Tuesday, 11 September 2012


The news that a company known as Bourdeau Industries has proposed reviving the Avro Arrow as a replacement for the CF-18 in place of the F-35 has come as a surprise to everyone.

As suggested by LewisMackenzie the concept of a “Mark 3”Arrow using updated technology seems at first almost like a joke, even Mackenzie had to make it clear that he was serious when he backed the proposal.

It’s easy to say that this idea is crazy. It’s not hard to think of half a dozen good reasons why this bird will never fly. But let’s be a little crazy ourselves. Instead of coming up with reasons why it couldn’t possibly work, why not think of a few reasons it could work.

Canada does need interceptors. Both to fulfill our NORAD obligations and to maintain sovereignty Canada needs long range interceptors. Air policing, by a variety of names, has become a new priority for Air Forces since 9/11. The need to be able to control the airspace over ones urban centers and to patrol the continental borders is in some ways even more important then it was during the cold war when Mutually Assured Destruction made the air defence role at least partially redundant. F-35’s will not make particularly good interceptors.

Canada is planning to buy F-35’s to fulfill our various Alliance obligations, but F-35s are not the only way to gain the leverage Canadians traditionally try to maintain by joining alliances. As well as armed drones, Canada could offer electronic warfare capabilities, air-to-air refueling or even airborne early warning aircraft in the place of a handful of F-35’s. All these capabilities are much sought after by our allies in coalition warfare and many of them could be useful to Canada.

The original Arrow foundered on the rocks of pure economics. All conspiracy theories aside, and there is no question that there was industrial and political pressure from the U.S., the numbers just didn’t add up. The Avro Arrow was too expensive and although it’s a bitter pill to swallow the government of the day was probably right to cancel the project when they did.

If a new Arrow project were to succeed it would have to make sure it did not make the same mistakes as its predecessor. Trying to invent, design and build the airframe, the engines, the weapons system and the electronics was too great a stretch. The key to
building a successful Canadian 21st century interceptor is to integrate as much proven technology as possible. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when there are any number of perfectly good wheels around.

As just one example, the characteristics of the Pratt & Whitney F100-200 jet engine as currently used in the F-16 and F-15 aircraft are broadly similar to those of the Orenda Iroquois engines proposed for the original Arrow. Those engines are in widespread use, spares and support will be available for decades to come.

The original Arrow had a detachable nose section, an escape capsule, to allow crew survival when ejecting at high speed and altitude. Ejection seat technology has come a long way and it would be easier, and cheaper to modify a two seat cockpit from an aircraft like the F-15E or even the F18F. This would allow even easier use of the accompanying radar and weapons systems.

A Canadian built interceptor doesn’t have to be “the best fighter in the world”. In fact in the real world those aircraft don’t always have the longest operational lives. A big, fast, high flying, long ranged jet built to military specifications will always have uses.

One final thought, better and best are the biggest enemies of good enough. The Avro Arrow was a better aircraft then the Cf-101 Voodoo which was eventually used instead. It turned out that the Voodoo was good enough. This time around, even if there are better aircraft, a Canadian made long ranged, supersonic interceptor called the Arrow might be good enough.