An Interview With Palmiro Campagna On The Avro Arrow - Dundurn
Feb 22, 2024

An Interview With Palmiro Campagna On The Avro Arrow

The Avro Arrow has been a long-discussed topic of Canada's military history since its inception and controversial cancellation later on. We had some burning questions for The Avro Arrow author Palmiro Campagna, a true expert in this field!

In terms of Canadian history, the Avro Arrow is more than just an airplane prototype, why do you think it's such a cornerstone of Canada's trajectory as a Nation?

The establishment of A.V. Roe Canada marked a turning point in Canadian industrial self-sufficiency. During the Second World War, Canadian pilots had to fly in aircraft from other countries, namely Great Britain. After the Second World War, Canada decided it needed its own military aircraft and therefore its own military aircraft industry. As military aircraft design represented high technology at the time, having this industry brought to Canada foreign engineering talent and industrial growth in this high technology sector. But, it also provided an avenue for brilliant Canadians to take part.

Specifically, the Arrow development attracted brilliant homegrown engineers like Jim Chamberlin, Owen Maynard, Bryan Erb, and Daisy Pon, not to mention a host of skilled technicians and craftsmen. A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. would become the third-largest industry in Canada. Some 25,000 people would be employed in the Arrow development alone across the two A.V. Roe subsidiaries Avro and Orenda and across some 600 subcontractors. After the cancellation, these 25,000 people were greatly affected, many becoming unemployed overnight. A small number were hired back but the impact of that cancellation still resonates strongly today.

Canada has of course moved forward in the aircraft and aerospace industry since but I believe the termination did initially put the brakes on the industry and as many know, 25 Arrow engineers and production staff went to the U.S. Space program while others went to aircraft manufacturers around the world. It is the impact of this loss in talent that cannot be calculated as who knows what else besides the Arrow these folks could have achieved.

Your first edition of The Avro Arrow was widely acclaimed as one of the best and most thorough books on the Arrow, but now you've done a new edition. Did you discover something that wasn't in the first books?

The short answer is yes. I discovered the answer to a question that had plagued me for years.  That is, “Who was the individual who told our Minister of National Defence that Canada did not need the Arrow because the U.S. had lots of aircraft to draw from?” Discovering his identity then led me to additional information answering the question of whether or not the U.S. government even wanted Canada to complete the Arrow.

How did this new information get into your hands, we’re so curious to know!

After the publication of the first edition, I continued my research. As I mentioned, I was trying to find the name of the person who advised our Minister of National Defence at the time, that Canada did not need to build the Arrow. The Minister simply had said in an interview that it was the Undersecretary of Defense. But I could find no such person. The University of Victoria had this initial interview conducted sometime back in the 1960s but they had others as well which were subsequently released. In going through each one I found where the Minister identified the individual again but this time saying it was the Deputy Secretary of Defense. 

After searching for this person online, Donald Quarles, I was led to information I had not seen before nor do I believe anyone else had. This information was the minutes of the August 4th and 5th 1958 meeting in Washington wherein our Minister of National Defence and our ambassador met with the American Secretary of Defense and others. The recorded minutes of the meeting finally answered the question of whether or not the United States Government wanted Canada to complete the design or not. It also provided some insight into a question I first posed in an article I wrote in 1988 and posed again in my first book on the Arrow, The Avro Arrow: The Secret Files Revealed. That question was whether or not there was any substance to the possibility that there was a sort of tit-for-tat arrangement to cancel the Arrow in exchange for something else from the United States.

Do you think there are more sealed documents or artifacts pertaining to the Avro Arrow story yet to be uncovered? Do you have a wish list?

At this point I hesitate to say no there are no more documents as even as my book was going to print, additional information was published by another researcher. This had to do with where Canada got the information that the Soviets were now emphasizing the missile threat while significantly reducing the bomber threat. In my book I noted that this information came from the United States, likely the CIA, and at the time this situation was widely known as the ‘missile gap’. I also noted that the launch of Sputnik on the same date as the Arrow rollout on October 4th, 1957 would have given credence to this information. I also stressed though that we now know this information regarding the ‘gap’ was wrong. There was no “missile gap”.

So the new information recently published states that yes the information did indeed come from the U.S. but that the Canadian military did its own additional analysis of that information and concluded the situation was even more extreme in terms of missile development and scaled-back bomber threat than even the U.S. was stating. The bottom line of course is that the base information from which the Canadian assessment was derived was indeed incorrect to begin with. That the Canadian analysis made it worse is neither here nor there. The Canadian military seized on this information about the decreased bomber threat and increase in missile development and used it as the basis to cancel the Arrow. This said, I have produced documents which show that not 2 months after the cancellation of the Arrow, the U.S. was advising Canada that we needed aircraft after all, and even today we are awaiting delivery of the F-35, a replacement for the ageing F-18s.

