CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006
The saga of the Avro Arrow is absolutely fascinating from several points of view. As a Canadian success story of engineering design and development, it can hardly be rivaled. Equally, as a tale of political interference and wrong-headed decision making, it is also top of the line. The Arrow, or CF-105 as it was originally designated, was Canadian from tip to tail: design, development, engine, components, the works, and had the (occasionally half-hearted, but at least present) support of Pearson's Liberal government and the then Minister of Trade and Commerce, C.D. Howe, during the early and mid-1950s. Then Diefenbaker's Conservatives defeated the Liberals over the pipeline fiasco, gaining first a minority and then, nine months later, an overwhelming majority government. Dief was apparently keener on sucking up to American interests than he was in developing a Canadian aviation industry, but by then the Arrow had been unveiled, the project was 90% complete, and flight trials were being overwhelmingly positive. The project should have been beyond being cancelled. It was not. On February 20, 1959, Dief made a speech in the House of Commons, terminating both the Arrow and its offshoot, the Iroquois engine, projects. Twenty-five hundred skilled workers at the Downsview site lost their jobs at one blow. It was remarkable that the government could get away with this, but, with over two hundred seats in the House and cities like Toronto packing less political clout than they do today, it did. The final, most inexplicable, thing was that all the aircraft, plans, and blueprints were ordered destroyed! Five of the six completed machines were, in fact, chopped up for scrap, but the sixth, again inexplicably, ended up being ditched in the waters of Lake Ontario.
It's a great backdrop for a good story, and the psychological explanation for cancellation and destruction of the plane is possible, if not really very satisfying. It is unfortunate that the text doesn't flow along a bit more smoothly. In an effort to be sure we, the readers, all understand the political ramifications, Reid has Robbie eavesdropping on the engineers' Friday night get-togethers after work--where his mother does, in fact, supply the sandwiches and coffee!--but where her colleagues carefully give full name and occupation of the @#$&* SOB who is mucking up 'their' plane! (Expletives merely implied.) Robbie's conversations with his friends also sound stilted, even when they are talking baseball or Lonnie Donegan recordings, so that the whole story seems a bit fake. That is too bad; it's still interesting, but it could have been so much better. And I do wish someone could answer some of the questions that remain about the fate of the Arrow!
Mary Thomas works in elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, but is presently on leave in Oxford.
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