Monday, September 10, 2012

Loved and lost

When I was in high school I dated a girl who was "the one". She was pretty much the first of everything. She was smart, pretty, and intellectually precocious, and the three years between us seemed hardly to matter. As time passed, they really didn't matter at all. In university, I starting making plans in the back of my mind for our life together. It wasn't to be. She moved on. In some ways, I never quite did.

In some ways, neither has my country.

The Globe and Mail is this morning announcing one the sillier ideas I've seen mooted on the pages of a newspaper of record: that some folks are seriously proposing the resurrection of the Avro Arrow. It's hard for me to really frame what this plane means in this country to anyone who's not from here. Over the years its reputation has snowballed into something little short of Excalibur. It was going to be the greatest fighter-interceptor in the world; it could have lifted small manned capsules into suborbital spaceflights; it would have this, it would have that. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that the Diefenbaker government scrapped the made-in-Canada program in 1959, destroying all the test planes, the plans, the engines. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker gave natives residing on reservations the vote, fought hyphenated citizenship, and gave the country the Canadian Bill of Rights (a "quasi-constitutional" document not to be confused with the constitutionally-entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms), but what he's primarily remembered for is killing the Avro Arrow.

What can I say? A few years ago at the Royal Ontario Museum, there was a travelling display of Canadiana. Among other things I saw with my own eyes, along with one of the original signed copies of the Charter encased in helium, was a preserved landing gear of an Arrow, hidden away during the destruction. And it was a little like seeing Excalibur, and going, wow, it was really real.

There were consequences for this country. The cancellation of the Arrow was the effective death of an independent Canadian aviation industry, at least until Bombardier picked up that fallen standard in recent years. Canadian engineers, designers, and pilots fled to the US for work. A lot of them were instrumental in putting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Many people to this day insist John Diefenbaker sold Canada out to American interests, or even was pressured by the Pentagon to abandon a made-in-Canada defence solution; and, as I say, he's never really been forgiven for it. Sad to say, that's been his legacy. Maybe rightly so.

Now, all that said... to sit here in 2012 and see people seriously suggest building a plane, designed in the late 1950s for use into the 1970s, in the 2010s for use into the 2030s... well, it's one of those comedy face-twitch moments. Yeah, and if I give myself a decent enough comb-over, maybe I can get the girl from high school and we'll start that family we never had. Come on, folks. I know the Arrow was homemade maple fudge ice cream, legalized marijuana, and seven-minute multiple orgasms all rolled into one, but it would have been half way through its service life when I was born. Let's not do this to ourselves all over again. It was what it was, and it never was what it was. It never will be, because it's never going to be 1965 again. I'm all for an aviation industry in Canada that's capable of designing and building a decent fighter-interceptor that suits our needs, mission goals, and our environment—while at the same time, we recognize and purchase good ideas made by other countries as well. Every country should aspire to something like that, I think. But if we're going to do it, let's go back to the drawing board and use what we've learned since 1960. Any technological industry with its focus set backward is a non-starter.

At long last, let's bid a fond, respectful adieu to the Arrow.

1 comment:

Bridgewater said...

My knowledge of fighter-interceptor aircraft dates to the likes of the Hellcat, the Spitfire, and the P-38, having grown up with war stories and lived near a WWII museum for some years. I was reading the newspapers by the time Diefenbaker came to power and have had reason in recent years to remember his Conservative contempt of Liberal spending and the rancor over Canada somehow capitulating to the United States in ducking under the NORAD umbrella. In retrospect, the fear generated by Sputnik was unmerited, but it benefitted me personally in that my higher education was subsidized by both Republican and Democratic administrations in the years that followed. The Arrow has to be a nostalgic symbol of possibilities unfulfilled and a powerful call to return to the halcyon years and homemade maple-fudge ice cream.