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The RCAF needs a new plane

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.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada is one of the world's major industrial powers. The Royal Canadian Air Force is the third largest in the world, and aircraft manufacturer A.V. Roe Canada produced some of the best bombers of the war. In 1949 the company introduces the North America's commercial jet, the Avro Jetliner, but then the Korean War breaks out and all efforts turn towards producing jet warplanes.

Avro's latest success story is the CF-100 "Canuck," a long-range, all-weather jet designed to intercept nuclear-armed Soviet bombers crossing the Arctic Ocean. But there are fears of a "bomber gap," and the RCAF wants a plane that can fly higher and faster than anything currently available. Avro, under new president and general manager Crawford Gordon, has the answer.
• The Royal Canadian Air Force wanted a plane that could defend the Canadian Arctic from new Soviet bombers. They studied all jets that were currently available, including the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, but rejected them. In April 1953, the RCAF announced specification "Air-7-3," calling for a new supersonic twin-engine, two-seat interceptor. The plane was to have a range of 1100 kilometres and a top speed over Mach 1.5. A contract was awarded to Avro in December 1953.

• The Canadian government-owned Victory Aircraft company in Malton was bought by Britain's Hawker Siddeley, and renamed A.V. Roe Canada, which became Avro Canada Ltd.
• Crawford Gordon became president and general manager of A.V. Roe Canada in 1951, at age 37. He was a protégé of Liberal minister C.D. Howe, who was responsible for Canadian industrial production during the Second World War. Gordon immediately diversified the company, turning it into 39 separate companies, including Avro Canada and Orenda Engines.

• The Avro Jetliner was built for Trans Canada Airlines (which became Air Canada.) Only one Jetliner was ever built. It carried airmail from Toronto to New York in April 1950 and set numerous records before C.D. Howe ordered Avro to suspend production and focus on warplanes.
• The sole Jetliner was leased to American aircraft mogul Howard Hughes for six months, who used it as a personal toy. In February 1957 it was cut up for scrap.

• Avro began designing the CF-100 "Canuck" in 1946; the first one flew in January 1950. It is the only operational Canadian combat aircraft ever built. The plane was not ready for use in the Korean war, but 692 were built between 1950 and 1958. Belgium used 53 CF-100s.
• The Canuck took its name from the Curtis JN-4 Canuck trainer used in the First World War. Unofficially, pilots and crew members referred to it as the "Clunk."

• An "interceptor" is any fighter or missile designed to stop enemy aircraft or missiles.
Medium: Television
Program: Dateline Special
Broadcast Date: March 2, 1980
Guest(s): James Floyd, Robert Lindley
Narrator: Cy Strange
Producer: George Robertson
Writer: George Robertson
Duration: 2:33

Last updated: January 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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