Credits: QMI AGENCY
The last nail in the coffin, not the resurrection of the revolutionary Avro Arrow fighter jet, should have been recognized in February 2004, with the death in the small Ottawa Valley town of Barry’s Bay of Janusz Zurakowski, the first test pilot of the legendary aircraft. He was 89.
The summer before, on an unseasonably bitter July day, another old man sat in his wheelchair at the dedication of a park in Zurakowski’s name, complete with a large-scale replica of the plane that the now frail and dying pilot once flew at more than twice the speed of sound.
That old man’s name was Joe Foley, and he too knew there was no going back.
He was 91 then. He wore an Avro Arrow ball cap to keep the rain off his face and, once upon a time, he was a tool-and-die maker on the Avro project, and one of the few labourers who stayed on after the Tory government of John Diefenbaker unexpectedly shut the plant down in 1959, if only to clean up the debris and then turn out the lights.
Joe Foley was my father-in-law. He died a few years back at the age of 96 and, despite his deep Catholic faith, I suspect he never truly forgave John Diefenbaker for the premature quashing of the Avro, and the destruction of the blueprints that made the plane so futuristic.
But at least he was realistic.
“You can’t go back and undo what was done,” he often said to my wife Karen and me when conversation turned to the Arrow. “You can wish all you want but, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
It was written last week that a Canadian company, Bourdeau Industries, “is seeking to go back in time to help fly Canada’s air force into the future” by resurrecting the storied CF-105 Avro Arrow as an alternative to the purchase of a pack of F-35 stealth fighters. All very poetic, yes. And nostalgic, too. But unrealistic.
There is no going back, and why retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie says a new Avro Arrow should be considered is baffling. As a veteran soldier, MacKenzie is certainly qualified to talk about tanks and ground-force armaments, but hardly about jets.
According to documents obtained by Global TV’s The West Block, the rebooting of the Arrow and updating its specs was put before the Harper Conservatives by Bourdeau Industries in 2010, and only recently nixed as being a little too late and a little too expensive. But the specs sounded so good.
According to Bourdeau, the Arrow could fly at Mach 3.5, twice the speed of the F-35, as well as fly 20,000 feet higher. It could fly 3,000 km before refuelling, as compared to the F-35’s 2,200.
And the 20-year lifecycle cost for 100 Arrows would come in at $12 billion, less than half the price Canada is expected to pay for 65 F-35s. The specs, in fact, sound so good that they sound too good to be true.
And that’s the point.
Back in the Arrow’s glory days, it had 13,000 employees and to ramp up such a mammoth operation today from scratch — assembly lines, training, R and D, modern technologies, trial-and-error liabilities — would be cost-prohibitive and mind-boggingly insane for the sake of the limited number of fighter jets Canada actually requires, even if it provided some fleeting semblance of nationalistic pride. And besides, Canada does not need jets that can fly at 50,000 feet or three times the speed of sound.
The days of the Cold War and intercepting Soviet fighters are gone, with the need today being jet fighters that can maintain air superiority and provide ground support at the same time.
Joe Foley died in the fall of 2008. His ashes were placed next to his wife’s grave in the cemetery adjacent to
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in the village of Wildfield, just south of Bolton, Ont. His old house, his home for 68 years, is still across the road, unchanged.
Every workday, right up until he turned out the lights on the Avro Arrow, Joe Foley would pull out of the driveway of that house, turn left towards Airport Rd., and then left again until he came to the plant that housed the secretive jet. That plant, like the Arrow, has been torn down.
“You can wish all you want,” he often said. “But once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
And there’s no going back to find the future.