Who killed the Avro Arrow?

A panel of experts at the University of Saskatchewan talked about what brought down the made-in-Canada fighter jet program.

U of S Academics say high costs, outdated technology cancelled ambitious fighter jet program

A panel of engineering and political studies professors got together last night to talk about one of the most controversial decisions made by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker — the death of the Avro Arrow.

The Arrow was a made-in-Canada fighter jet that was seen as one of the most advanced planes of its day. The plane was designed to intercept bombers from the U.S.S.R. and destroy them before they reached major cities.

After spending millions of dollars developing the project, Diefenbaker's government disbanded the plan, and ordered all prototypes destroyed.

However, that doesn't mean Diefenbaker rushed into the decision.

"People have to remember that Diefenbaker kept the project going from the time he was elected in 1957 until 1959," said Russell Isinger, a professor of political studies. "He and cabinet certainly agonized over the decision, so he looked at it every way." 

Isinger says the project had become far too expensive, and Diefenbaker had other priorities.

"The Diefenbaker government had come to office promising increased pensions, reduced taxes, crop assistance for western farmers, the beginning of hospital insurance, so they had to weigh that budget against all the other budgetary requirements," he said.

Isinger says the final blow against the project came with the advent of long-range nuclear missiles. Suddenly, fighter jets were no longer as important to the military.

The panel was part of an exhibit titled "Touch the Sky: The Story of Avro Canada" at the University of Saskatchewan's Diefenbaker Centre.

The exhibit runs until December 15.


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