effect the pressure required to move the surfaces. Again, advances in that design, I don't think came into vogue until really the B-2 Stealth Bomber, [which] was touted to have 4,000 psi. Today, we are way beyond that. In terms of the aircraft, it was highly advanced. It incorporated all of these different features, all in the one airframe.

    Having said that, I always point out one thing very carefully. That was over 60 years ago. Yes, we were advanced, it means that those features didn't appear in other aircraft until a few years later, but they eventually did. They not only appeared in other aircraft, that they were exceeded by leaps and bounds since. Today, we have fly-by-light, for example, fiber optic cables not even wires. We have stealth or more appropriately called “low observability.” We have 360-degree situational awareness for the pilot. What that means is that the entire body of the airplane has sensors and whatnot. It gets information from the ground, from satellites, from other aircraft in the air. The pilot knows exactly what's going on around him, 360 degrees. That's the F-35 that we're currently thinking about.

    One thing to point out, it was not tested with its fire control and weapons. We never got that chance. We didn't go that far. But for somebody to say, “Well, that would have been the thing that would have made it useless or whatever,” whatever, that's just—we don't know. Given the success rate that they had, given the experience of the people designing, etc.—the other thing was, of course, when the people were fired, 25 of them ended up at NASA—the National [Aeronautics and Space Administration]—developing John Glenn's capsule, developing the lunar module, developing aspects of the space shuttle, etc.

    These were people that had a considerable degree of knowledge. We called it “the great brain drain” at the time. Twenty-five [Avro employees] went there, a number of others went to other aircraft-developing companies. Jim Floyd ended up doing some consultation work on the Concord aircraft, not directly with the aircraft design, but with aspects of the sonic boom and suppression of that and such. Yes, these people were fairly—they knew what they were doing. Any argument that the Arrow was somehow flawed really doesn't hold any water anymore, and the documents are there to prove it.

    JA: We'll talk more later on about some of the Avro employees that ended up at NASA, but for now, let's get to the question we asked in our intro about all aircraft, blueprints, engines and technical data being destroyed. Who made this decision and why?

    PC: That's always been a controversial part of the puzzle. Somebody actually wrote to the Minister of National Defence asking that question. What he wrote back was something along the lines of, “Well, we were able to recoup X amount of money from the sale of the materials,” that kind of stuff. Cancelling itself did mean that they didn't have any more expenses in that project. Again, thanks to the Archives, I found two things. One was a memo that was written in March of 1959, just after the cancellation. That memo is from Hugh Campbell, the Chief of the Air Staff, to the Minister of National Defence. They're talking about what to do with everything.

    Typically, the way National Defence works is when you cancel a project and you still have the material, whether it's a tank or an airplane or a desk in an office, whatever, that material is sent to what was called then Crown Assets Disposal Corporation. They can sell that as is, in its whole state and in fact it still exists today. I believe it’s called GC Surplus, Government of Canada Surplus, where you can go and buy office furniture and used computers and whatnot, you know a lot of good stuff.

    Anyways, in that letter, he says, “If we give the airplanes to Crown Assets Disposal, they can sell it in its whole state and it could become an embarrassment if somebody buys it and uses it as a roadside stand.” The thing is that, when it comes to this type of stuff, I think it tends to get designated as protected or something like that, meaning that not anybody can just go in and buy an Avro Arrow or a tank or something, I don't know. What you read in that is a lot of frustration on his part.

    What came out later, again thanks to some of the documents in the Archives, [is that] nobody wanted to admit to having given the order to destroy everything. That one document points to George Pearkes, who then comes back to Hugh Campbell and says, “Okay, then we should destroy everything before it goes to Crown Assets Disposal.” It gets agreed to by a number of other people, all of whom over the years denied they had any knowledge that this was happening. I found a document very similar, saying, “Yes, we're going to destroy…” blah, blah, blah, blah. A bunch of signatures. Well, I tracked one of the folks down, Air Vice-Marshal Easton, who I believe was the last project manager on the Arrow.

