Sunday, 16 September 2012

Well, Here's a Twist! A Proposal to Buy Updated Avro Arrows instead of F-35's

The Avro Arrow is an symbol, to many Canadians, of Canadian potential being sold downriver by a Canadian government under American pressure. It might not have been cancelled only because of American pressure, but I'm sure that interpretation is the reason that I can still buy a model of the plane in almost any hobby store.

Avro Arrow

F-35 Lightning II

Bourdeau Industries has suggested that a patriotic way out of the F-35 fighter jet purchase (and accompanying scandal) is to blow the dust off the Arrow blueprints, update them, and make our own fighter jets. They have one prominent believer, General Lewis MacKenzie, who took the proposal to government ministers about a year ago.

Lest one laugh too hard--after all, the Arrow was cancelled in 1959--there may be something to this idea. From the same article:
The proposal, which was updated in 2012, suggested the plane could fly 20,000 feet higher than the F-35, soar twice as fast and would cost less.
For example, the proposal said that the total cost of the Arrow program would be $11.73 billion, compared to the $16 billion the federal government says the F-35 program will cost.
The $16 billion, by the way, is a gross undervaluing of the costs. We will know how much of a lowball figure it is when the accounting firm KPMG finishes its audit, part of the government reaction to the scandal.

Now, the Arrow was intended to be an interceptor, not a ground attack plane. It was to fly high and fast and intercept Russian bombers over the Canadian North.  If Canada were to put northern defence at the top of its list of requirements, rather than ground attack, then something like this would be an interesting made-in-Canada solution.

Most public reactions to the idea, as published by the CBC, seem to be negative. Others say the idea was axed too soon. I have no idea whether the updating is practical, if it would just mean strapping a couple of new engines to the back and and a new radar to the front or if it would have to be a complete redesign. For comparison, though, here is the 1959 Arrow versus the F-35 in a few characteristics.

Avro Arrow F-35 A
Length 23.71 m 15.67 m
Wingspan 15.24 m 10.7 m
Height 6.25 m 4.33 m
Combat Radius 660 km 1,082 km
Maximum Speed Mach 1.98 Mach 1.6+
Service Ceiling 16,150 m 18,288 m

Some stealth characteristics, such as internal weapons bays More stealthy design

Update: I checked to see how the engines in the Arrow compared to those in a modern fighter, the Typhoon. The answer was surprising. The Arrow had two Pratt and Whitney J75s with a dry thrust of 55 kN each and, with afterburner, 104.53 kN each. The Typhoon has two Eurojet EJ200 engines. The dry thrust is 60 kN each and the thrust with afterburner is 89 kN each. What I get from that is that the Arrow's old powerplant isn't outclassed by this modern jet's: it's a bit behind on dry thrust and considerably ahead with the afterburner on.

You know, if it were given a chance, it could work!


In the interest of this Blog's purpose, "My Continuing Education," I am going to follow up on the intriguing idea of the Avro Arrow update. Is it possible? Is it affordable? Does it make any kind of sense? Let's see what I can find.

First, here's a transcription of the episode of the tv show "West Block" that broke the story. General Lewis MacKenzie makes the case. He makes an interesting point about stealth airplanes, that they aren't stealthy from above. So, if we could have a plane sitting much higher than, say, an F-35 can fly and looking down...

Global News is negative on the idea. It quotes Philippe Lagasse, a University of Ottawa defence procurement expert, who says it can't be done. "Is it feasible to think that a small Canadian upstart, in a decade's time, will be able to compete with one of the largest aerospace manufacturers in the world in terms of information technologies and systems?" He is not speaking of the airframe, which he is sure that Bourdeau Industries could provide, but the other systems, "weaponry, payload and information systems that will eventually hamper this Canadian effort," said Lagasse. The article adds that Bourdeau Industries was looking for only a one-year grant to perfect the design and present a manufacturing plan. Another source tells me the one-year grant would cost $50 million.

Gee, with that little an investment to find out what the design could offer, couldn't we start a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money?

Incidentally, if the Swedes could create a modern and competitive fighter, with American parts for the brains, why couldn't Canada? We have over three times the population and a larger aerospace industry.

Matt Gurney at the National Post states that the plane isn't the problem,
"It could fly fast and high, at long ranges. And it wouldn’t take much to tweak the Arrow’s design to permit it to fire modern missiles. The idea of sending a 60-year old design out to patrol Canadian skies or bomb the odd rogue nation isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, so long as the aircraft themselves are new enough to avoid issues of metal fatigue and parts wear-down."
The problem, he says, is the same as it was in Diefenbaker's day, is the high cost. When only a few need to be made, the cost per unit is high. So I guess he's disputing the Bourdeau cost estimates.

An article in the Star quotes another defence analyst, Martin Shadwick of York University, who goes farther than Lagasse, saying
"the half century that has passed since its first flight would dictate a complete – and costly redesign.
'Everything would change except the name of the airplane because you’d have to go back and re-engineer the entire thing,' Shadwick said." He added, "It would virtually be a clean sheet piece of paper kind of design. That would cost an astronomical amount of money."
I suppose that it would be useful to hear from an engineer instead of a "defence analyst." The article "A little more on resurrecting the Arrow" quotes Palmiro Campagna, an engineer at the Department of National Defence. He has written books on the Arrow, incorporating previously classified documents, and wrote a report on the difficulties of recreating one. He says, "The fact is, the design would have to be redone from scratch. This is not a simple task and never has been." He continues,
"It would not matter if all the original drawings existed. Those drawings were based on engineering calculations and computations and thousands of hours of testing for the characteristics of the existing materials of the day."

