Kit No. HC 1392
Cost: $26.99 at www.squadron.com
Decals: Markings for two pre-production versions, both for Royal Canadian Air Force
Comments: Engraved panel lines; Unique and controversial subject from the Cold War era; aftermarket decals strongly recommended
Note: This review is for Hobbycraft’s original version, rather than its recently released newly tooled version.
The Avro CF-105 Arrow was an advanced long-range interceptor designed in the late 1950’s to replace the CF-100 as Canada’s main front-line jet fighter. It was specifically designed to use air-to-air missiles to intercept and destroy Soviet intercontinental jet bombers flying over the North Pole to deliver a nuclear strike of their own on Canada and the United States. At the time the Arrow was in development, the Cold War was reaching its peak and neither the U.S. nor the Soviet bloc had developed the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) that within just a few years would lead both sides in the Cold War to consider long range bombers dated if not obsolete.
The Arrow has been called Canada’s greatest aeronautical achievement, for its design incorporated many advanced, cutting edge components that had never been seen on front-line fighter aircraft of either East or West. For this reason, it was a devastating shock when, just as Avro Canada was completing the Arrow’s flight test program amid glowing reports on its performance, and the first three Arrows had already come off the assembly line — with two more nearing completion — the program was suddenly cancelled by the Canadian government in February 1959. In addition, the government took the highly unusual step of ordering the special tools and dies associated with the Arrow’s construction — plus the two prototypes that had been built — destroyed. This has driven both the controversy and the political debate surrounding the Arrow’s cancellation to this day. Two immediate effects of this event were the death of Avro Canada and the unquestioned supremacy of the American aerospace industry throughout the Western world.
In part, the Arrow’s cancellation can be explained by simple economics. While it was faster and more advanced than any comparable interceptor of its time, the Arrow’s Achilles Heel was its spiralling development costs – the original production estimate of $2 million per aircraft had soared to $12 million by the time Avro was ready to gear up its assembly line. At the same time, potential foreign buyers (among them the United States), which were needed to make the program pencil out by justifying the expense, began to evaporate as the world entered the post-Sputnik age of ICBM’S. The thinking was, there no need for an advanced, expensive long-range fighter to destroy long-range Russian bombers that were never coming. A nuclear attack, if it came, would be delivered by long-range intercontinental missiles, against which there would be no real defense.
In addition, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was under pressure from the US to join its plan for hemispheric defense by purchasing the American Bomarc missile system in lieu of pursuing the development of the Arrow. Faced with what were alleged to be skyrocketing development costs, and the inability to sell the Arrow to European nations or the US, Diefenbaker cancelled the project on February 20,1959 — a day that came to be known as Black Friday. Incensed, Crawford Gordon, the hard-driving CEO of A.V. Roe Canada, immediately fired the company’s 14,000 employees, in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to force Diefenbaker to reactivate the project. Within days, the government ordered all plans and prototypes destroyed. This strange action appears rational only in light of rumors which later surfaced of a Soviet espionage operation designed to discover the Arrow’s secrets.
Another hypothesis advanced by the 1997 film The Arrow starring Dan Aykroyd, was that U.S., French and British offers to buy the few aircraft that had been built, immediately after the program’s cancellation was announced, panicked the Diefenbaker government, triggering an order for the destruction of the aircraft. The order, the hypothesis holds, was motivated by a desire to quash dissemination of the knowledge of how superior the Arrow’s performance truly was, which would have caused yet deeper political embarasssment amid renewed cries that the cancellation of the program was both politically motivated and against Canadian interests. To add insult to injury, the Bomarc missile system which Canada purchased from the U.S. proved expensive and ineffective, with the Americans beginning to dismantle their own Bomarc sites as early as 1964. Both the U.S. and Canada deactivated all Bomarc squadrons in 1972.
Cancelling the Arrow satisfied the accountants in that it made good economic sense, but it proved a lethal blow to the Canadian aerospace industry, just at the moment that it was poised to achieve supremacy over its competitors in the world of military aviation. A.V. Roe, Canada’s third largest employer, folded within three years, and the effects were felt throughout Canada. Most of the scientists and engineers involved in the project moved to the U.S. to become engineers on NASA’s Gemini and Apollo projects, or went to work for Boeing, Lockheed, or North American, as Canadians swallowed the slap to national prestige. Negative public reaction marked the beginning of the decline of Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s popularity, and led to his eventual fall from power. With the death of the Arrow, the world lost an advanced, state-of-the-art fighter that was a generation ahead of its time. Nothing comparable appeared until the debut of the American F-15 Eagle and the Soviet MiG-31 Foxhound, entering service in 1976 and 1981, respectively — 17 to 22 years after the Arrow had entered production. In a final irony, Canada’s need for a “new” long-range interceptor to replace the CF-100 was addressed, some would argue inadequately, by the purchase of used American-built F-101 Voodoos, whose performance was markedly inferior to that of the Arrow. Just a few years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the reconnaissance version of the F-101 would be distinctly outclassed by the U.S. Navy’s RF-8 Crusader, a superb shipboard air superiority fighter converted for reconnaissance purposes that nonetheless would itself have been outshined by the Arrow, had the latter entered service.
Hobbycraft’s Avro Arrow is injection molded in white and consists of 45 parts on three sprues, including one clear plastic part for the canopy, which bears rather faint engravings for the canopy frame, so faint that the clear portions which will need to be taped during painting. The airframe has crisp engraved panel lines, and the instruction sheet is well-illustrated. The cockpit is basic with a floor, two rather plain seats and two pilot figures.
There are no control sticks or instrumentation of any kind. The instructions call for a nose weight of at least 20 grams, as the fully assembled Arrow will sit nose-high on its landing gear. The landing gear are not particularly detailed, but the wheels
have good engraved detail, marred only by faint sink marks on their inboard sides. At first glance, the wheel wells lack any detail, but closer examination reveals raised panel lines representing the landing gear in their folded positions, a curious addition. The interior of the part for the twin jet exhaust reveals well-molded turbofan blades, a nice touch.
Replacement of the kit decals is highly recommended, since some of the key markings are poorly done. The red maple leaf in the roundels is noticeably off-center, and the Red Ensign marking for the tail is crudely done with colors that are out of register. The remainder of the markings are usable. Fortunately, replacement decals for the Arrow are readily available from CanMilAir Decals at www.canmilair.com.
Overall, the effect is one of a detailed exterior (except for the canopy), but interior detail that is light at best. This is an intriguing kit of the Cold War, that enjoys cult status as the Canadian superfighter that never was. While it could easily be more detailed, it is still highly recommended for its “what-if” value in nearly becoming a revolutionary chapter in aviation history.
- Institut Historica Dominion Institute (Canadian history website) – www.historica-dominion.ca
- The Arrow starring Dan Aykroyd, Sara Botsford & Christopher Plummer; Norstar Entertainment, 1997