    I asked him “Why?” Well, he basically said that “We knew that we had one of the most advanced pieces of engineering sitting there, the five completed Arrows and the others.” He said, “We also knew that there were moles in the Arrow plant.” A mole being somebody who was there trying to spirit out technical information on the project, sending it back to the Soviet Union in this case.

    JA: A mole, also known as a spy…

    PC: He said, “We couldn't maintain security around it. Now that it was cancelled, there wasn't much you could do with it.” We only had five airplanes. We couldn't fly them or whatever. They did try to interest the National Research Council, [to see] if they could use them as even static testbeds and whatnot.

    In fact, that's one of the reasons why the nose piece, the cockpit of 206, still exists. It was actually sent to the Institute of Aviation Medicine in Toronto. Again, I've heard other people say it went to the NRC. No , it did not go to the NRC, it went to this institute, which was part of the RCAF in the Toronto area. They used it there to test the pressure suits and whatnot, because they could pressurize the cabin and those kinds of things. Basically, he said, “There was nothing else we could do with it. So to protect it, in that sense, we destroyed it. We also destroyed the technical information.”

    On that part— Aviation Week magazine from 1959 actually has an article about that where they quote Canadian government officials [stating] that the technical information was being destroyed as it could aid a potential enemy. This is the Cold War era, a lot of concern about spy-versus-spy-versus-spy type of thing. In fact, there's a really interesting book that came out a couple of years ago. It's called— Actually, I'm not sure what the name— It's called Shattered Illusions by Don Mahar. He's [a] Canadian who used to work in CSIS.

    JA: CSIS stands for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and is Canada‘s primary national intelligence service.

    PC: In there, he talks about the moles that were in the plant. There was one mole in the plant itself, who was spiriting out information, and then there was his handler, as they call it, outside, who would get that information and send it back to the Soviet Union.

    And that's been written, I should indicate, in other sources as well, even in Europe. A few years back, I think just before the Soviet Union collapsed or just after, the military archivist there escaped or fled the Soviet Union with 10,000 pages of transcribed documents and together with a historian from Britain, they produced a book, which I believe was called the Mitrokhin Archives or something along that line. In there, there is actually a page that talks about the two guys at the Avro plant that were involved in spiriting secrets out to the Soviet Union.

    That's basically the only explanation I've been able to find in terms of why everything was destroyed. What's interesting about that, when you look at those destruction orders, [is] they don't talk about destroying photographs. I know I did interview some people, ex-Avro employees, who said, “No, no, we were told everything had to be destroyed.” That could very well be, you know people interpret orders in different ways, but from the government perspective, that's not in there. Today, we have a lot of surviving photographs and videos and that sort of thing. Yes, that was the reason for, unfortunately, destroying everything.

    JA: If almost everything pertaining to the Arrow was destroyed, that must have made it difficult to find documents here at LAC. Palmiro lets us in on his research techniques and some of the ways he was able to uncover all these documents…

    PC: The technical stuff [got] destroyed, but not the memos, not the decision documents and that sort of thing. The problem there was trying to find those documents. It wasn't easy. When I first came to the Archives and I asked for everything on the Avro Arrow, I got one box with a couple of file folders in it, maybe 30 or 40 pages worth, which told me nothing. What I ended up having to do was make requests that were more general in nature.

    In other words, I would find files or— The way it works here is they would produce an index of titles of documents, so you could get some idea of what might be in there. I would look for titles like “Air defence, 1940 to 1960,” “Air transportation” same time frames, that kind of thing. It was only doing that and spending hours upon hours upon hours, that I was able to find all of these other documents. It was really an effort of asking generic questions and then going through thousands and thousands of records, literally, to find what was there.

    In some cases, it also meant requesting whether or not there were files from specific people. I asked for George Pearkes, did get a few things from there, Pearson as the Liberal minister at the time, that kind of thing. Going through all of those records, Cabinet Conclusion documents, Privy Council documents. I went and asked for those, “Do you have Privy Council documents from that era in 1950, the discussions that were taking place?” generically. Sure enough, there's all kinds of information. That's where I found some of these statements.

