Thursday, August 13, 2015

Part 5 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Replacing the Squadrons: the Arrow: its Cancellation and the Reasons Behind the Decision

Announcement that Lockheed F-104G converted to drone for target practice (August 1959).
By Robert Godwin
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Two weeks after Canada geared up its aerospace industry to produce the F-104G the USAF announced that they would forthwith be automating their own F-104s to be used as drones for target practice.[1] No aircraft had ever been relegated to such a fate before.

Meanwhile, the Hawker 1127, which could have been built at Avro is still the world's only successful vertical take-off fighter, and would instead be built under license in the USA. After being continuously upgraded it is expected to remain in active service with the US Marine Corps until 2025, making it the most successful fighter in history. The design has not become obsolete, after almost 60 years, even though it is not a supersonic aircraft. It couldn't have effectively defended Canada but it would have made up for that shortcoming with the balance of trade it would have generated, while simultaneously keeping Canada's team of experts employed. The fact that Avro was already doing advanced vertical take-off work for the US Army made it an even more logical choice. But with the government's decision to select the F-104G, what little hope that may have remained at Avro was now dashed.

Canada still had to deal with the "new" paradigm, defending against Soviet bombers, which, despite a stream of predictions to the contrary, hadn't all disappeared. By late December discussions were underway to purchase McDonnell-Douglas Voodoo aircraft from the United States to reequip the domestic squadrons. USAF General Kuter during a visit to Ottawa said "There will always be need for a manned fighter," somewhat belatedly agreeing with Canada's Chief of Air Staff.[2]

The Voodoo was apparently capable of intercepting Soviet bombers since it could carry nuclear missiles and had a speed of 1100mph and a range of 1500 miles. None of its specifications matched those of the Arrow which had more range, was faster and could carry more armaments.[3] However, the Voodoo was cheaper.

Meanwhile, Crawford Gordon, the tempestuous head of A.V. Roe Canada had resigned. His relationship with Diefenbaker was known to be somewhat less than cordial so his departure was expected to clear the way for a new start at the troubled company; particularly since the government in Ottawa was still faced with the same unresolved problem that it had faced almost a decade earlier - what to do with Canada's Air Force. The CF-100 and the F-86 Sabres on-station were obsolete and no match for the latest generation of Soviet fighters...

To Continue Reading Part 5 of 
"The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program"

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Toronto Star Aug 31 1959
2. Globe and Mail Dec 30 1959
3. Cold War Tech War Apogee Books; Randall Whitcomb 2008

Last Week: "Britain follows Canada's Lead; Rearming the RCAF and the Commonwealth Space Symposium," in part four of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program."

Next Week: "BOMARC; the Blue Streak; the Blue Steel; or the Douglas Skybolt and Woomera," as part six of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" continues!

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