So to get back I hesitate to say there is no more information out there but if there is it may be mixed in the personal notes or files of individuals particularly in the United States, who were privy to the Arrow development and the discussions of August 4th and 5th 1958.

As for artifacts, I do not believe there is much left to discover. In 1988, I published information regarding the Arrow scale models in Lake Ontario and that article initiated a host of searches over the years which finally culminated in the finding of some of the models. Unfortunately, given their state of deterioration, they were not recovered. 

Interestingly, an artifact that was recovered now sits in the aviation museum in Ottawa. It was thought to be one of the models but was actually part of the Velvet Glove missile development program which moved along at the same time as the Arrow.

The Glove was not being designed for use on the Arrow but for subsonic aircraft like the CF 100 and Sabre jets. In one test variant of which 3 were launched over Lake Ontario, the missile had triangular or delta-shaped wings much like the Arrow, and carried a telemetry pack much like the Arrow models did, for transmitting back flight characteristics of the design. The only use for these in the Arrow development would have been as dummy targets for testing the ground tracking equipment which was being used to track the Arrow models. The artifact on display has a telemetry package which would not have been required if this was a dummy model used for testing the ground equipment and suggests it was in fact one of the three Delta variants tested for the Glove program.

October 2027 will be the 70th anniversary of the unveiling of the Avro Arrow, do you think there will be any exciting news upcoming for dedicated Avro Arrow followers?

I know that some groups are trying to rebuild some rather large-scale models and there has been talk of some documentaries being worked on, but outside of that I am not sure of what else might be in the offing.

What in your opinion is the most pervasive, but incorrect, myth of the Avro Arrow story?

The most pervasive is that the ‘real’ reason the Arrow was canceled was because it cost too much, even though this was not the official reason given and despite all the costing information I have discovered and released over the years.

If the development had been completed, an Arrow would have cost $3.5 million before tax, not $8 million or $12 million as some have suggested. Many however do not know what the complete development entailed.

At the time of cancellation, some $318.6 million had been spent. This money was gone. Required was another $257.8 million or so to complete the development contract which included the building of 32 more aircraft over and above the 5 already flying. Within that $257.8 million was $24.9 million for completion of the fuselage design. This included installation and testing of the fire control system and weapons. Another $53 million was earmarked for completion of the engine development and testing. The bulk of the design itself was already completed so there was no reason for costs to escalate further. After the 37 aircraft, the records show the government was going to purchase another 83 Arrows for $3.5 million or $3.75 with tax.  Another 100 would have reduced this to $2.6 million which by the way would have been less than the $2.8 million for the F-106, a single-engine American aircraft the RCAF was looking at.

What is also not commonly known or acknowledged despite my having revealed the numbers in my previous books, is that the Department of National Defence actually returned the order of $262 million back to the government in unspent funds. Only $40 million or so came from the Arrow cancellation. The rest came from other canceled projects or projects that did not materialize, as well as from employee salaries who had left the government or passed away. The return of unspent monies from government departments is common and continues today, but back then these funds from DND alone would have paid for the completion of the development contract and build of those additional 32 Arrows, with the rest being purchased for $3.5 million.

Tied into this myth is that the Arrow would not be available until 1962 when in fact the records show September 1960.

On cost escalation, one hears that the company should have stuck with buying an already developed engine as per the original concept rather than developing their own; that they should not have tried developing the fire control system or that the project was simply too complex and that the company did not really know what it was doing, while taking advantage of the government by inflating costs. None of this is accurate according to the documents.

In my book, I go into detail as to why the costs were escalating. It was not related to mismanagement or gouging by the company nor was it related to the project being too complex. A large part of the issue had to do with the RCAF changing their minds, wanting more and once again, on faulty intelligence that suggested the Soviets were ahead in bomber development, the so-called “bomber gap”, which then necessitated increasing funds to actually accelerate the development.

What do you think would've happened if the Arrow had been allowed to go into production?

The obvious here is that people would have maintained their jobs and Canada would have had a solid aerospace industry. Some have asked why Avro could not have switched to commercial jet manufacture instead. In fact they did back in 1949 with the successful C102 Jetliner but that too was cancelled and nothing like it showed up again until 1957 with the BOEING 707.

Some will argue that eventually the company would have failed in the face of external competition. Maybe it would have and maybe it would not have or maybe a consortium could have been formed with others if not an outright buyout.  No one can say and who knows what else the company and its subsidiaries might have developed.

What is the likelihood of someone piecing back together an Avro Arrow and taking flight?

This is highly unlikely as one would need to use the same materials as in the 1950s. If new materials were used it would be a different and new aircraft even if it outwardly resembled the Arrow. I believe the cost would be prohibitive.

Palmiro Campagna is the author of Storms of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed, Requiem for A Giant: A.V. Roe Canada and the Avro Arrow, and The UFO Files: The Canadian Connection Exposed. He lives in Ottawa. Learn more here.