Tuesday, December 23, 2014

[RANT] No Virgina... The Arrow isn't the best fighter for Canada. (But it could be something else...)



It seems that every few weeks, another discussion comes up on the BF4C Facebook group regarding the Avro Arrow.  More specifically, that an updated Avro Arrow would be the best replacement for the CF-18 Hornet.

At first glance, it does seem like an attractive option.  The Arrow was, and always will be a testament to Canadian engineering prowess.  Its resurrection could be seen as correcting a decades-old mistake. The Joint Strike Fighter has not exactly proven itself popular with Canadians, so the timing may be right to bring the Arrow back.

Except it isn't.

I have brought up the idea of a modernized Arrow plenty of times before, but let me make something abundantly clear:  THE ARROW WOULD NOT BE A SUITABLE CF-18 REPLACEMENT.  Period.  Full stop.  End of sentence.

The Avro Arrow was designed towards a single purpose, intercepting Soviet bombers before they could pose a threat to North American targets.  There is a pretty good chance it would have been great at this job.  Possibly even better than the CF-18.  That does not make it a suitable fighter for today's world, however.

Why?  Because Canada needs more than an interceptor.  It needs an honest-to-goodness multirole fighter.

The CF-18 Hornet is a pretty good multirole fighter.  Not the greatest, but pretty good.  It is a perfectly acceptable interceptor, a decent attack platform, and a respectable dogfighter.  It is not fantastic at any one thing, yet it is capable of doing just about any mission asked of it.

It its day, the F/A-18 stood out among its contemporaries (F-14, F-15, and F-16) for its versatility.  Remember, in the early 80s, the F-14 and F-15 were strictly air-superiority fighters.  Meanwhile, the F-16 would not become a true all-weather multi-role fighter until the F-16C variant.  Not so the F/A-18.  From its introduction, the F/A-18 was as comfortable slinging AIM-7 Sparrow missiles as it was dropping bombs.  Since then, other fighter designs have caught up, but the Hornet was still fairly unique at the time of its introduction.  The fact that the RCAF replaced three fighters (CF-101, CF-104, and CF-116) with a single fighter type testifies to this.

Nowadays, it seems that almost every fighter available bills itself as "multirole".  It is important to remember that very few fighters could bill themselves as such 40 years ago.  `



Of course, a lot has changed in 40 years.  The F-15 Eagle, which had been developed with the mantra "not a pound for air-to-ground" has since been developed into the formidable F-15E Strike Eagle.  Even the Su-27 Flanker's design has been tweaked into the Su-34 "Fullback".

So why not perform similar magic on the Arrow's design?

Let us just get this out of the way, the Arrow would not make a good strike fighter.  The Arrow may be big with a sizable weapons bay to carry lots of bombs.  It may be able to be fitted with targeting pods and the like.  That is not enough to make it a decent strike platform.  A proper strike fighter needs to be able to fly low, fly slow, and be able to fly enough time "on station" to provide fire support for troops below.  The Arrow's high-speed delta shape make it completely unsuitable for this. It was meant to fly fast and high, not low and slow.

A big aircraft requires a BIG HANGER (get it?)

The Arrow has other issues as well.  Namely, logistics.

Those sleek, thin wings and large size may make for impressive supersonic performance, but they come with a cost.  The Arrow needed lots of runway to take-off and land.  Operations from Canada's Forward Operating Locations would likely be a non-starter.  They would also run into some challenges operating Arrows abroad.  Not every airbase would be able to handle an aircraft like the Arrow, and even if they did, operating costs would likely be much, much higher.

Consider the CF-18's latest missions:  While Arrows may be of use in the Ukraine, they would be nearly impossible to justify in use against ISIS.

If a Canadian government did decide to resurrect the Arrow, it would still be left needing a second aircraft.  Something smaller, more versatile, and more cost effective (*cough*Gripen*cough).


Still flying after all these years, the MiG-31.

Still, with updated avionics, weapon systems, and construction methods, a revitalized Arrow is still "doable".  It would be a challenging undertaking, and in the end we might end up with something akin to Russia's MiG-31BM.

Based on the 50s era MiG-25, the MiG-31 "Foxhound" mounts a relatively huge radar and long range missiles on to an aircraft capable of Mach 3.  The west currently has no analog, but imagine an SR-71 equipped with the F-14's AGM-54 Phoenix missiles and a radar that approaches that seen in an AEW&C aircraft.  The Foxhound can detect, track, intercept, and knock-out any incursion into its airspace.

There is a "tall tale" that when the MiG-31's Zaslon radar made its public debut at the 1991 Paris Air Show, Russian experts suggested that the Americans should see how well the F-117 fared against it.  The Americans politely declined.

Russia is still enamored enough with the interceptor concept that has kept it updated and soon hopes to develop a successor to fly alongside the PAK FA and other aircraft.


No discussion about a modern-day Arrow would be complete without mentioning two attempts at resurrecting it.

The first entity trying to bring the Arrow back is one that I will refuse to name here, for reasons I will explain fully.  This first entity (which could be mistaken for a French wine-making region) has a moderately popular Facebook group and has produced a few YouTube videos.

While this attempt seems admirable at first, digging below the surface has left me unconvinced, to say the least.