    JA: As well as requesting documents through our regular Access to Information request process and and having photocopies made, Palmiro also took advantage of LAC's DigiLab at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The DigiLab is a hands-on dedicated space for users and researchers like Palmiro to digitize LAC collections for their study, work and communities. All of the material digitized through the DigiLab is then made available online for general public access. More information about the DigiLab is available on LAC's website.

    In part one of this episode, we spoke with LAC employees Kyle Huth and Andrew Elliott about the documents LAC has in its government and private collections concerning the Avro Arrow. Seeing as Mr. Campagna has done so much research here for his three books on the Avro Arrow and is one of the top experts on the Arrow, we wanted to know from him, what other interesting documents LAC has in its collection that helped him throughout his research.

    PC: Right. What you have available are records from a number of different departments. In fact, in my latest book, I've itemized the ones that I've used. If you look at my other books, the references are all there, but they are the actual records from Department of National Defence, Department of Defence production, Lester B. Pearson files, John Diefenbaker records—although there wasn't much there; I think most of his are in Saskatchewan, but there was the odd thing here, I remember. Records from the Ministry of Transport, records from Canadair, sorry Trans-Canada Airlines or Air Canada.

    You have all of these records that are available. They have now been cataloged into thematic guides.

    Now you can plug-in, even online, “Avro Arrow” and you don't have to go through the hell I went through, pardon my comment, to find them.

    JA: Thematic guides help users and researchers by providing background information and links to supporting material. These guides are meant to highlight the wealth of content available in specific subject areas, but not provide comprehensive coverage of a topic. LAC has a whole thematic guide on the Avro Arrow, which can easily be found in the Military Heritage section of our website.

    PC: They're all neatly categorized and catalogued, as far as I know, unclassified. In addition to those, you've got photographs in various collections, some of which were donated after the fact, from individuals.

    You've got videos in your Moving [Images] and Sound [Recordings] sections, both silent videos of the Arrow as well as audio like the Supersonic Sentinel. There's also videos of the launches of the models, also with audio in those, that you can have access to. They've been declassified. Basically, there's a whole host of materials that are very easy to access now and some of them are even available online. They've been digitized and you can actually download them from your desk, whatever.

    JA: In the 60 years since the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project, there have been many rumours floating around. We're sure Palmiro has heard and even written about some of them. Here's one we asked him.

    Does he thinks there are any complete Avro Arrows still in existence? Any that survived the dismantling?

    PC: No. I would say very simply I know there are a lot of people who cling to the hope that there's at least one Arrow kicking around somewhere. Everything that I have seen and read convinces me completely that everything was destroyed. I referenced a memo earlier from July of 1959, I believe, which clearly says three of the five aircraft are completely disassembled, the other two will be completed within the coming weeks and Arrow 206 has been completely disassembled. Here, we are in July—they know exactly what is being taken apart and what isn't being taken apart.

    Anybody who might've had an interest in trying to hide the Arrow or steal it somehow or whatever, they've all left the company. There's nothing left there, and they know that the torches are coming in, and they're tearing everything apart. I think one of the sources of the rumours that one got away, stems from some of the photographs that were taken where you have one photograph, an overhead shot, it's black and white, which shows five Arrows on the tarmac. The fifth one is already started to be disassembled. Then there's some colored photographs that were taken from a different angle. In those, that one aircraft has been disassembled even more, so you know that that photograph came just after the black and white one, but Arrow 202 further in the distance in the [first] photograph is missing completely.

    There's no way that they took it apart in the span of time that those two pictures were taken. The only thing that kind of makes sense to me in that scenario is that we know, again thanks to the Archives, that 202 was being— that they were installing the Hughes fire control system from the United States, which was a highly secretive, classified system. We know the business of the moles trying to get information on whatever they could. My guess is that 202 was brought back into the hangar where they could remove that equipment without anybody taking pictures, without anybody flying over and whatever, and that's where it was destroyed. So yeah, there is no Arrow out there.

