‘Holy Grail’ Researchers Locate Avro “Baby Arrow” on Floor of Lake Ontario

John Buchan
ArtEye Photo CC BY 2.0

For years, people have searched Lake Ontario for signs of the Avro “Baby Arrows” that were flown over the lake in the late 1950s.

The 3-meter planes were scale models of the plane Avro intended to produce for the Canadian military. The models were filled with telemetry and sensors to monitor and report on the effects flight had on the structure of the plane.

Though intended to give birth to an aviation industry, the program was shut down in 1959 by then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. 30,000 people were put out of work by the decision. Many of the best engineers from the program went to the US to work for NASA where they helped design the Gemini and Apollo rockets.

The rollout of the first Avro Arrow
The rollout of the first Avro Arrow

Researchers have searched for the models since almost immediately after they were launched. There is very little remaining to show for the work that was done on the program as everything was destroyed when it was cancelled. Researchers have hoped that they would find a complete model under the lake.

That hope might be finally dashed with the latest discovery. Raise the Arrow, a group formed with the intent of retrieving a model of the Arrow from the bottom of Lake Ontario. “What we found, basically, is a debris field,” said the project leader John Burzynski, president and CEO of Osisko Mining.

Though they have confirmed that they have located one of the final four models to be launched, but the wreckage mainly consists of electrical wire and components. The pieces of the fuselage that they found were painted yellow which indicates that it is from one of those last four models to be launched. They were the only ones painted yellow.

One of the smaller Arrow models to test the delta wing recovered from Lake Ontario in 2018. Image courtesy of OEX Recovery Group.
One of the smaller Arrow models to test the delta wing recovered from Lake Ontario in 2018. Image courtesy of OEX Recovery Group.

In 2016, Raise the Arrow found an intact Delta Test Vehicle (DTV) in 2017. That model was raised in 2108 and is on display in Ottawa. Researchers had hoped to find an intact Free Flight Model (FFM) which are much larger. They had been able to find anything at all of the FFMs until last week when the team noticed something unusual in their sonar scans of the lakebed. Using robotic cameras, they were able to determine that they were looking at the wreckage of one of the FFMs.

They identified part of the fuselage plus part of the front fuselage. They also found a battery compartment and another section that contains electronic wiring.

The surviving nose section of Avro Arrow RL-206
The surviving nose section of Avro Arrow RL-206

So far, the team has not removed any of the pieces. They are considering obtaining the proper licenses and permits to retrieve the model so that it can be preserved.

The finding is difficult for Burzynski who has spent a lot of time and money to locate model of the Arrow only to find that they likely all broke apart upon contact with water of the lake.

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Burzynski theorizes that the models broke apart at the welds when they hit the water. Most of the pieces are flat so they would have lain flat on the bottom of the lake and slowly been covered with silt and with zebra mussels. “So they would have been tough to find,” Burzynski said.