It's the closest thing Canadian industry has to a love story and a murder mystery. The Avro Arrow, a sleek white jet interceptor developed in Malton, Ontario in the 1950s, could have been many things. It might have become the fastest plane in the world, our best defence against Soviet bombers, the catalyst to propel Canada to the forefront of the aviation industry. Instead, it became a $400-million pile of scrap metal.
After four years of work by 14,000 people, the first Avro Arrow is wheeled out of a hangar in Malton, Ont. on Oct. 4, 1957. A huge crowd is on hand to marvel at the sleek white craft. But the Arrow's timing turns out to be disastrous: the Soviet Union launches the Sputnik 1 satellite the same day, diverting attention from the Arrow and prompting some Canadians to begin rethinking the country's approach to strategic defence.
On 20 February 1959- the Avro Arrow's cancellation was announced. The day became known as "Black Friday" in the Canadian aviation industry
"The government... has made a thorough examination in the light of all the information available concerning the probable nature of the threats to... North America in the future years, the alternative means of defence against such threats, and the estimated cost thereof. The conclusion arrived at is that the development of the Arrow aircraft and Iroquois engine should be terminated now"
- Prime Minister Diefenbaker addressing the House of Commons, 20 February 1959
On Black Friday all Avro Arrow aircraft were attacked by chainsaws and blow torches which reduced the sleek supersonic interceptors to small bits of metal….all blueprints, paperwork , correspondence, microfilm and any paper trail even remotely associated to the Arrow project was destroyed.
The sad irony of it all is, two years after black Friday, the RCAF took possession of 66 used McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet fighters from the United States to fill its need for a supersonic interceptor.
Due to the sudden loss of their jobs, Thirty-three Avro engineers and scientists were recruited by NASA, and went on to help develop the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
According to legend, early the very next morning, many locals reported to be woken by the unmistakable sound of an Arrow taking off. Some say that that one of the test pilots rescued a jet from the blowtorches and chainsaws, and in the early hours of the morning, departed for an undisclosed location, never to be seen again.
Perhaps it is only legend, but it is nice to wonder if somewhere in Canada is an old barn, who's wooden doors may very well be hiding the last surviving Arrow.
Test Pilot Janusz Zurakowski, wrote: "Governments and torches can destroy an aircraft, but they cannot destroy hope, and aspiration... In the hearts of the people, the dream lives on."