    JA: Isn't there parts of one of the Arrows at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa?

    PC: Ok, what we have at the Aviation Museum is the cockpit of Arrow 206, the one that was sent to the Institute of Aviation Medicine in Toronto, not [to] the National Research Council. It's there and you can actually see the torch marks in the back of it when you get up close, where they literally cut it to pieces. For some reason not on display, they have some of the two wingtips off in the back. They have an Iroquois engine, which is on display.

    They have part of the nose landing gear, I believe it is, which I think is still on display and that's about it. Also in the back, they have a Bomarc missile, which is what sort of replaced the Arrow when it was cancelled. I think those are the biggest pieces that are still on display. There's a radome—that's the black piece at the very front of the airplane. It's on display at the [Canadian] War Museum actually, here in Ottawa. I think they have one or two of those somewhere else in Canada. There's little bits and pieces out there, but nothing of significance.

    JA: The story goes that the nose cone section of the Avro Arrow on display at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum was actually smuggled out of the Avro plant by members of the RCAF Flying Personnel Medical Establishment. The commanding officer of that unit, Commander Roy Stubbs, gave the Western Canada Aviation Museum magazine this quote about how they got it out…

    “One day, after a change of government, the new RCAF Chief of the Air Staff came to inspect our facilities and programs and after lunch, I asked if he would like to see something special. I showed him a piece of the Arrow's cockpit section and engine nacelles and a few other bits. I asked him what we should do with it and he said to keep it hidden until the climate in Ottawa was right, and then he would arrange to have it placed in the National Aeronautical Museum in Ottawa. Eventually this was done and at least a bit of history was saved.”

    JA: We asked Palmiro what sort of impact the cancellation had. What was the reaction of the Canadian public?

    PC: Within a week, 10,000 of the employees crowded into the Coliseum building in the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The Avro plant was in Malton, west end of Toronto. They did what they could, they protested, but nothing came out of it. I see on file, people wrote letters to the Minister saying, “Don't cancel,” whatever. Generally speaking, there were a lot of newspaper articles coming out saying that this was a good thing, because they were under the impression that the thing— that it was costing too much, that it was breaking the bank or whatever.

    There were one or two reporters in particular, I don't recall the names now, who were really against the Arrow for whatever reason. A lot of negativity on the one side, but then others pointing out all the benefits, etc., that we would have gotten on the other side. I guess that tug of war has been going on ever since. I keep running into all kinds of people who were impacted by the cancellation, who say it was just devastating to their family.

    Some ended up going back to Britain because they had immigrated here on purpose, to work in high tech. Some ended up, as we said earlier, working in the United States with NASA and whatnot. There were some that— like one guy who ended up pumping gas for a few years before he was able to get back into [the] aeronautical [field]. The impact was there, it still resonates today.

    JA: We asked Palmiro to tell us more about the employees who ended up working for NASA. How did that come about?

    PC: Within days, literally, of the cancellation, NASA had their offices set up in Canada, as did a number of other US companies, hiring people. In fact, they'd already been in negotiations actually with Avro. Why did they want the Avro people so badly? Well, I've written about that in my latest book. It's not that NASA didn't have the people to do that work either. The problem, at least as it was explained to me back then, was that the people doing research in space-related stuff, they were scientists, engineers, whatever, but working in a very narrow, specific field.

    What was needed were people that had industry experience, marketing experience, managing personnel experience, and those people were in their industries. The problem was that NASA was looking at a two-year program. They were having issues of convincing people to leave good jobs to go work for them for two years without necessarily having a job afterwards, because you can bet your industry is going to hire somebody in behind you to fill that gap.

    In comes Avro: We just cancelled everything, we've got people with engineering experience, managerial experience, communications experience, marketing experience, they had it all. Those 25 guys had exactly what NASA needed at that point in time to turn what the 400 (or 500 or however many people) were working on in their labs into actual products, into an actual capsule that they needed for John Glenn.

