The Search for Missing Arrow Modelsby Jeremy Whitlock
On Thursday, May 2 about 50 people attending an evening talk at the J.L.Gray Centre, hosted by the Canadian Nuclear Society, learned all about some people undertaking precisely this challenge.
The guest speaker was Andrew Hibbert of Arrow Recovery Canada Inc., a non-profit group of volunteers out to resurrect a bit of Canadian history, and mythology, from the floor of Lake Ontario.
The group has been researching the likely locations of nine Avro Arrow scale models launched over the lake in the 1950s as part of the legendary Arrow's development program.
The models, about 10 feet in length, were rocket-propelled to supersonic speeds in a series of tests of the Arrow's revolutionary airframe.
The mini-Arrows flew from the Pt. Petre test range on the southwestern tip of Prince Edward County (near Belleville). They reached their desired speed within seconds, dropped their NIKE rocket boosters, and glided into the lake at hitherto unknown locations. During their brief flights the models radioed sensor data back to shore, letting the engineers know how their design was holding up to the rigours of supersonic flight.
Considered as necessary write-offs in the Arrow project's hay-day, these nine models, if found, would be among the most significant artefacts of the infamous aircraft.
The Arrow's untimely demise is now part of Canadian lore, and recently the subject of a TV movie starring the decidedly un-aerodynamic Dan Ackroyd.
The CF-105 Arrow was a supersonic jet-interceptor designed for the long range and heavy armament needed to chase and destroy Russian nuclear bombers expected to be coming over the Pole to hit the U.S. It was built under a Dept. of Defense contract by the A.V. Roe company of Malton, Ont. (now Toronto).
On Friday, February 29, 1959, the Arrow project was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, and all traces of it ordered destroyed. Interestingly, this order still stands today, meaning that the nine scale models, if found and recovered, would theoretically be subject to the same fate.
Andrew Hibbert and his team of course hope that media publicity would be enough to avoid that irony when the time comes.
Arrow Recovery Canada was formed 1998, when an Arrow-hunter named Bill Scott thought he had enough research under his belt to confidently start to look for the models. He brought in Andrew Hibbert, a graphic designer by trade but also a lay scuba-diver archaeologist of some repute.
Mr. Hibbert was asked initially to set up the license application necessary for a legal search of Lake Ontario. He had a passing interest in the Arrow story at the time, but quickly became embroiled to the point of now heading the group himself.
The "primary search area" was chosen by a mixture of detective work and luck. The team knew that all nine rockets were fired with the same trajectory, and they knew something of the range of each rocket as well. This defined a search radius of roughly 4-5 miles.
By inspecting the 50-year-old bolt holes in the concrete pads still in place at the Pt. Petre launch site, they were able to pin down the horizontal angle of the launches. But the ace in the hole was stumbling upon the actual camera operator, living in retirement nearby, who still remembers filming the splash-downs, and could tell the team which direction he had pointed his camera five decades earlier.
This narrowed the search grid down to a relatively small region of Lake Ontario, with up to 150 feet of water.
Originally relying on compass readings and shore-beacon-based Loran navigation, the search team now uses GPS technology integrated with state-of-the-art Side Scan sonar.
The sonar can see through the zebra mussels that now encrust every object in Lake Ontario to several feet of thickness. Although this will hamper the scuba divers during the visual phase of the search, the zebra mussels have also increased underwater visibility through their constant filtering of up to a quart of water each per day.
Mr. Hibbert and his team hope that 2002 will be the year they locate their first Arrow model. The plan is to donate them to museums, who have eagerly lined up abundance.
Unfortunately, there isn't an abundance of cash, and even with heroic volunteerism it is clear that financing the search is its biggest constraint. The team fund-raises at air shows and related-interest events of all kinds, and can now add a visit to the Chalk River Branch of the CNS to that list. The group is currently seeking charity status to enhance this effort.
Those interested in learning more about Arrow Recovery Canada can visit their very informative website at www.avroarrow.org.