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The Romance (and Delusion) of the Super Arrow

Should we build the Avro Arrow (or a modified version called the Super Arrow) instead of buying the beleaguered F-35? The short answer is no.

Yes the cancellation of the Avro Arrow in 1959 by blockhead prime minister Diefenbaker  was a tragedy for the Canadian aerospace industry. Avro was a Canadian cutting edge industrial giant, they had some of the best aerospace engineers and designers in the world working for them, when the Arrow was cancelled many of them left to work on the U.S space program and helped put the first man on the moon.

Now Bourdeau Industries (we assume of Quebec, they don't publish their address) wants Canadian aerospace to go back to the future. They have managed to convince (ret) General Lewis McKenzie (not an airforce general) to be a spokesman for their cause. McKenzie has dutifully made the rounds
of Canadian media, who, we should note, are only too happy to jump on stories criticizing military procurement and the Tories.

McKenzie, in at least one newscast, said, and we assume he was being serious, that the 1959 Avro Arrow is "better than any fighter on the books today." Really? He believes that in almost 60 years there haven't been any advancements in aeronautical design, engineering and avionics? Stealth technology alone is a huge leap forward in military aircraft design, as are lifting bodies, look down shoot down radars, heads up displays... and the list goes on. The Arrow was being designed for the era of high altitude, fast interceptors. Not the modern multi-role aircraft Canada and pretty much every other country wants and needs. The Arrow's delta wing design is great for mach 2 speeds at 50,000 ft, but it is very high drag at lower speeds and altitudes, this is just the start of why the Arrow design is not better than modern designs.

Designer Joe Green (not an aerospace designer as far as we can ascertain) has an updated Super Arrow design making the rounds of the internet. Yes it's impressive looking and stirs patriotic feelings for a made in Canada jet fighter. However this is a far cry from simply rebuilding the Avro Arrow airframe with modern materials, engines and avionics (that in itself not the straight forward task proponents make it out to be). Green is proposing a brand new, from the ground up 5th generation fighter. While we don't deny his design has aesthetic appeal, Green's Super Arrow would be over 80 ft in length, with a wingspan of over 50 ft (so wider than the F-35 is long). It's a massive aircraft, designed to be stealthy and fast, but definitely still a return to the single interceptor role rather than the multi-role F-35.

Designing a highly complex modern fighter is not easy under the best of circumstances. And it's certainly not just about taking a 60 year-old design giving it a few tweaks, a few new modern bells and whistles, and presto made in Canada fighter. The 25 million lines of code needed for the F-35's systems alone has taken the better part of a decade to write. There are many, many variables involved, and yes unforeseen problems and redesigns that can lead to cost overruns, potentially huge cost overruns.

It's sad we lost the Avro and it's potential for advanced aircraft design (often forgotten is that they were also the designers of one of the very first jet airliners, another cancelled project) but the infrastructure no longer exists in Canada for an ambitious project like the Super Arrow. As noted Avro Canada was a huge industrial powerhouse with engineering expertise and the infrastructure to bring projects to fruition.

So before we even got to the expense of  building a new fighter jet, a new industrial base would be needed to be built from scratch. Canada has tried to do that with navy shipbuilding projects with so far little to show for it and massive cost overruns. But somehow the even more complex and expensive world of aerospace would yield a different result?

That of course doesn't stop uniformed and biased news media from describing the Super Arrow project as being "brushed aside" by the (then) Conservative government (let's see how they report the story now that the Liberals are back in power). As if this was a credible project that would save Canadian taxpayers billions (note, the only time the news media is concerned about saving tax dollars is when they're criticizing defence procurement).
Yes a made in Canada Super Arrow 5th generation stealth fighter is an appealing romantic notion,

But it is sadly very far from practical. It is not helped by proponents claims that their large delta wing design would be better than any other 5th generation fighter out there. No it wouldn't, there's a reason aircraft designers have moved away from delta wings, emulating the past is not the way to create advanced aircraft. The last time it was attempted was with Boeing's failed F-32 project (which lost to the F-35) finding it was expensive to manufacture, and offered poor low altitude performance.
If Boeing, one of the world's leaders in aerospace can't make a delta wing design work, how is an inexperienced underfunded Canadian company going to make it work?

They're not obviously, but romantic delusions convince otherwise sensible men that it will. And an anti-military, anti-defence media will jump on any reason to convince Canadians (and the same thing goes on in the U.S, U.K and Australia) that they are being swindled by the defence industry, under the guise that they care about men and women in uniform (they don't).


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