A piece of history found in Olds

Couple finds Avro Arrow plans in basement

An Olds resident has found a piece of Canadian history — plans for the Avro Arrow, a supersonic Canadian-designed and -built warplane that was scrapped in 1959, amid much controversy.

Bob Nelson’s wife Connie came across the plans when cleaning out the couple’s basement.

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Design of the Arrow began in 1953.

Reports say five planes were made. It was so fast it reached Mach 1.9 in test flights.

However, the federal Conservative government ordered the program scrapped, citing concerns over spending by the previous Liberal government. It shut the program down in February 1959, driving the production company out of business.

The cancellation created a storm of controversy. Some historians and those in the aircraft industry are still debating the wisdom of that decision.

The decision forced highly skilled engineers and production staff who had worked on the project to find jobs elsewhere. Many did, in the U.S. Critics say the Canadian airplane industry has never been the same.

Bob recalls when Connie found the plans.

“I was upstairs reading. She came up with this and she said, ‘do you want this?’ I looked at it and I said, ‘I don’t even know what that is.’

“Then I unravelled it and I saw it was plans for the Arrow. And I thought, ‘where in the world did I come by that? Because I remembered having it once I saw it.

“But when I looked at it and she showed it to me, I could not — and still to this day, I can’t remember where in the world I bought it,” he says.

Nelson suspects he obtained the plans some time between 2000 and 2002 when he and Connie attended a display during which the Arrow was rolled out in Toronto.

Nelson, 72, says he’s a “big-time” fan of aviation.

“From the time I can remember I wanted to fly, I wanted to be a pilot, I wanted to be in the Air Force, I wanted to be everything airplane, you know,” he says.

Instead, he ended up taking over the family farm when his father died in 1963.

He had a keen interest in the Arrow and followed its production and demise.

“I watched it on TV when they rolled the very first one out and did testing on it,” he says.

Nelson agrees with those who say the Arrow was ahead of its time.

“(It) could outfly and outmanoeuvre and out-carry anything that’s out there today,” Nelson says, adding it did so with an engine that was “about a third of the engine that was going to be in it in the finalized airplane.”

The Arrow also carried an “unbelievable” amount of weaponry, Nelson says.

Nelson had proposed giving the plans to the Mountain View Museum and Archives but says he was told the museum wasn’t interested in them.

“I tried,” he says. “It kind of surprised me. I thought, ‘this is museum material.'”

So he gave them to a friend, Craig Chapman.

Mountain View Museum and Archives program director Chantal Marchildon could not be reached for comment by press time.

© Deloraine Times & Star

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