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Search underway in Lake Ontario for missing Avro Arrow models

Last Updated Sep 12, 2018 at 11:57 am EDT

An autonomous underwater vehicle is launched in Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County on July 28, 2017. The vehicle is being used to search to search for Avro Arrow airplane models missing since the 1950s. HANDOUT/Raisethearrow.com

A mission to find nine models of the Avro Arrow — an advanced Canadian jet fighter that was controversially cancelled in 1959 — began Friday with a submarine scouring the waters of Lake Ontario in search of the free-flight prototypes.

The models were launched from a military base in the 1950s as part of the development of the Avro Arrow, the first and only supersonic interceptor built by the Canadian military in the 1950s to counter potential Soviet bomber attacks in North America’s Arctic.

If the models are recovered, they will find new homes at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ont.

The expedition, dubbed Raise the Arrow, is being led by John Burzynski, head of OEX Recovery Group Inc., which created the search-and-recovery project as part of Canada 150 celebrations and to coincide with next year’s 60th anniversary of Avro Arrow’s first test flight.

A programmable submarine supplied by Kraken Sonar Inc. spent eight hours Friday surveying an area just off Point Petre in Ontario’s Prince Edward County where it’s believed the missing free-flight prototypes were launched from a military base in the 1950s.

Burzynski said he came up with the project after following news reports of Kraken’s involvement in recovering one of the ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition of 1845.

David Shea, Kraken’s vice-president of engineering, was part of the five-person crew, following the submarine on a boat to make sure no one navigated over it.

The submarine is equipped with a military-grade sonar, which records acoustic data at a range of 300 metres and turns it into a high-resolution acoustic image, Shea told The Canadian Press in an interview from the boat on Friday.

They have 64 square kilometres to cover and Burzynski said it’s likely the models will be among a lot of debris, which could include shipwrecks from the 1700s and 1800s and two planes that crashed in 1945 and 1960.

The search is expected to take two weeks, but could be extended to a month due to weather or other factors.

If the models are located, project archaeologist Scarlett Janusas said she will send some divers down to check on the integrity of the prototypes.

“I hope that they will be in one piece, but it’s unlikely,” she said while on site at Point Petre.

“We have to make sure that the structures are totally supported as we are bringing them out of the water, so they don’t collapse on themselves,” Janusas said.

She added that they will keep the models submerged until they first remove the biomass, which includes organic material and zebra mussels, so they can actually see the surface of the prototypes.

“It doesn’t take much time for zebra mussels to take over something and obscure its appearance to the point that it looks like a rock,” she said, noting it helps that they know the exact dimensions of the models, which are an eighth of the size of the full CF-105 Arrow.

Richard Mayne, director of Royal Canadian Air Force History and Heritage, which provided research for the project, says the Arrow left many Canadians with a sense of “what if” when the all-Canadian aircraft program was shut down by the federal government.

“Would Canada still be competing in modern fighter design of our own aircraft today?” Mayne said. “We were part of an elite club of nations that were building top-of-the-line fighters.”

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa already houses a nose section and two wingtips, but much of the Avro Arrow didn’t survive.

“The Avro Arrow is a reminder of what Canadians are capable of building,” Burzynski said.