    That's what the contribution was from Avro. They could have kept that contribution in Canada if we had work or something for them to do. It was either they [went] to the States, or they went back to Britain or wherever, or [they were] Canadians; because it was really a mix. I think out of the 25 people [who went to NASA], at least 10 or 12 had been born in Canada; the others had gotten their Canadian citizenship, or whatever. I don't know what those other 12 did, except go to the States for that work.

    JA: This talk of NASA leads us back to more rumours from the past. In Palmiro's first book, he mentions that one persistent rumour seemed to be that the United States pressured Canada into cancelling the project. We asked Palmiro, according to his research here at LAC, what was his take on the implication of the US government related to the cancellation.

    PC: Yes, that's an interesting question which comes up. When you look at the documents, the archival record from both Canada and the United States, you will see, for lack of a better term, American fingerprints all over the place. What I mean by that is we get the okay from the American government and the British government, militaries, I should say, to start the project in the first place. We actually went and asked that question, “Should we develop this thing?” About four or five years later, again, from the archival record, we asked, “Should we continue this development?”

    In each case, we get a yes from the United States and we get a yes from Britain, mostly from the United States. Then, we look at the intelligence regarding the missiles. It's coming from the United States. We look at– Just after we cancelled the project, the United States comes back and says, “Yes, you need aircraft after all.” I read out that one cabinet document where they've now changed their mind. George Pearkes as the Minister of National Defense is quoted in an American document as telling the Americans that Canada would abandon aircraft altogether unless the United States really thought they were necessary. This is our minister making this comment, it's ridiculous.

    We keep getting or taking the lead from the United States. Now, the question becomes not so much did they pressure Canada, but was there at some level malicious intent or was this just a fallout of the US being the US, “We do it this way, so you should do it this way.” Ok and we acquiesce and go ahead and do it, messing up ourselves in the process and the US saying, “Well, it wasn't us, you didn't have to take our advice.”

    So that's the real question, and that's what I was trying to answer a bit in my first book. If there was malicious intent or if they had a reason to want the Arrow cancelled, what might that reason have been? That's where I get into the speculation and I see in there that it's speculative. The potential compromise of their U-2 spy program if the Soviets get Arrow technology and build their own airplanes that can go up and shoot them down and all that kind of stuff. That's what that's all about, it's just trying to understand at some level if there would have even been a reason for the Americans to be upset or worried about Canada.

    We know for a fact that the American industry wasn't too happy in that they did not want the US to consider purchasing any foreign aircraft for that matter, especially the Arrow. That's well documented, that's written in black and white, so who knows if they were putting any kind of pressure every time our guys went down there to say, “Hey, why don't you consider buying— You've told us to build this plane. Why aren't you buying it with us?”

    We know from the record that the Air Force was very interested in the Arrow. They wanted to bring it into their inventory. That's there and people have pointed that out and said, “See, the US was working with us, blah, blah, blah.” Hold on. At that level, absolutely, they wanted the Arrow. They even loaned us their wind tunnels and the rest of it, but at the bureaucratic and governmental level, it was a totally different story. The Secretary of the Air Force said flat out, “There's no way they would ever buy the Arrow.”

    Their External Affairs guy basically said the same thing that, “No, they couldn't buy the Arrow because their own industry was experiencing issues and they had to support their own industry, blah, blah, blah.” There's various levels here that one has to look at, but it really comes down to, “Was there any kind of malicious intent or was it just a happenstance that we accepted everything that we were told in terms of intelligence and whatnot and made our decisions accordingly?”

    That's where that argument really has to end because I don't think we're going to prove one way or the other. People have passed away trying to get access to records in the US. It's very difficult, although I managed to get some. So to get back to the question, I think in there I said that there was more of—not so much pressure but, I forget the word I used—influence. I think people have to acknowledge that because it's all over the place. All the records talk about what we're getting from the US or what we're asking of the US. Behind it, is that whole question of malicious intent or not.

