An interesting thing popped up on my Facebook feed on Aug. 21. A bunch of Avro Arrow enthusiasts had successfully retrieved a scale model of that fabled plane from the bottom of Lake Ontario.
During development of that plane several models were attached to rockets and fired off over the water. We Canadians are so desperate for anything attached to the Arrow that now, over 60 years later, we’re scouring the depths to find a model of it. Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker’s orders to destroy all prototypes and plans for that plane truly did its job, attempting to erase it from history for God knows whatever reason he came up with.
Curiously, on this same day, the National Post reported that Iran had just displayed its new, domestically produced fighter plane. It’s a twin-seater, whose limited specs (speed of Mach 1.2) are, at first blush, substantially less capable that the Arrow of the 50s. It’s an obvious knockoff of the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, a cheapie light fighter built for export which first flew in 1959.
Even if it’s a knockoff (if not just a repaint of an old unit) it goes to show that countries are striving to independently develop their own fighter planes.
Indeed, a few weeks earlier, in mid-July, Britain announced it is developing its new stealth fighter plane, the Tempest, to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon. England used to build its own fighters going back the First World War but the last purely domestic fighter was likely the Harrier Jump Jet. Since then it’s played along with its European allies and built the Tornado and Typhoon. The island nation also recently built two new aircraft carriers, its largest ever, exclusively around the precept that it will fly the American F-35B.
And back in April, Japan announced that it, too, is developing its own new stealth fighter, the F-3. Japan, too, is to receive the Lockheed F-35. It received its first F-35A in September 2016. Their first four planes were made in Texas, and the remaining 38 on order are being assembled at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya, Japan, according to Lockheed.
Britain, like Canada and Japan, were participants in the F-35’s development, and has now started receiving some of its very first planes. Canada, on the other hand, has totally waffled on the project. We’re soon going to be taking deliveries of some very old, very used Australian F-18 Hornets to beef up our numbers of planes so we can put off the procurement decision of new fighters for even another federal government term.
Now what do Britain, Japan and Iran have that Canada does not when it comes to aerospace capabilities? That’s a good question. Britain and Japan have been building fighter planes on a continual basis for many years, even if, in Britain’s case, it was part of a joint venture like the Eurofighter. But what about Iran, one of the most isolated regimes in the world? They are still flying long-retired F-14 Tomcats that were purchased before the fall of the Shah. They have turned inward for their own, domestic needs.
While Canada hasn’t built it’s own design of fighters since the Arrow, it did assemble CF-18s and CF-5s back in the 1970s and 1980s. And we have this little company called Bombardier, which, on the large airplane side, is actually a world player and finally seeing some success with its C-Series, which it basically handed over to Airbus as the A220. The reality is the Canada can, and should, have its own, independent aerospace capacity.
Do we have stealth expertise? No. Can we work with Britain and Japan on this, if the Americans don’t want to share their expertise? Maybe. With all these new planes on the market, plus France’s Rafale fighter and Sweden’s Gripen, there’s not likely a lot of room for an export market for a Canadian fighter, which I shall dub Arrow II. But maybe we can develop a plane that is uniquely suited for our needs.
That may mean a much larger plane, like the Arrow, with much larger internal fuel capability and therefore longer range. (The legs on the Arrow were quite impressive, apparently).
The F-35, which we were so hung up about, has serious design compromises. It made the mistake of trying to have one airframe do everything, with is a horrible design premise. In particular, it tried to make a plane that could do all the F-18 Hornet, F-16 Falcon and F-117 stealth fighter could do and marry it with the Harrier Jump Jet. That meant one, massive engine, not two, which would be preferable for Canada. It meant an airframe that could land on a carrier, when we will never have one. These are just two of a laundry list of compromises that the F-35 made.
A clean-sheet Canadian design would need to make none of these compromises. It’s obvious that is what both Japan and Britain have realized. Maybe we should too.
Maybe the Arrow’s great-great-grandson, the Arrow II, could fly for Canada at last.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.