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COLUMN: Our region had direct connection to Avro

History columnist Richard MacLeod kicks off three-part series about the historic aircraft manufacturer dating back to First World War
Avro Lancaster from the Battle of Britain.

This column kicks off my three-part series on the Avro Arrow and its place not only in Canada’s aeronautical history, but that of the world.

My series starts with the early days, the research and development phase, then the subsequent cancellation of the project and finally what happened once the project had ended.

I was drawn to this topic for several reasons. My uncle, George Luesby, worked on the Avro Arrow prior to joining De Havilland and I spent my early years hearing about this wonder of Canadian technology. 

Secondly, some will remember that the Newmarket Heights community was built to accommodate many of the workers recruited from England and other countries for their jet-propulsion aircraft unit expertise. Newmarket and area had a direct connection to the Arrow production and its cancellation proved devastating to our local population.

Let us begin with a little background on the British aircraft manufacturer in existence from 1910 to 1963 through to the Avro International Aerospace unit of the 1990s.

A.V. Roe and Company (Avro) was established on Jan. 1, 1910 in Manchester, England by two brothers — Alliott Verdon Roe and Humphrey Verdon Roe — and was one of the world’s first aeronautics firms. 

The company’s legal name was A. V. Roe and Company, however as you can see from its logo, everyone called it Avro Aircraft. The company was fully merged into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1963, which would include De Havilland Canada.

The first Avro aircraft produced in any quantity was the Avro E or Avro 500, which was first flown in March 1912. Eighteen were manufactured for the newly formed British Royal Flying Corps.

The company also would build the first aircraft with enclosed crew accommodation in 1912, the monoplane Type F.  A small number were bought by the British War Office before the outbreak of the First World War and were primarily used as a training aircraft until 1933.

Did you know that Avro also built motor vehicles after the First World War due to a drop in interest in aeronautics? Avro would produce a three-wheeler Harper Runabout, as well as their own light car powered by a 1,330-cc, four-cylinder engine. Wood and aluminum were used as part of its construction like in an aircraft. Approximately 100 were built.

In 1928, Avro was sold to Armstrong Siddeley Holdings and, in 1935, Avro became a subsidiary of Hawker Siddeley.

I am not sure if people realize that come the Second World War, Avro designed the Lancaster, likely the best-known bomber of the war, and the delta wing Avro Vulcan used during the Cold War. More than 7,000 Lancasters were built, and its bombing capabilities would lead to their use in the famous Dam Buster raids.

Its factory employed approximately 17,500 workers and was the largest building in Europe at the time, at 1.5 million square feet (140,000 square metres). The Lancaster carried the heaviest bomb loads of the war, including the famous Grand Slam bomb.

After the war, the civilian Lancastrian and maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Shackleton, would rise from the extremely successful Lancaster design. Avro would continue to produce aircraft for the RAF and commercial market. It was their aircraft that would provided important humanitarian services during the Berlin Airlift.

The post-war Vulcan bomber, which was originally designed as a nuclear-strike aircraft, was used to maintain the British nuclear deterrent, armed with the Avro Blue Steel stand-off nuclear bomb. The Vulcan saw service as a conventional bomber during the British Falkland Islands campaign and continued to be prized as museum exhibits.

The Avro name was resurrected by British Aerospace when it began manufacturing regional jetliners. Three differently sized versions of the four-engine jetliner were produced: Avro RJ70, Avro RJ85 and, the largest example, Avro RJ100.

In 1945, the Hawker Siddeley Group purchased the former Canadian company, the Victory Aircraft firm, and renamed it the A.V. Roe Canada. Known as Avro Canada, it was a subsidiary of the Hawker Siddeley Group and used the Avro name for trading purposes.

Within 13 years, Avro Canada became the third largest company in Canada, one of the largest 100 companies in the world, directly employing more than 50,000. Although Avro Canada is best known for the CF-105 Arrow, it had, through constant growth and acquisition, rapidly become a major, integrated company with many diverse holdings. Following the cancellation of the CF-105 Arrow, the company ceased operations in 1962.

When the company was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation family in July 1963, the Avro name ceased to be used in Britain.

I will finish this first introductory article with a few remarks about what the vision was for the Avro Arrow and what prompted its creation.

As we will learn in part two of this series, the Arrow supersonic interceptor, CF-105 Arrow, was our response to the Cold War threat of Russia attacking the North American continent from the Canadian Arctic.

In April 1953, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) issued Specification AIR 7-3 for an all-weather military aircraft capable of Mach 1.5 at 50,000 feet. At the time, it was labelled the most demanding specification in the world and while most international aircraft manufacturers said it simply couldn’t be done, Avro Canada accepted the challenge.

So, what had to be done? The aircraft had to be able to operate in 100F above or below zero. It had to go from idling on a runway to an in-flight cruise speed of Mach 0.92 in just 90 seconds. It was intended to operate from its own hangar, being completely refuelled and re-armed for take-off in less than six minutes.

The weapons bay on an Arrow was to be larger than the bomb bay on a Second World War B-17 bomber. The plan was for the Arrow’s computerized flight-control and weapons systems to be the world’s first fly-by-wire aircraft.

The Arrow, flying at a subsonic cruise of Mach 0.92 would have a projected range of some 750 miles compared to the 350 miles of the Bomarc missiles that were to eventually replace it.

Not only did the Arrow meet these specifications but the first Arrow to fly broke the sound barrier on only its third flight while the second Arrow did so on its second flight and the third Arrow broke the sound barrier on its maiden flight. The results of these test flights served as a strong testament to the outstanding achievements in design, engineering and manufacturing at Avro Canada.

Even though there were five test aircraft built, no two Arrows were ever in the air at one time as Avro only had one telemetry flight test recording system. 

The Canadian Armament Research & Development Establishment, in a report published two years after the aircraft were destroyed, would report that the Avro Arrow had met 95 per cenet of its specification in only 72 hours of test flights. 

The Arrow’s ability to carry a nuclear payload was instrumental in the reported logic of former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who I might remind you, was a Quaker.

I hope you will join me for my next column as I continue the saga of the Avro Arrow.

Sources: Requiem For a Giant: A.V. Roe Canada and the Avro Arrow by Palmiro Campagna, Avro: The History of an Aircraft Company. Wiltshire, UK by Harry Holmes, Avro Aircraft since 1908 by Aubrey J. Jackson, Canadian Aircraft since 1909 by Ken M.  Molson and Harold A. Taylor,  AV Roe & Company at BAE Systems website, A.V. Roe and Company (Avro), A. V. Roe, 1877–1958 website, Clippings about Avro in the 20th Century Press Archives website, "Toronto's Long History of Aerospace Achievement." Boeing Frontiers (online) by Mike Lombardi and Larry Merritt, Library and Archives Canada (official repository of most government documents relating to the Avro CF-105 Arrow project), Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Canada Archives

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod, known as the History Hound, has been an area historian for more than 40 years.