    JA: How has the Avro Arrow left its mark on Canadian history?

    PC: That's an interesting question. As I said, anytime you mention Avro Arrow it makes the news for one reason or another, whether it's the anniversary of the cancellation, whether it's something they pulled out of the water, whether it's a new book that's coming out on the subject. It's left a huge mark because so many people were impacted by that cancellation. As I said, I'll be signing books and I have people coming up to me, even here in Ottawa, telling me how their parent, father, uncle, brother, whatever, worked on the project and was devastated when it was cancelled. They had to pack everything up and leave.

    One guy told me a really interesting story. He said that right after the cancellation they did end up calling a few people back because, as we said, the company continued for a couple more years. His dad was one of the ones that was called back because he'd been working in some specialized electronics stuff, but the rest of his team hadn't been and they were unemployed. So his dad hired these guys to paint his house so they at least had some work in the interim. It's incredible.

    When you combine that with the numbers that were involved, whether it was 25,000 or 100,000, [and the] companies that supposedly also shut their doors—I haven't been able to pinpoint which ones because I think that would be next to impossible, I'm talking about the subcontractors, the 650, whatever—it left a huge mark. Maybe one of the biggest ones was the big question of what might have been, because these guys weren't just going to be working on airplanes, they could have been working on all kinds of things.

    The point being that they had all these other ideas that we lost, which is why I call one of the chapters in my book, “A Future Lost.” Yes, we recouped and we did other things and people talk about the CanadaArm and all that good stuff. We've done excellent things there, but I think the Arrow was always in the forefront in some of these discussions because of that “What if” and “What might have been?”

    JA: In Palmiro's first book on the Arrow, entitled Storms of Controversy, he wrote, “Although it has been said that the Canadian aerospace industry suffered a major setback with the cancellation of the Arrow, I believe the country as a whole was affected psychologically.” We asked him what he meant by that.

    PC: Yeah, and the reason I made that statement—that's from my first book way back. I grew up in the early '60s, late '50s and there was always this—I don't know if you'd call it an attitude or whatever—that if it's Canadian, it can't be any good. I can't prove that that came from the cancellation of the Arrow or whatever, but for some bizarre reason, we always had this feeling that if Canadians had developed it, that there was a problem with it.

    That's why I kind of generalized and said I think this could have affected a lot of people in more than just losing a job or whatever, but maybe actually, in some minds saying, “Jeez, we can't do anything here. We cancelled the jetliner. Now we cancelled the Arrow. Are we that bad at doing things?” That type of thing. But knowing full well that no, it wasn't that at all. It was other reasons for that. So that was just a statement that—something to think about.

    But I think in the last years, at least since the '60s anyways, we've proven that we can do stuff on a shoestring budget, just as good if not better than anybody else. There's more than just the Canadarm that people can point to. We've got advances in battery cell technologies, quantum computing, simulators, a whole bunch of stuff out there, that Canada has been doing and doing very well over the years. The issue is, don't lament the loss of the Arrow anymore. But rather, look at the future and try to figure out how we can turn things—not turn things around, but keep things going in a positive direction.

    JA: If you're interested in learning more about the Avro Arrow here at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca.

    On the episode page for this podcast, you will find a number of links related to the Arrow, including our Flickr album which highlights a selection of photos from our collection.

    Thank you for joining us. I'm your host, Josée Arnold. You've been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—Where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guest today, Palmiro Campagna. Thanks also to Isabel Larocque for her contribution to this episode. All music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

    This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.

    If you liked this episode, we invite you to subscribe to the podcast. You can do it through the RSS feed located on our website, through Apple Podcasts, or from wherever you get your podcasts.

    If you're interested in listening to the French equivalent of our podcast, you can find French versions of all our episodes on our website, at Apple podcasts and on Spotify. Simply search for “Découvrez Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

    For more information on our podcasts, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts.

Host: Josée Arnold, Manager, Governance, Liaison and Partnerships

Guest: Palmiro Campagna, Author, Researcher and Retired Engineer


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