Historically,  we view the United States as being the pioneers of air travel and whilst we can certainly give that title to them for allowing air travel to become as popular and readily available as it is today thanks to the Boeing 747, they’re certainly not the only country to share glory in this regard.

The first commercial jet airliner, the ill-fated de Havilland Comet was a British invention; a significant leap forward  that it was became overshadowed with metal fatigue, and a notable design failure of having square windows. It took BOAC, de Havilland, and the various air safety and airlines close to half a decade to resolve the issues. In which time, the reputation had been damaged, and American alternatives became all the rage.

The same goes with the supersonic transporter age. The equally ill-fated and soviet conceived Tupolev Tu-144 was the first supersonic transporter to enter service, and was the first to leave service.

 

Going supersonic.

The Tupolev Tu-144 was not unlike the English-French in terms of its aerodynamic design, but unlike Concorde the aircraft was quite primitive in the control, navigation and engine systems. Horrifically unreliable compared to the offerings from Concorde, they Tu-144 didn’t receive the same glory as Concorde did, despite an aircraft being owned by NASA for a period while they were developing their own supersonic transporter.

The Americans at this stage were not graced with beneficial circumstances. Pressured by executive pressures, and a need to compete against each other, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing both pitched aircraft that were significantly  more complex than the European and Soviet equivalents.

Boeing was mighty fortunate of their small, cargo-orientated project that we know today as the 747 Jumbo. Regardless, whilst going supersonic was a mighty feat it simply was not a product that could be held to be viable within a market situation. Being able to seat 524 guests at a lower ticket cost, rather than 92 passengers at a higher price. Environmental, and political concerns were only compounding the significant financial trouble that British Airways, Air France, and other airlines that made orders were facing.

 

Meanwhile in Canada.

This brings me to the Avro Canada project, CF105 ‘Arrow’. It was considered to have near-Mach 2 speeds at altitudes of 50,000 feet. Designed for the Royal Canadian Airforce, the aircraft was significantly ahead of it’s time. Built on the production line, completely skipping the hand-built prototype phase, they also built a completely untested engine design, the ‘Orenda Iroquois’  engines were constructed and installed simultaneously. A strategy normally perceived as being incredibly high risk, it ended up paying off for the Avro team, as well as introducing a Canadian designed weapon’s system.

Whilst I don’t have an interest in weapon’s systems, or engine design. It’s impressive to think that a small aircraft manufacturer took this challenge, broke the conventional rules of aircraft design and was able to successfully meet the operational requirements.

The CBC Miniseries.

The mystery behind this little known aircraft comes from the orders given in 1959 that lead to the destruction of the five Arrow aircraft,s well as nearly 15,000 other employees in the Avro supply chain of outside suppliers, out of work.

Produced in 1996, I stumbled across this series the other week while looking for a documentary screened on the ABC regarding the development of the 747. Starring Dan Ackroyd and Ron White I thought I would give the show a try, and I was mildly surprised.

I’m not a historian, and so I can’t comment on the historical accuracy of the series, or whether the series should have been broadcast as a documentary or a drama. The Wikipedia article for this show, along with several end cards suggest there is a significant reliance on composite characters throughout which both adds to the drama, but also can be a hinderance.

Once such example is Kate O’Hara, a composite character to represent the various women involved in the project. It’s hardly a surprise to know that I enjoy my strong female protagonists, and Kate really symbolised what a female character should be in a movie. There’s one quote in particular that really shows how important her character is –

JW: How did you get into Engineering anyway?

KO: I didn’t want to be a nurse, didn’t wanna’ teach.

JW: Are you married or?

KO: No. Well, to my airplanes, or so my ex-husband always used to say. Once he decided I wasn’t having an affair…

A pioneer for Women’s role in the workforce for the 1950s, I was super impressed with Kate, and really did expect this to come across in a ‘Hidden Figures’ kind of way. Unfortunately, just a composite of housewives of the engineers. I was very disappointed.

The relationship between Crawford Gordon Jr., and C.D. Howe was spot on, and Ackroyd was able to nail the overly zanny character that is Crawford. With Crawford being a survivor of the RMS Titanic sinking, he was seen as a fast moving business entrepreneur that we could almost attribute to an early American-esk boom type.

The cinematography is well done, with cuts between historic footage, and footage recorded from the modern day seamlessly integrating together. I do have my doubts about the role of these within the story, but I suspect this is how the director has tried to link a documentary to the dramatised plot.

The sound editing in contrast, is phenomenal. The foley work is brilliant, and I couldn’t fault it. Compared to the various aircraft related movies out there that use incorrect audio, or balance it incorrectly, The Arrow nails it.

 

Final thoughts.

Whilst Avro Canada no longer exists, the company itself is not as dead as you think. After a succession of mergers, Avro Canada’s parent company Hawker Siddeley Aviation merged with BAE Systems; the British based aerospace company. The sweet irony here being that Avro is now part of the Airbus consortium in some way.

The C-105 story is one that’s certainly an interesting one, and especially if aviation is an interest of yours I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Arrow and take some time to watch it.