Bringing the Arrow back to life (Editor’s Notes)

Resurrecting mythic fighter jet from the 1950s could be innovation stimulus Canada sorely needs

Canada has an innovation problem. Blame it on our insecurity or self-deprecating nature but this country isn’t popping up nearly enough on the global stage when it comes to being innovative.

And innovation isn’t a nice-to-have, especially in a global economy — it’s a must. Innovate or die, as the old saying goes.

Maybe I’ve been watching too many Neil deGrasse Tyson videos (If you don’t know him, fire up YouTube and look for a video he narrates titled “We stopped dreaming.”) but the idea of bringing back the Avro Arrow seems like it could be a terrific innovation stimulus.

The legendary Arrow was an advanced, Canadian-designed fighter jet built in the 1950s. It was scrapped in a controversial move by former prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1959.

The end of the program led to a brain drain of some of Canada’s best talent — in one glaring example, a team of 25 Avro engineers went south to work at NASA after the cancellation, helping drive the manned space program in the United States — including the Apollo missions that landed on the moon.

In 2008, economic stimulus from the Canadian government certainly helped numb some of the pain when the bottom fell out of the economy. So, if innovation needs a boost, perhaps it’s time to belly up to the bar and inject a little public sector innovation into the country. And what better way to do that than to reignite the engines on the Arrow program?

It would inspire the nation. A program to design and build a Canadian-made jet could convince more of our brightest students to get into science and engineering — it could do for science what the Vancouver Olympic Games did for sports.

It would give graduates a place to work, so they don’t have to head outside of the country. A good friend of mine, a talented aerospace engineer, has spent the majority of his working life in the U.S. But his resumé would be the first to hit HR’s desk if production on the Arrow were to begin anew.

Ottawa’s plan to spend anywhere from $9 billion to $25 billion — depending on which estimates you believe — to purchase 65 F-35 fighters from Lockheed Martin has been controversial, to say the least.

Fans of the Arrow — and there are still plenty of them — think that kind of cash would do the trick to restart production. Proponents say 120 new-and-improved Arrows could be delivered at a cost of $73 million each, or about $9 billion, according to a Globe and Mail article.

Retired major-general Lewis Mackenzie is among those who are on board, and so is Marc Bourdeau, a former Canadian public servant who is spearheading the proposal.

“This is not an exercise in nostalgia,” he said. “This is an exercise in defence and industrial policy for Canada.”

At this point, the government is not embracing the idea. A senior government source who reviewed the revival pitch expressed deep skepticism about the business plan to the Globe.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said the anonymous official.

That’s exactly what most Canadians said in 1959 when the plug was pulled.

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