A search team has recently unveiled images that show the first of nine Avro Arrow free-flight models believed to be sitting at the bottom of Lake Ontario.
Search program organizers OEX Recovery Group held a press conference in Toronto last Friday to unveil sonar and underwater camera images that showcase a free-flight Avro Arrow model launched in a series of tests from 1954 to 1957 as part of the Avro Arrow design program.
The free flight models were launched over Lake Ontario in a series of flight tests conducted in the 1950s as engineers developed the revolutionary Arrow, which featured a radical delta wing and a Canadian-made jet engine that pushed it past the speed of sound. The free flight models were used in a series of aerodynamic experiments that helped fine-tune the aircraft's flight quality.
The free flight models were attached to high-powered booster rockets and launched out over Lake Ontario from a military test site east of Toronto. After separating from the booster rockets, the models flew at supersonic speeds. Their onboard sensors, revolutionary for the 1950s, transmitted flight data back to engineers on the ground. At the end of each flight the models lost velocity, crashed into the water and sank. For over sixty years the models have rested on the bottom of the lake.
When the Avro Arrow program was cancelled in 1959, all materials related to the project were ordered destroyed, leaving the free flight models as the only known artifacts from the program remaining to be found.
In the past, privately funded missions have attempted to locate and recover the lost models, but all have failed due inadequate funding, water depths, search area size and the amount of metal debris on the bottom – according to military records, more than 600 missiles were launched from the same site.
"We are very pleased and tremendously proud to announce we have discovered the first example of one of the free-flight Arrow models," said John Burzynski, Raise the Arrow expedition leader and CEO of Osisko Mining. "We hope to have other discoveries as we continue the program and are now working on planning a recovery of this first Arrow model. The Arrow is an important – and passionate – part of Canada's aviation and technological history as a reminder of what Canadians can achieve.”
The sonar images of the newly discovered Avro Arrow model were captured using AquaPix Synthetic Aperture Sonar deployed onboard the ThunderFish autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) from Kraken Sonar Inc. subsidiary Kraken Sonar Systems Inc.
David Shea, Kraken's VP of Engineering, said, "It has been a very exciting few weeks. After a short break to conduct vehicle maintenance and refresh our team, last week we headed back out onto the lake. The plan was to follow the trajectory of our recently discovered Nike booster rockets and we prioritized our search grid to focus along the same trajectory. The group decided to conduct a search immediately beyond the location of our previous booster rocket. We had a very productive survey day and were rewarded with a fantastic discovery: an Avro Arrow model and two more Nike boosters."
Shea continued, "As all of our sonar processing operates onboard the AUV in real-time, this significantly reduced our overall processing timeline, a critical factor during the search. We could access and view the sonar images immediately after we downloaded the data. The extremely high resolution of our AquaPix sonar made target identification very easy – this was clearly a delta-wing shaped model."
"It was previously confirmed from historical footage that each model was launched with a Nike booster rocket, and although the models did decouple from the rockets for free flight, following the 'trail' of booster rockets led us in the right direction. This discovery clearly validates the group's search strategy and demonstrates the value of Kraken's ThunderFish AUV and AquaPix sonar technology."
Any of the free-flight test models that are eventually recovered will be housed at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario.