Artifacts: Scale model

January 16, 2019 by Sharon Adams

Legion Magazine’s Stephen J. Thorne sat down with Erin Gregory, Assistant Curator at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, to discuss what is perhaps the most divisive Canadian project and program of the 20th century – The Avro Arrow. A component of the Artifacts feature series by Sharon Adams. Please turn up the volume! A technical error occurred with the microphone during recording.

Divers work to raise the artifact and a drawing of the modified airframe captures the space-age feeling that caught the nation’s imagination.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum/CR014577; Raise the Arrow

A masterwork of aircraft design, the Avro Arrow had a short life. Last year, an early prototype was recovered from Lake Ontario


Generations of Canadians have been awed by the elegant sweep of its delta wings, the space-aged pointed nose promising to punch a hole in the sky. Alas, the object of their fascination, the Avro Arrow, has been dubbed the greatest aircraft never to fly.

When the Avro Arrow project was called off in 1959, the federal government tried to eradicate every trace of Canada’s cancelled Cold War supersonic interceptor jet program, lest the technology end up in Russia’s hands. Everything was ordered destroyed—plans, drawings, models, photographs, lab materials. The half dozen planes in flight tests, meant to be the first of at least 100, were cut up and sold for scrap.

Aside from the large film collection rescued by disobedient members of Avro Canada’s photo department, only bits and pieces have survived. At least, on land.

But somewhere under the waters of Lake Ontario lie nine one-eighth sized free-flight models of the Arrow.

A high-speed impact with the water likely bent the nose and damaged the wing of the Avro test vehicle recovered from Lake Ontario.

Great excitement followed an announcement in 2017 that one had been located, followed by great surprise at what was brought to the surface in 2018—one of three Delta Test Vehicles, sporting early designs of the Arrow’s iconic triangular wings.

“These models and subsequent free-flight models are part of a program to test aspects of the airframe, wing design, elevator function and behaviour in flight, particularly at very high speeds,” said Erin Gregory, assistant curator at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, where conservators are working on it. “These pieces tell the story of how this Canadian icon was built.”

The museum has several large Arrow artifacts—a nose section of one aircraft, wing tips of another, and a lot of smaller objects. Some artifacts are in private hands, rescued by the designers and technicians for whom “this was their life’s work, their pride and joy.”

Engineer Ralph Stafford, whose landing gear sports a signature twist and tuck, was asked to cut it out of each airplane, which he did, when given permission to keep one of the pieces. That landing gear is now in the museum’s collection, said Gregory.

Avro Arrow fans eagerly look forward to resumption of the search for other free-flight models this year. Searchers from the Raise the Arrow team have four targets of particular interest, said Gregory.

The Avro Arrow has been the subject of admiration and fascination for more than six decades, the dream of what might have been for the Canadian jet aviation industry had the program not been cancelled, had Avro Canada not gone under, had the country not lost about 30,000 researchers and technicians in the famous “brain drain” following its collapse.

Some former Avro employees went on to successful careers with NASA and British Aerospace, helping develop the U.S. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Former Avro design chief Jim Chamberlin of Kamloops, B.C., became head of engineering for Project Mercury—which put John Glenn into orbit in 1962. He also designed the Gemini capsule, was a troubleshooter for Apollo spacecraft, and worked on early space shuttle designs.

The first Avro Arrow officially rolls out on Oct. 4, 1957.
  • Palmiro Campagna

    The artifact raised from Lake Ontario was in fact part of the Canadian Velvet Glove missile development program which was ongoing in 1953 to 1956. The Glove was a missile for use on subsonic aircraft but was cancelled in favour of the Sparrow 2. Three test Gloves of the Delta variety were ground launched in 1953 and 1954. According to an Arrow test report, mention is made of two DTTVs being launched in 1956, to act as vehicles for testing the tracking systems at Point Petre, prior to the launch of the Arrow models. While the acronym is not spelled out in the Avro report, a presumption is that it may stand for Delta Test Tracking Vehicle. The Delta vehicle itself would not have been used to influence the Arrow’s design. Its fuselage is circular. The Arrow was rectangular. The artifact has straight delta wings. The Arrow wings were swept back from initial concept design. The artifact is not to scale and it has a lengthy extension in the aft end. Details on the Velvet Glove program and the artifact, from documents I had declassified from the archives, are contained in my book, The Avro Arrow: For the Record which came out in February of this year.

  • Palmiro Campagna

    With respect to the video interview, just a couple of points: A couple of points in this video.
    RL206 was sent not to NRC but to the RCAF, Institute of Aviation Medicine. Page 136 of The Avro Arrow: For the Record cites the applicable document. This institute was in Toronto.
    In his memo of January 12 1959 to the MND, Hugh Campbell Chief of the Air Staff wrote that with adoption of the Hughes Fire control system and Falcon missiles, the date of introduction into service of the Arrow would advance from the spring of 1961 to September 1960. Page 99 of For the Record refers.
    While there is no argument the Arrow cost was high, it did not factor into the cancellation. For the Record cites documents from the Chiefs of Staff Committee, from the Canadian Ambassador to the US, from George Pearkes, Minister of National Defence, from Donald Flemming, Minister of Finance at the time and many others from Canada and the United States. Whenever cost was mentioned, it was related to what defence capability would be obtained for any sum, from a weapon system that was erroneously deemed to have been overtaken by both events and technology, in the form of the missile. In the end, the cost of the Arrow was down to $3.5 million per aircraft on the basis of 88, according to audit records. This was more than comparable to the US F106, the aircraft once examined as a potential replacement.
    The delta wing was not in itself an innovation as delta wings were manifest in other aircraft at the time, like the French Mirage and the F102 and later the F106. There were some unique aspects to the Arrow’s wing, however, a true advanced innovation was the 4,000 psi hydraulic system.

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