The story of the Royal Air Force CF-105 Arrow All-Weather Fighters that Never Were

The story of the Royal Air Force CF-105 Arrow All-Weather Fighters that Never Were

By Dario Leone
Sep 26 2023
Sponsored by: Mortons Books
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It was on the basis of the Arrow’s future potential, more than CF-105 then-current design, that it was considered as a contender for the British OR.329/F155T interceptor requirement.

One of the most famous aircraft in Canadian history, the CF-105 Arrow never made it into operational use with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) although it was flown by the service test pilots. The CF-105 Arrow was a supersonic all-weather two-seat interceptor designed and produced by Avro Aircraft Limited in Malton, Ontario. Avro had avoided the normal prototype stage and launched directly into manufacture of production aircraft. Five pre-production standard aircraft were outfitted with J-57 engines and flight test systems. The sixth aircraft was equipped with the full production Orenda Iroquois engines but this aircraft never flew before the program was cancelled. A total of 31 more aircraft were also in production when the entire effort was terminated by the federal government on Feb. 20, 1959.

Something almost nobody knows is that the Royal Air Force (RAF) was interested in the CF-105 Arrow.

Investment in the RAF fell away dramatically in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The enemy had been comprehensively defeated and it was believed that the incredible destructive power of the atom bomb – possessed only by the Americans – would ensure a lasting peace. But the realisation that the Soviet Union had successfully tested its own atomic weapon in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 shattered this comforting illusion. In particular, the appearance of the MiG-15 over the battlefield prompted a dramatic response from the British government.

However, as told by Dan Sharp in his book Cold War Interceptor, the biggest danger in this new ‘cold war’ remained the bomber. The nuclear missile was still a work in progress – both in the West and the Soviet Union -but the Soviets were known to be developing a new fleet of supersonic bombers presumed to be capable of breaching Britain’s defences with ease. An effective high-performance interceptor was needed; something so fast and powerful that it could catch any incoming bomber and destroy it well away from the British isles. The result was Operational Requirement (OR.) 329/F.155T and some of the most outlandish aircraft designs ever committed to paper.

Britain’s top aircraft manufacturers, including Hawker, English Electric, Fairey, Vickers Supermarine, de Havilland, Saunders-Roe and Armstrong Whitworth, set to work on designing powerful supersonic aircraft with all-new guided missile systems capable of intercepting a Soviet assault and shooting down high-flying enemy aircraft before they could unleash a devastating nuclear firestorm on British soil.

The Hawker Siddeley Group (HSG) owned two of the seven companies competing directly for F.155T – Hawker and Armstrong Whitworth – but A V Roe Canada, a third HSG firm, was also working on an aircraft which it was thought might just meet the specification: the Avro CF-105.

When Avro Canada was sent copies of OR.329 and F.155T, on ad Aug. 17, 1955, the firm was heavily invested in the CF-105 and responded simply by presenting the Ministry of Supply with its latest brochure for the type — which would not be given the name ‘Arrow’ until 1957, long after the British dismissed any idea of buying it. And as it stood, the anticipated performance of the CF-105 was a long way short of meeting British requirements at this point.

Arrow Replica

According to the brochure, the Canadian fighter would take seven minutes to climb to 60,000ft, by which time it would be travelling at only Mach 1.6. The worst performing British design in this scenario, de Havilland’s DH.117, would take six minutes to reach 60,000ft and Mach 2. This was down to the CF-105’s lack of rocket power.

In addition, and for the same reason, the CF-105’s top speed at that altitude was Mach 1.77, and its overall maximum speed was Mach 1.94 at 50,000ft. The slowest British design was English Electric’s P.8, which would achieve Mach 2 at 46,000ft without reheat. Furthermore, at 60,000ft the CF-105 would take 6.4 minutes to accelerate from Mach 1.3 to Mach 1.7.

By comparison, Fairey’s Large design was expected to take less than one minute to go from Mach 1.3 to Mach 2 at the same altitude. In fact, Vickers’ Type 559 was expected to go from Mach 1.55 to Mach 2 in an incredible 4.5 seconds at 60,000ft. Even the worst performer, de Havilland again, would only take 1.3 minutes for a Mach 1.3 to Mach 2 dash at 60,000ft. All the British designs had a ceiling of at least 65,000ft, whereas the CF-105 topped out at 55,200ft, by which point its performance was severely tailing off.

And there was more. The CF-105’s tandem seating arrangement was frowned upon and its much-vaunted internal payload bay was designed to carry Arnerican missiles — the AIM-4 Falcon and the AIM-7 Sparrow — and was ill-suited to the de Havilland Blue Jay. The Vickers Red Hebe air-to-air missile, which came increasingly to be regarded as essential to the F.155T aircraft, would not fit in it at all. The intended radar unit was the American Hughes MX.1179, which would undoubtedly result in contractual and supply difficulties, even assuming it was not decided to simply have it built with a British system installed instead.

Nevertheless, the CF-105 was seen to be already approaching production readiness — offering the significant benefit of early availability. It was light too, at 55,000lb fully loaded, which meant there was likely to be significant potential for further development. Avro Canada was part of the Hawker Siddeley Group, making it technically a British company, with huge resources to draw upon should significant modifications to the design prove necessary.

It was therefore on the basis of the CF-105’s future potential, more than its then-current design, that it was considered as a contender for the OR.329/F155T interceptor requirement. If it failed to meet this, its performance was still potent enough to outmatch the RAF’s intended interim interceptor, the F.153D Thin Wing Javelin.

Cold War Interceptor is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here along with many other beautiful aviation books. Save 10% on all books with exclusive promotional code ‘AVGEEK10’!

Photo credit: Royal Canadian Air Force and Combat Ace

Avro Arrow

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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