MALTON, ONTARIO — TUESDAY, MARCH 25, 1958, 0947 HOURS (EST)
A crowd of thousands gathered outside the Avro hangar at Malton Airport near Toronto, waiting anxiously for the corporation’s pet project — Avro’s new multimillion-dollar fighter-interceptor — to make its maiden flight.
They watched breathlessly as the test pilot manned the articulate controls of the CF-105 Avro Arrow. This day had not come fast enough for those on the tarmac; the Avro management, the designers, the assembly line technicians, the ground crew, the live TV and radio audience, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Even Canada’s neighbor to the South was interested. Following the Arrow’s rollout on October 4, 1957, the American-based magazine Aviation Week had printed:
The fighter makes Canada a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years. The Arrow’s power, weight and general design leave little doubt of its performance potential.
Important features of the present version of the CF-105 include 1) afterburner takeoff weight of about sixty thousand with Iroquois engines; 2) maximum takeoff weight of about sixty thousand pounds; 3) area-ruled fuselage; and 4) very thin wings with conical leading edges and blunt trailing edges.
As far as ceiling is concerned, Fred T. Smye, president of Avro, has stated that the Arrow will be able to intercept and destroy aircraft flying at seventy-five thousand feet. There was no explanation as to the altitude in a zoom climb, or whether the Arrow actually had to reach seventy-five thousand feet for its missile armament to destroy the hostile aircraft, but it does give some indication of the Arrow’s altitude capability.
A week earlier, the first Arrow flight had been canceled by Avro due to a hydraulic leak. But all systems were go today when a voice over the plant PA system had invited all nonessential personnel to drop their work, grab their coats, and catch the maiden flight. The plant emptied in minutes. Someone on the assembly line jokingly quipped that if the unfinished Arrows could get up and walk, they’d be out on the tarmac too.
* * * *
Lance Tiemans had been employed by Avro as an aeronautical technician for the past three years. The twenty-eight-year-old liked his job and was proud of his connection with the Arrow. The pay could have been better, but all in all he was enjoying life as a bachelor, in a field right up his alley. From the time he was ten years old Tiemans had dreamed of flying fighter aircraft. It was 1940. The Canadian daily newspapers were full of the daring exploits of British and Canadian fighter pilots engaged in the Battle of Britain. Douglas Bader and Robert Tuck and others. Tiemans had wished he was there with them, flying Spitfires or Hurricanes.
His dream, however, had not unfolded exactly as he had planned, but it was still close enough. Today was the maiden flight of Canada’s first supersonic all-weather fighter-interceptor, an aircraft he had toiled on. He knew every inch of the Arrow’s engines. The Arrow wasn’t just Avro’s aircraft or the country’s aircraft. It was his. As Tiemans stood proudly on the tarmac with the other members of his working staff, tears came to his eyes. Happy tears.
As he and the thousands of onlookers sighed, the pilot slowly taxied to the south end of Runway 32. It was the longest runway at Malton and had recently been extended to eleven thousand feet just to accommodate the Arrow. All eyes were on the delta-winged CF-105 Arrow Mark I as the pilot waited for clearance from the tower.
Tiemans smirked. The lines of the all-Canadian-built Arrow were beautiful. The front of her came to a fine point, reaching far beyond the pilot in the clamshell canopy. The swept-back wings on a fifty-foot span seemed to envelope the aft section and, indeed, dominate the entire aircraft. The nose sat up slightly in a distinctive fashion. Damn, she was built to go! Just twenty-five years earlier many pilots were flying prop-driven biplanes in combat roles. Now Canadian aeronautical technology was on the threshold of constructing a fighter that neither the Americans nor the Soviets could beat. Britain’s top World War II fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire, would tuck nicely into the aft section of the Arrow, while the Avro Lancaster, Britain’s best bomber during the same war, was eight feet shorter than this aircraft waiting to jolt loose and thunder down Runway 32. Impressive. Elegant. Stupendous. Awesome. What words could properly describe Canada’s new supersonic fighter that stood a graceful seventy-seven feet in length and an overpowering twenty-one feet high? What words indeed? Tiemans couldn’t think of the one word that fit better than the others. So why try.
The jet fighter chase planes — a CF-100 Canuck and an F-86 Sabre — were already in the air and set to monitor and record the Arrow’s maiden flight. With the approaching chase planes as the signal, the test pilot let go of the Arrow’s brakes and started to roll. Three thousand feet down the strip he lifted the nose gear off. The crowd held it’s breath as one. Then with a roar from the dual Pratt & Whitney J75 engines, the Arrow was airborne in one smooth, graceful motion. The crowd cheered.
A large smile broke across the face of Lance Tiemans. His deep-set eyes, bloodshot from staying up most of the night with his male drinking companions, watched the aircraft soar into the distance, closely followed by the chase planes. Tiemans stole a glance at the other members of his crew. They were all beaming like kids with a new toy — a $300 million toy.
As he pulled up the collar on his long, leather coat, Tiemans brought to mind the proud day of October 4, 1957, when the Arrow was first exhibited to the world. The crowd of twelve thousand people — Avro workers, the press, and certain dignitaries — had been stunned, completely spellbound by their first sight of the fighter rolling out on the tarmac. From the podium, Canada’s defense minister had put it in the proper perspective.
“This event today marks another milestone, the production of the first Canadian supersonic airplane. I am sure that the historian of tomorrow will regard this event as being truly significant in the annals of Canadian aviation.
“The supersonic era of flight is just beginning. Many of today’s aircraft are regularly breaking the sound barrier, but this is done at the extreme peak of their performance. Supersonic flight is still not a routine matter. Present aircraft travel at these exceptionally fast speeds for only a relatively short period of time.
