Avro Arrow A Dream Denied

On February 20, 1959, Prime Minister Diefenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow and Orenda Iroquois programs. The Arrow was Canada's highly advanced delta-winged, supersonic interceptor aircraft. The Iroquois was a new generation of jet engine capable of powering the Arrow. Tens of thousands lost their jobs and many highly skilled engineers left the country to work on other aerospace projects. The planes were sold for scrap and years of work were wasted. The cancellation was a dramatic setback for Canada's aviation industry.

Thousands of people were involved in the Arrow and Iroquois projects. Politicians, the military, sub-contractors, office workers, production line staff - success would depend on a good working relationship among them.

The Decision Makers

John Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister in 1957 largely on promises that favoured Western Canada. The Conservative Diefenbaker looked on the Arrow as a Liberal project that could be cancelled to free funds for his own agenda of social programs.

C.D. Howe was put in charge of the Department of Reconstructin and Supply after the Second World War, and was responsible for converting Victory Aircraft at Malton into A. V. Roe Canada Limited. Delays in producing the CF-100 jet fighter lowered his opinion of A. V. Roe, and he became one of the earliest and most influential opponents of the Arrow.

Crawford Gordon was appointed Manager of A. V. Roe Canada in 1951, at Howe's suggestion. His role was to restructure the company to overcome the problems with the CF-100. His no-nonsense, uncompromising and arrogant ways annoyed Prime Minister Diefenbaker.

Engineers & Designers

There were over 2,000 engineers on the Arrow and Iroquois projects. Many already worked for A. V. Roe, others came from England. While many were recruited from other aircraft companies, some had just finished school and were starting their first job. At the height of production, Orenda Engines Ltd. was employing over 1,600 people to design and build the Iroquois engine.

Test Pilots

There were only four test pilots in the Arrow program. Three were employed by Avro, and one flew on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The five Arrows were flown a total of 70.5 hours.

Waldek Potocki became Chief Test Pilot at Avro after Zurakowski's retirement from flying, and took the Arrow to it's top speed of Mach 1.98 on November 11, 1958.

Peter Cope joined Avro in 1951, and flew more than 1600 hours in the CF-100. Cope's main duties at Avro involved armament development. As the Arrow did not reach this stage, Cope made only 5 flights in the aircraft.

F/Lt. Jack Woodman was the only RCAF pilot to fly the Arrow. On "Black Friday" he asked a gathering of top Avro engineers if he could take one of the Arrows and ditch it in Lake Ontario.

Jan Zurakowski was the first man to fly the Arrow, although he never had his pilot's license. He retired from flying in September 1958, with the Arrow being the last plane he ever flew.

Avro Aircraft and Orenda Engines were subsidaries of A. V. Roe Canada Ltd. Their main production facilities were in Malton, but some engine design and testing was done in Nobel and at Ottawa's National Research Council. Over 650 sub-contractors also contributed to the Arrow and Iroquois projects. Many were in Ontario, some were in Quebec and over 250 were located in the United States.

Testing Grounds

In 1953, supersonic flight was less than 6 years old. The Arrow was intended to fly at Mach 2 - twice the speed of sound or 1,400 m.p.h. To understand aircraft performance at this speed, the Arrow's designers used four levels of intensive testing. Wind Tunnel Testing -Scale models of the Arrow were tested in wind tunnels to improve stability and aerodynamics. Low speed testing was done at the National Research Council in Ottawa. High speed testing was done at 3 American locations. Test Shots - Scale models, launched by Nike rockets, gathered aerodynamic data. These tests were done at the Point Petre range on Lake Ontario and at Langley, West Virginia. Mock-Ups - At Avro Aircraft in Malton, mock-ups were built to test various designs. The mock-ups allowed pilots to test visibility from the cockpit before a plane was actually built. Test Pilot Program - Avro's test pilots trained on the American F-102 Delta Dagger in California before the Arrow was ready to fly. Between March 25, 1958 and February 19, 1959, 66 Arrow test flights were made. Iroquois Engine Testing - Nobel engineers used 16 different rigs to test various Iroquois components. The rig below tested full scale afterburners.

