On today’s date in 1959 — known as Black Friday in the Canadian aviation industry — prime minister John Diefenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow interceptor project.
In 1996, the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) featured the Avro CF-105 Arrow on a $20 silver coin. Designed by Canadian artist Jim Bruce, the coin’s reverse depicts two CF-105 aircraft alongside a portrait of James Chamberlin, a Canadian aerodynamicist who helped design the Arrow.
Manufactured by Canadian aircraft-makers A.V. Roe Canada – better known as Avro, which was Canada’s third-largest company at the time – the Arrow Mark 1 made its first test flight in March 1958. Reaching speeds nearly three times the speed of sound and travelling at an altitude of 60,000 feet, the hypersonic aircraft was called “the biggest, most powerful, most expensive and potentially the fastest fighter that the world has yet seen” by Flight Magazine.
As a source of national pride, the Arrow Mark 2 would incorporate advanced technical innovations like the delta wing, the Orenda Iroqouis engine and Astra/Sparrow fire-control system, making it the most advanced fighter of its time and placing it at the cutting edge of contemporary aerospace technology.
However, on Feb. 20, 1959, former Canadian Defence Minister George Pearkes announced the Diefenbaker government’s decision to cancel the Arrow project due to high costs. The cancellation of the Arrow project as well as the new Iroquois engine and Astra/Sparrow control system came less then three weeks before the Mark 2 was to take flight.
The aircraft were replaced with Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles, which soon became obsolete themselves after they were deemed unviable and ordered to stand down in 1972.
The cancellation of the Arrow project all but destroyed Canada’s defence industry; however, the project was widely viewed as neither militarily nor economically viable and its demise was inevitable.
Upon the project’s cancellation, top management personnel resigned and over 14,000 Avro employees were fired on the original Black Friday, Feb. 20, 1959. These highly skilled employees looked to the U.S. or Europe for work, with several making significant contributions to the U.S. space program.