“The Avro Arrow, however, had been designed from the outset to operate supersonically throughout as much of its mission as is deemed necessary...”
Tiemans shook his head, remembering. Too bad Avro had gotten second billing that October afternoon. The Russians picked the same day to launch Sputnik I, the world’s first space satellite. It could circle the earth once every ninety-five minutes at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. Some said the space age had begun. Others were saying we didn’t need manned interceptors like the Arrow anymore.
The trio of planes flew over the Avro plant several times at different altitudes, at the same time communicating with each other and the Malton tower. After thirty-five minutes of aerial testing, the Arrow pilot obtained clearance from the tower to land. On his approach to Runway 32 at 180 knots, he dropped the landing gear in full view of the crowd. The tires screeched as they contacted the concrete and smoke streamed off the rubber. Then the parachute popped to slow the machine to a crawl. The Arrow taxied up to the Avro hangar. When the pilot shut down the engines and climbed from the cockpit, the jubilant crowd descended upon him. Someone from Tiemans’ crew hoisted the pilot on his shoulders. Flashbulbs popped. It was a great day. Tiemans was still grinning when a tall, chubby, red-haired man in his thirties stepped in front of him.
“Good morning,” said the man. “I’m Ben Spencer from the Tribune.”
Tiemans recognized the name right off. “You’re the one who’s written a few columns on the Arrow.”
“Well, what do you think of the grand lady? Mind you, you can’t tell too much from a thirty-minute flight at eleven thousand feet.”
“Quite the bird,” Spencer answered. “I once read somewhere that if an airplane looks good then it performs good too. Isn’t that right?”
“Anyway, you’re the pilot’s crew chief, are you not?”
Tiemans nodded. “Yes, I am.”
The man removed a camera from beneath his greatcoat. “Do you suppose I can position the pilot and your crew together for a private snapshot?”
Tiemans shrugged. “It’s possible. Sure. Let’s go.”
* * * *
WASHINGTON, DC — 1038 HOURS (EST)
The President of the United States took the phonecall in the Oval Office from his CIA contact. “How was your trip to Nevada?” he asked.
“Enlightening, to say the least. But that’s not why I called, sir. The damn Canadians did it. The Arrow’s in the air.”
“They actually got that far?”
“Yes, sir. And she landed without a hitch. She’s for real.”
“What about this Spencer fellow?”
“He’s innocent enough. Just an enthusiast of the program.”
The president sighed. “He writes a daily column, does he?”
“The Toronto Tribune.”
“In that case, I want the Tribune on my desk bright and early every morning. Got that?”
“Consider it done, sir.”
* * * *
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — 1042 HOURS (EST)
That morning, the Prime Minister of Canada and his finance minister were discussing the upcoming federal election in the prime minister’s office in the Center Block of the Parliament Buildings in the nation’s capital, when the news came through about the Arrow. They discussed it briefly, then the prime minister quickly changed the subject back to where he wanted it.
“Only a few more days, Alex,” the prime minister said, cheerfully. “Tomorrow I’ll hit southern Ontario, Toronto and Hamilton. Thursday, Windsor. We’re going to get that majority this time around. Just how big remains to be seen. The big blue Tory machine is on the move. Look out, Liberals!” The prime minister leaned back in his chair and laughed out loud, his voice echoing in the chamber. His finance minister, Alex Kralick, seated to the left of the prime minister’s desk, looked pleased.
The prime minister was at an age when most other men would have considered retirement. But this tall, former criminal lawyer from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, with the curly white hair, had the vigor of a man half his age. He was out to change Canada, perhaps the world, and nothing was going to stop him. He was expecting a solid mandate from his people to move Canada kicking and screaming into the 1960s and perhaps take his morals with them. He hated drinking, smoking and swearing. The Conservative party was indeed on a roll. Only last year they had been elected to the Canadian parliament, breezing past the Liberals with a small lead. For the first time in over twenty years the Conservatives were in power. But for the prime minister that was not enough. He badly wanted a substantial majority. With an election only days away, Gallup Polls predicted a Tory majority victory.
The desk intercom buzzed.
The prime minister pressed a button. “I told you I wasn’t to be disturbed.”
“I know that, sir,” his secretary answered. “But the President is on line one.”
“Which president? You mean Avro?”
“No, sir. The President of the United States.”
The prime minister and Kralick shot a glance at each other.
“I’ll leave.” Kralick stood and withdrew out the door.
“Sir, he’s waiting.”
“I’ll get it,” the prime minister informed his secretary.
The Canadian leader reached for the receiver. “Mr. President.”
“Good morning, Mr. Prime Minister.”
“And a good morning to you. How’s the weather in Washington?”
“A little on the chilly side, I’m afraid. But they say spring is just around the corner.” The president paused. “I know you must be busy, so I’ll be brief. How’s the campaign coming along these days?”
“The Gallup says we’re going to win. Big.”
“Congratulations. I hope you get the majority you’re after.”
“Now, how’s that pretty little supersonic fighter?”
The prime minister cleared his throat. “It flew for the first time today.”
“So I’ve heard. How does it look for the future?”
“We will evaluate it once we receive our majority. Preliminary reports state that it’s costing our taxpayers a fortune.”
The president chuckled over the line. “I heard that, too. However, that aircraft has possibilities.”
“Are you interested in her?”
“Possibly. Keep in touch. Goodbye, Mr. Prime Minister.”
“Goodbye, Mr. President.”
The prime minister hung up the receiver. What was that about, he wondered.