Merely changing the material used in the 1950s for more modern goods would render the original plans obsolete and demand new drawings, Campagna wrote.

"Everything would have to be recalculated and re-tested from scratch. Centre of gravity, weight, drag and thermal coefficients and load and stress factors would all change, to name a few."
So, again, it comes down to money. Politicians in the governing party, however, prefer to call it impossible. Another Global News report gives information on why the Government rejected the plan.
Julian Fantino, at the time the minister in charge of the fighter jet replacement program, wrote back to say the proposal "does not satisfactorily address these mandatory requirements."
One of those requirements, mentioned three times in the June 29 letter to MacKenzie, is stealth capabilities -- a quality the F-35 is purported to have, but that many experts have questioned.
Nevertheless, the article adds a few fun facts about the hypothetical updated Arrow:
The Avro Arrow vs. the F-35

Speed: The Arrow would fly twice as fast as the F-35 -- 3,887 km/h, or Mach 3.5, compared to the F-35's 1,854 km/h, or Mach 1.67.

Distance: The Arrow can fly as far as 3,000 kilometres before refueling. The F-35 flies 2,200 kilometres before doing the same.

Costs: The 20-year lifecycle cost for 100 Arrows would come in at $12 billion. That's less than half the price Canada is expected to pay for 65 F-35s.

Conditions: The Arrow is tailor-made to Canada's unique geography, with an eject pod that would help pilots survive in arctic conditions. The F-35 has a one-size-fits-all model for missions in countries across the globe.

Source: Bourdeau Industries
These characteristics are very different from anything that's flying today. It would be, if as advertised, faster than the F-22 Raptor (which flies at Mach 2.25 or thereabouts), fly longer than the Raptor (which has a range of 2,960 km with two external fuel tanks), and, at 38,000 m, fly higher than the Raptor (which has a theoretical service ceiling of 19,812 m).

 It's actually more similar to what the legendary SR-71 Blackbird could do. That was Mach 3.3 in speed, 5,400 km in range, and a service ceiling of 25,900 m. It's interesting that there was once an intention to turn the Blackbird into a high-speed interceptor, the YF-12 for "defense of the continental US."

It loses out in comparison to the Raptor in stealth and extreme manoeverability. As I said, the new Arrow would be a plane for patrolling Arctic skies (asserting sovereignty, checking out visitors, showing off unwelcome visitors, escorting welcome ones) and extending the reach of Norad in the North.

The NDP, by the way, are willing to listen to the proponents of the plan this week.

On that note, I'm going to give the conclusion to a post by Kevin Kitura reacting to an article in the Sun. It gives some historical context to the question of whether an updated Arrow would fit into the modern world.
The only reason you would want a fighter jet that could fly mach 3 and 90,000 feet is if you were trying to intercept mach 3 bomber like the US Air Forces cancelled XB-70. All the fighter jets that were designed for high speed high altitude interception such as the Mig-25, YF-12, the CF-105 got cancelled or in case of the Mig-25 were kept around as a propaganda device. The Mig-25 would later get reengineered in to some thing a little more useful in the way of the Mig-31.

The F-35 on the other hand is an entirely different beast from these high speed quarter horses. Speed wise the F-35 is optimized to cruise in the transonic range because much like a modern jet liner that is where you get the best combination of speed and range which is what you need for flying attack missions. While optimized for the transonic speed range the F-35 can still reach speeds of Mach 1.62 when required for high speed intercepts. As history and experience has shown most fighter jets rarely break the sound barrier when armed for battle and usually only reach their max speeds during test flights when they are unarmed.

If look at the 1970's generation fighters like the F-14, F-15, F-16 & F-111 one of the requirements that the US Air Force wanted was the ability for the airplanes to hit Mach 2 at altitude. Starting with the F-18 it was realized that a plane that could hit Mach 1.8 was more then fast enough for flying intercept missions and it allowed the manufacter to use aluminum alloys and carbon composites which made for lighter more manoeuvrabile airplane with a better thrust to weight ratio with out having to use high temperture alloys that flying above Mach 2 required due to supersonic heating. This is why the maximum speed of the F-22 is capped at Mach 1.8 even though it has the thrust to go faster the computer retard the throttles to prevent the pilot from over heating the airframe.
If I understand properly, interceptors are different than air superiority fighters and ground attack fighters, although many planes have some ability in all three roles. The Arrow would probably not be much good as a close-range dogfighter because it is not optimized for manoeuvrability. If it were to be used against other fighters, it would have to specialize in "Beyond Visual Range" attacks, and use superior speed and height for safety. As far as ground attack goes, well, that's a big plane that could probably fit in a few bombs, and it has big wings that could probably support a few missiles. It isn't the job the plane was designed for, though. It is the job that the F-35 is designed for. And since I believe the unspoken priority is that Canada be able to do what it did in the First Gulf War and in the Libya operation...area denial and ground attack in some foreign adventure...the F-35 will be bought.

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