While the Arrow may have been impressive in its day, this "Industrial" entity makes claims that a "Mark 3" version of the CF-105 would have capabilities that read more like "Chuck Norris Facts".

These capabilities include:

  • 80,000lbs wet thrust from two "Iroquois III turbojets".
  • Mach 3.5 top speed
  • 30mm gatling gun
  • 4 MBDA Meteor BVR missiles
  • 6 internally-mounted (???) Python IR WVR missiles.
  • 3D vectoring exhaust
The list reads more like a list of "cool things found on other aircraft".  The 80,000lb thrust provided by two engines just so happen to match the 40,000lbs of thrust provided by the F-35's single F135.  The "30mm gatling gun" obviously comes from an A-10, and the 3D vectored exhaust is all the rage with Russian fighters like the Su-35.

The six internally-mounted Pythons are a real head scratcher here.  While mounting heat-seeking WVR missiles internally is possible (see the F-22), they require a rail-launch.  This means a trapeze-style mechanism that adds complexity.  It makes more sense to simply mount IR missiles on external rails.  Meteors (or other BVR missiles like the AMRAAM) can be easily dropped out of bombay before firing engines.


It is the "Iroquois III turbojets" that really enter the realm of the fantastic here, however.  For one, Orenda, the original manufacturer of the Iroquois turbojet destined for the Arrow, is long since gone.  The Iroquois engine itself was rated for 30,000lbs, so 40,000lbs is not that much of a stretch.  But why use turbojets?

Turbojets have fallen out of use since the widespread adoption of turboprops and turbofans in the 70s.    Both offer improved efficiency and flexibility.  Turbojets still see use in cruise missiles due to their simplicity and size, but are rarely seen anywhere else.  For military aircraft, turbofans offer superior fuel efficiency (and range), a lower infrared signature, and lower noise levels.  

Maybe a modernized Arrow could reach the claimed Mach 3.5.  Even then, this would be of little use, as it would have to return to base soon after reaching that speed.  Equipped with less powerful P&W J75s, the Avro Arrow prototype had a combat radius of a paltry 660km.  To put that in perspective, all of the fighters currently being studied to replace the CF-18 easily break 1,000km.  The F-15C has a combat radius of 2,000km.

At the very least, a modernized Arrow would need an engine akin to the F-22's P&W F119 (35,000+lbs of thrust).  The trouble with this is that the F119 is substantially wider, yet shorter, than the original Orenda Iroquois.  This would require a substantial redesign of the fuselage, possibly adding drag, weight, etc.

Ugh...  Just...  No.
Things go completely off the rails when this "Industrial" entity goes into future plans for its resurrected CF-105, going into "Mk 4" and beyond.  Using old conjectural drawings (like the one seen above), this entity proposes pushing the Arrow into unbelievable levels.  

Pushing the CF-105's limits by strapping additional 4 additional ramjets (count 'em!), there is talk of getting the Arrow up to Mach 5 and beyond.  No mention of where the fuel would go to power these, however.  It should be noted that Mach 5 is considered hypersonic flight.  Current jet engine technology (including ramjets) just does not work at those speeds, as they need to slow the air down to before combustion takes place.  Hypersonic speeds still invoke plenty of challenges, and it will be some time before we manned aircraft capable of it.

I have tried to glean more information about this "Mk3" Arrow, but the operator of its Facebook page is quite evasive when it comes to direct questioning.  He (or she) makes bold claims, but offers little evidence to back it up.  Even someone with a limited knowledge of aeronautical engineering (like myself) can trip them up.

There is no corporate website, no physical address, no solid business plan, no mention of where manufacturing would be located, or even a full name.  The only strategy here appears to be "Give me some money to build the CF-105".

Normally, I could dismiss this as wishful thinking, or even plain overoptimism.  However, this person even started up a Kickstarter page, asking for backers.  Thankfully, this was unsuccessful in reaching its goal.  Kickstarter can be great when it works, but it requires little to no accountability.  Multi-billion dollar fighter programs require a lot more due diligence.  

This entity wishing to bring forward a "Mk3" Avro Arrow is misguided and overly optimistic at best.   Since they are also asking for money, there is a very real possibility that this entity could be a potential scam artist looking to capitalize on Canadian's reverence towards the CF-105 Avro Arrow.

It takes a lot more than a Facebook page and Kickstarter to develop a world class aircraft, even if that aircraft is already mostly developed.  If a major aerospace firm like Bombardier came forward and expressed a desire to rebuild the Arrow, I would be all for it, otherwise I am not convinced.

Joe Green's "Super Arrow" concept.
It should be clarified that the "Mark 3" CF-105 proposal has nothing to do with Joe Green's Super Arrow concept.  

The Super Arrow is strictly a concept.  Mr. Green came up with the idea to inspire Canadians.  The Super Arrow is an all-new design that looks towards the future instead of the past.

Impressively, Joe has managed to get the support of plenty of people who want to see the the Super Arrow get off the ground.  Scale models, a flight model for the X-Plane computer simulator, and plenty of other highlights.  Instead of simply asking for money, Joe sells Super Arrow merchandise through Cafe Press in order to fund bigger and better things.

My interactions with Mr. Green have been very positive.  He is very receptive to questions and makes it very clear that his Super Arrow is meant to inspire Canadians to think and dream bigger.

I have no problems with that at all.

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