Turbo pump rig installed at Iroquois Engine Test Facility in Nobel.
George Anderson up from Malton, ON to do Vibration Analysis at Nobel plant.
Sector Afterburner Combustion Rig at Nobel plant; L to R: Unknown, Vince Scott.

The Iroquois engine was the result of a long look into the future. In 1953, the Arrow was on the drawing board, and Orenda saw the opportunity to develop an engine capable of powering the supersonic plane. This was risky as the RCAF was not interested in financing a new engine at the time. Charles Grinyer, Chief Development Officer, therefore designed the engine not only for the Arrow, but also to meet American power requirements for the B-52 bomber.

An engine capable of powering the Avro Arrow had to be beyond the state of the art.

About 20% of the engine called for work in completely unknown areas, such as the use of titanium for engine blades. In 1951, only 150 pounds of the metal had been produced. By 1953, this grew to 2,000 pounds to meet Orenda's needs. Hydrogen impurities in titanium made it brittle, causing engine blades to crack. Orenda was forced to develop new refining techniques and was able to overcome this problem. Although titanium was very expensive and its physical properties were not fully understood, its weight savings over steel compelled Orenda to risk its use.

First Canadian source material titanium for Iroquois engine ca. 1954. On loan from Stewart Rahmers.

The Iroquois engines were ahead of their time, so much so, that in 1957, the president of a major American engine manufacturer contracted Orenda to produce the engines in the U.S. under license.

After the Second World War, the threat of communism shaped much of the government's defense policy. Canada's CF-100 fighter plane entered service in 1953, but was considered ineffective against Soviet long range bombers. To meet this threat, the RCAF began to look for a new supersonic interceptor. After a world-wide search, the decision was made to develop a new plane in Canada.

Meeting Challenges

The Avro Arrow was radically different from any other plane in the world. Meeting the strict RCAF specifications resulted in new design and production techniques and the development of new technologies. Avro invested heavily to meet the challenge.

Electronics allowed the Arrow to maneuver with precision at high speed. Fifteen years later, this became the world standard for jet flight control.

Scale model of Closed Circuit CTR 1 for aerodynamic test prior to finalization of design.

Titanium was used in the airframe to reduce the weight of the plane. In the 1950s, titanium was extremely rare, expensive and difficult to use. Avro's sister's company, Orenda, pioneered titanium processing. Titanium is still a major component in high performance planes today.

To shorten the Arrow's development time, the first planes were built on an assembly line, instead of by hand like other aircraft. This could only work because the design was tested more thoroughly than ever before.

At the Malton plant, Avro installed Canada's largest aluminium mill to produce wing panels. A 15,000 ton rubber forming press, the largest in North America, produced metal parts to exact specifications eliminating the need for hand finishing. These saved time and money when building the planes and increased the self-sufficiency of Canada's aviation industry.


On February 20, 1959, A. V. Roe laid off 2,000 engineers and almost 12,000 executives, office employees and production workers. Over the following months, the programs were shut down. Contracts were paid out, parts were returned to suppliers and secret documents and the planes were destroyed. This was common for military projects, but traumatic for the employees and the Canadian public.

Separation of Employment notice given to E. Roy Smith, Maintenance Foreman for the Nobel plant from October 1946, to February 28, 1959. From the West Parry Sound District Museum's permanent collection.

Thousands of homes were put up for sale in Malton and Nobel. Some were literally picked up and moved to towns with brighter futures. By April 1959, destruction of all completed Arrows, components for 31 additional planes and documents was underway. The Iroquois engines met the same fate a few years later.

A. V. Roe Canada Limited, Canada's third largest company in 1958, never fully recovered from the cancellation.

Nobel Testing Establishment

While much of the work on the Arrow and Iroquois was done in Malton, many of the engines components were developed and tested in Nobel. The test facility opened in 1946, and was located on the site of the former Defense Industries Limited explosives plant. The property was already equipped with a power plant, water supply, machine shop, laboratories and offices, which saved the company set-up time and money.

Orenda Engines Ltd. Nobel Test Establishment, ca. 1954. Photo was taken before the construction of Bay 6.
Orenda Engines powerhouse taken from SW; ca. 1955 (before new office building).
Orenda Engines Ltd. Nobel Test Establishment plant site.
Orenda Engines new test cells, 1956.
South west end of Orenda Engines machine shop, Nobel.
Orenda Engines storage buildings. Some of the storage units would have contained Canadian arsenals materials from D.I.L. era.
Fun & Games

It was not all work and no play for Nobel plant employees. Many recreational activities took place during this era including hockey games, curling matches, golf tournaments and annual dinners & events hosted by Orenda and A. V. Roe Ltd.

Photo of the Orenda Engines curlers, ca. 1950s. L to R: Front row - Steve Brewer, Leo Leblanc, Rolly Bernier, Phil Ross Ross, Ernie Thomas, Dennis Baskey, Clarence Griffith, Bob Curtis, Don Cameron. Back row - Bill Barker, Paul Marcock, Howard Dewar, Austin Miller, Clay Marsgeson, Bob O'Donnel, Gord Baskerville, John Cordon.
Photo of the "Nobel Men" band taken in 1950. The men in the photo are: Gord Jennings (Trumpet), Ken Dunk (Guitar), Tommy Fraser (Piano), Art Prosser (Drums).
Orenda Engines Annual A. V. Roe Golf Tournament. L-R: Johnny Scheider, Ron Bowman & Phill Ross teeing off.
Orenda Engines Annual A. V. Roe Golf Tournament.
Family Atmosphere

During its heyday, the Nobel Test Establishment employed roughly 125 people. Staff housing was available in the village thanks to the former C.I.L/D.I.L facilities, and a family atmosphere quickly developed among the employees.

Orenda Engines Ltd. staff dining room, ca. 1950s.
The community centre located in Nobel Village, ca. 1950s.
Sandhurst Road in Nobel Village taken from staff housing looking towards the community centre, ca. 1950s.
Nobel Village staff housing during the Orenda era. The housing was located on 153 Sandhurst Road, ca. 1950s.

More than sixty years after the cancellation of the Arrow and Iroquois projects, people still tell the story. Former employees attend reunions; a play and several films have been produced; and new books are written. The refusal to ignore Canada's accomplishments and the hard work of many individuals has helped preserve the this moment in our history, as well as the memories and triumph's of all involved.

Photo of the Orenda Engines shop personnel, 1957.

Accounts of past employees recall the look on peoples faces when the news of the cancellation was received. Many were told that their last visit would be to pick up their belongings as the plant in Nobel was closing. They returned home that day having to tell their families the news. Employees recall sitting around the kitchen table with their family trying to figure out what to do next and how to make ends meat. For a lot of the workers, more than just one family member worked at the plant, and in some cases it was a family affair, which meant that whole families were out of work.

Material Saved from Cancellation
Orenda Employees' Recreation Club patch.
Employee identification badge for Stanley O'Connor, engineer for Avro Arrow Limited.
Manufacturer's plate with an inventory number from A.V. Roe Limited, in Malton, ON.
Metal calipers used at Orenda plant by Calvin Latham. On loan from Jim Latham.
Test Indicator Gauge used at Orenda plant by Calvin Latham. On loan from Jim Latham.
Cap featureing embroidered patch depicting Avro Arrow. Earnest Hunter worked for Orenda in Malton for 8-9 years as an experimental mechanic on the Chinook, Orenda and Iroquois engines. He worked at Orenda's test facility in Nobel from 1956 to 1959.
Orenda 10 year service lapel pin belonging to Earnest Hunter.
Jet turbine blade salvaged from Nobel Test Establishment.
Stamp from Orenda Engines Limited, Nobel Test Establishment.
Ear plugs used by Dennis Baskey, draftsman at Orenda Engines Limited Nobel Test Establishment.
Tool belt from ORENDA ENGINES LIMITED, Nobel Test Establishment.
This sweater is a souvenir from the show "The Legend of the Avro Arrow" by Clinton Bomphray, put on by the Canadian Stage Company and the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) in association with the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The sweater was purchased March 3, 1990 at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto.
The Arrow & Iroquois showed the world what Canadians were capable of, and will forever remain in our memories as shining examples of spirit and achievement.