CBC Digital Archives

Brain drain: Avro engineers head to the U.S.

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, and the stuff of legends.

Avro's greatest asset is the team of top-notch engineers it has assembled from across Canada and around the world. But since Black Friday it looks like Canada's aviation industry is on its last legs, and there is no longer a future for these bright minds in this country. Efforts are made to keep them together, but soon the exodus begins - particularly to an eager United States and its burgeoning space program.
• Avro vice president of engineering Jim Floyd worked to install teams of Avro engineers in American companies like Lockheed and Boeing, hoping they could eventually return to Avro. But Avro never reopened, and Floyd himself returned to Britain to work on the Supersonic Transport studies that led to the Corcorde. Other Avro engineers found work at General Electric and Pratt & Whitney in the U.S.

• In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had formed the Space Task Group to put astronauts in space. Thirty-three Avro engineers and scientists were recruited, and went on to help develop the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

• Avro chief of design Jim Chamberlain lead the Canadians at the Space Task Group and was a key designer of the Mercury capsule that put John Glenn into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962 – the third anniversary of Black Friday. Several ex-Avro employees went on to work at NASA's Mission Control.

• Avro president Crawford Gordon, who once drew a salary greater than that of the president of the United States, was fired after the cancellation. He worked in Montreal for a while, squandering a $3-million fortune, and died impoverished in New York City in January 1967. Friends say he drank himself to death.
Medium: Television
Program: Dateline Special
Broadcast Date: March 2, 1980
Guest(s):
Narrator: Cy Strange
Producer: George Robertson
Writer: George Robertson
Duration: 1:17

Last updated: January 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

John Diefenbaker: extra clips

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Woodstock Remembered

They say if you can remember Woodstock, you weren't really there. Of course, that's not entire...

John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Barbara Frum: Pioneering Broadcaster Part 2

The sudden death of Barbara Frum on March 26, 1992 shocked Canadians. The loss of one of the c...

Leaders' Debates 1968-2011: Highlights

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televis...

Barbara Frum: Pioneering Broadcaster Part 1

The sudden death of Barbara Frum on March 26, 1992 shocked Canadians. The loss of one of the c...