Fantasyland: The Arrowmaniacs Strike Again

Canada sure has its mythology under many a banner. Aviation myths involve Billy Bishop shooting down 72 enemy planes in WWI (not), the Beaver being the world’s greatest bushplane (not) and the Avro Arrow being the greatest everything ever made by anyone in the universe (not).

No one with any sense can besmirch the reputation of a Billy Bishop – read The Brave Young Wings, for example, to get a taste of the war in the air 1915-18. Anyone who died, got wounded, cracked up, or somehow survived in that cauldron of death is a special hero in my books. The only argument is with the statistics and some odd details. These things were manipulated by the generals and their PR lackeys far behind the lines where they were suffering no lack of anything – there was no mud but there were clean underwear, silk sheets and booze. These people could make Donald Rumsfeld look like a beginner at fact-twisting, and they didn’t need a Blackberry (no shortage of very effective, hi-tech communicating devices in WWI). Billy Bishop certainly scored high, but not likely anywhere near 72. But it suited “Colonel Rumsfeld i/c propaganda” back there to say that Bishop did so do all that and should have a Victoria Cross. Explanations for this are in the best of books, such as mentioned above, Canadian Airmen and the First World War, etc.

Of course, the 1948 Beaver is a tremendous little workhorse. Who would say no? But not even 2000 Beavers were ever built. Meanwhile, the DC-3 or Beech 18 had been working the bush since the late 1930s, and far exceeded the Beaver in numbers alone on every continent! Then came the Cessna 180/185. Well, Beaver, please stand aside.

The ultimate bushplane in my view has to be the Antonov An-2 biplane: more than 10,000 built, service since 1947 on all continents, incalculable loads carried, current presence still in the many hundreds if not a few thousand, production life from pre-Beaver to post-Beaver, on and on. However, mention this in Canada and you make a new brigade of furious enemies wishing you every malevolence imaginable: “Puleeze, keep the facts to yourself, we Canadians prefer our myths!”

Then comes our beloved Arrow, Canada’s grandest aviation tall tale, and one that never goes away. Wonderful technology project that it was, it wasn’t to be and for all the good reasons. Even so, Arrow silliness again crops up in this April 3, 2009 Toronto Star article. Not surprisingly, the perpetrator is an academic – ironically, when it comes to history, these folks can be pretty sloppy with the facts.

In “Privatization of AECL Radioactive Issue for Ottawa”, Prof. Duane Bratt of Mount Royal College in Calgary, begins irrelevantly and erroneously by harkening back to the Arrow: “In 1959 the Diefenbaker government shut down the Arrow, the world’s most technologically advanced interceptor aircraft. Not only did it mean the demise of a uniquely Canadian high tech invention, but it also forced thousands of highly skilled scientists and engineers to leave the country.”

Well, talk about a crock of doggy doodoo (as I have commented before)! The Arrow was one of many similar advanced fighter projects underway throughout the world during the 1950s. Most of these aircraft concepts never reached production, and all the participant nations moved ahead. Only Canada created a myth out of its unsuccessful effort. Like the Arrow, all the other shelved projects had proved too costly or had been superseded by advancing science or geo-politics. (Two Cold War designs that did succeed in entering service were the superb US-built McDonnell F-4 Phantom II; and the SR-71 which, in speed alone, would leave an Arrow in its wake – so much for the generally unproven Arrow being the “mostest” of everything.)

Professor Bratt states that the Arrow cancellation “forced” ex-Avro workers to leave Canada — the alleged post-Arrow “brain drain”. However, nearly every worker worth his/her salt let go by Avro soon had a new and, often, better job in Canada. In researching history in the subsequent decades, I have interviewed many of these workers (and workers they were). Most moved quickly and naturally to other aviation or science-type employers, where they shone with their successes developing truly useful products for humanity — as opposed to fighters. (In the late 1950s, do you really think that the world needed yet another jet fighter?)

Development of the PT6 engine by Pratt & Whitney Canada, and of the
Dash 8 by de Havilland Canada are proof positive that fabulously important spin-off products resulted from the timely demise of the Arrow program. So the loss of the Arrow “forced thousands” of Canadians to flee the country in search of meaningful work, eh? In truth, but a handful of ex-Avro workers emigrated to the US or UK. Meanwhile, hundreds of the best minds behind the Arrow in its heyday circa 1952 to 1959 had been post-WWII immigrants to Canada from other nations. Now we’re talking brain drain, but into Canada.

Without these reverse brain-drain people there would have been no Avro Arrow. Canadians did not have the ability to single-handedly produce such an advanced airplane. Had it not been for WWII, they would still have been building wood and fabric airplanes by 1950. Typical of the reverse brain-drain genii were design team leader James C. Floyd from the UK; and Arrow test pilots Jan Zurakowski and “Spud” Potacki, and designer Waclaw Czerwinski, from Poland. Why is this important reality never mentioned in the Arrow nostalgia debates? Well, for one thing, it wouldn’t help book sales in Canada’s “Avro Arrow” publishing industry (there’s always a new Arrow book looming somewhere).

Bottom line on the brain drain? Canada gained immensely by draining brains from many countries in the post-WWII industrial boom, but contributed very few in terms of any outflow of brains to the US, etc. On top of that truth, some of the ex-Avro emigrants from 1959 returned later to Canada, as did James C. Floyd himself.

Some basic research into aviation history would reveal these and other facts – not as charming or exciting as our cherished myths, but true all the same.
Larry Milberry, publisher

PS … The never-ending lament for the Arrow includes one in the Montreal Gazette of January 23, 2012 reiterating the moronic old claim about John Diefenbaker, etc., and has the predictable anti-American crapola about some Washington conspiracy being behind the Arrow’s downfall, since Americans can’t stand anyone out-doing them, bla, bla, bla. Talk about pitiful! Here is what this simple-minded “reporter” says in the Gazette: “It was killed by John Diefenbaker’s government, presumably at the behest of Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower on behalf of his country’s aerospace industry (which hates competition).” Can you believe this garbage? Where does the Gazette find its muse? Maybe from the “Coast to Coast” loonie bins … or the National Enquirer?

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2 responses to “Fantasyland: The Arrowmaniacs Strike Again

  1. Pingback: Fantasyland: The Arrowmaniacs Strike Again « CANAV Books Blog | My Digital Ebook

  2. Pingback: Destruction of a Dream: Valiquette’s new book « CANAV Books Blog

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