Avro Arrow CF-105 Ejection seat Found in UK!

December 8, 2011 | Aviation


Has the Missing Avro Arrow Mystery been solved…?

Avro Arrow CF-105 Ejection seat Serial Number 11 Now available For Sale.

Jet Art Aviation LTD Brings you a once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to own a piece of Canadian National Treasure. The ultimate Canadian, Jet Age museum exhibit or Private collector’s item. An item that in our opinion goes a long way to solving the Mystery of the Missing Avro Arrow.

This is a Martin Baker MKC5 Pilots Ejection seat from an Avro Arrow CF-105 Aircraft. It comes with a letter of authenticity from Martin Baker. Dated 1958 with Serial Number 11 this is an incredibly rare item that represents the pinnacle of the Canadian Aerospace industry. Only a handful of these seats were produced prior to the cancellation of the Arrow project with all aircraft, tooling, blueprints and equipment including ejection seats being ordered destroyed by the Canadian government of the time.

The Avro Arrow Mk C5 Ejection seats were built at the Martin-Baker (Aircraft Company Limited) factory at Collingwood, Ontario and we know of only one other surviving example which we, Jet Art Aviation LTD, found, restored and returned to Canada in 2008. That seat is now on display in the Toronto Aerospace Museum and is unlikely to ever be offered for sale. This leaves the seat you are looking at, serial number 11, available as a unique acquisition opportunity.

This also raises a number of questions about how a pair of Avro Arrow MkC5 ejection seats with minor differences (suggesting a front pilot seat and a rear Navigators / weapons system operator seat) ended up in the UK? It also sparked for me personally a huge fascination with the Avro Arrow and started me on a road to researching the Avro Arrow story. A story of myth, legend and conspiracy. I believe this very seat (serial number 11) along with the seat (serial number 14) now on display in the Toronto aerospace museum are from the ‘Missing Avro Arrow’. The Arrow that was rumoured to have disappeared and vanished being spirited away when the project was cancelled and the destruction began…..

Our story and interest in the Avro Arrow began in 2008. We purchased an old, un loved ejection seat from a private collector and set about restoring and researching the seat. He had purchased the seat from a defunct aviation museum in the North of England that closed and sold off their assets. The museum it came from had not identified the seat and it sat gathering dust in a museum store room. No one knew what the seat was or where it had come from apart from the fact that it had originated from the BAC Warton factory sometime in the late 1970’s.  BAC Warton was the British aircraft factory heavily involved with the British TSR2 program. The TSR2 program was some 7 years behind the Arrow but the two aircraft programs had many similarities, both being ground breaking aircraft well ahead of their time. Strangely both projects suffered the same fate being axed at the hands of the politicians.

Once the first seat (serial number 14) had been restored we sent it to Canada for auction and a deal was done to secure the seat for the Toronto Aerospace museum. A good result for aircraft preservation and a great result for Canada. However one thing that still niggled me was how a super rare variant ejection seat, built in Canada for a cancelled Canadian aircraft program in which everything had been order destroyed had survived and made it to England?

Shortly after the first seat had been returned to Canada I learnt by complete chance of the existence of another privately owned Avro Arrow MkC5 ejection seat (serial number 11) existing in the North of England. Again this seat is believed to have originated from near the BAC factory at Warton sometime in the late 1970’s. The chances of two of these seats surviving were incredibly slim and the fact that they had both turned up in the UK were even more puzzling. It took 3 years to secure the 2nd seat and once in our possession the research could really begin. The seats both had the same date and part number but different serial number and component numbers. Minor differences suggest that this was a matched pair of seats a front and a rear. The seats came with the ejection guns which have the mount points as if they had been correctly removed from the aircraft. The seats are structurally in used condition with wear and tear suggesting they were fitted and used, not once or twice but numerous times. Both seats also have modification plates fitted, each showing 8x modifications being carried out.  Seat serial number 14 (Now in The Toronto Museum) has a sun bleached section on the anodised aluminium head box of the seat. This is at an angle near identical to that of the front canopy of the CF-105 Arrow. It would have take a few years to sun bleach like that which tells me this seat sat in a Front Arrow cockpit for a considerable length of time.  This Seat serial number 11 overall has much less of a sun bleached appearance suggesting it is from the rear cockpit. The rear cockpit on an arrow has no canopy as such and is basically a dark hole sealed by two clam shell door over the pilots head with only two small windows left and right.

The final icing on the cake for my theory that a CF-105 Arrow had made it to England for testing and evaluation purposes was a chance conversation with a customer who called in to visit. We have an Olympus 320 engine in the workshop from the TSR2 program and as he stood admiring it and chatting about the TSR2 aircraft he commented on how similar the Avro Arrow and TSR2 programme were. He stopped me half way through the conversation and asked me if I had ever heard of an Avro Arrow visiting the UK? ‘‘Um strange’’ I said ‘’Ok you have my full attention. Tell me more’’. He then proceeded to tell me a story which sent a shiver down my spine. He had no idea that we had found a pair of Arrow seats and that I had my own theory of how they came to the UK but what he then told me fully backed up this theory. In return I told him about the two seats and it ended for him a mystery that had puzzled and perplexed him for the best part of 50 years!

In the early 1960’s as a school boy he spent the summer holidays with family in Kent England close to the RAF Manston air base. In the 1960’s Manston was a major diversionary airfield for aircraft in trouble and was also the Royal Air Force fire training school.  As an avid aviation enthusiast he spent every day with friends around the perimeter fence watching the aircraft. It was on one of those days that he saw something that had stuck in his mind ever since. Appearing from over the sea on a low level approach with undercarriage down appeared a white, high delta wing aircraft with a black nose and no national markings or registration. He described the aircraft in detail including the large fin, long extended nose undercarriage leg, small pilots canopy, rectangular section air intakes etc. He had seen Avro Arrow aircraft in magazines and news papers and knew exactly what he was looking at. He is adamant that what he saw was an Arrow. The aircraft touched down and taxied out of site before shutting down. He described the engine sound as highly unusual. A very powerful sounding turbojet nothing like he had heard before or since.

Could this Arrow have been fitted with the Orenda Iroquois engines? The Orenda Iroquois engine was a highly advanced and incredibly powerful power plant specifically designed for the Arrow. These engines were also ordered destroyed when the project was cancelled. Of the five arrows that had left the production line and the ones that had flown had been fitted with the Pratt and Whitney J-75 engine. No Arrow was ever believed to have flown under the power of the Orenda Iroquois. Had Avro Canada employees managed to get an Arrow fitted with the Iroquois engines out of the plant and away to safety in England? I believe so! Indeed, it is now known that at least one Orenda Iroquois turned up at Bristol Siddeley Aero engines in England! The plot thickens……

The next step of my research was to try and find more information about an Avro Arrow landing at RAF Manston.I could find no documentation or any reference in books or on the internet. Chances are any official documents will be covered by the 50 year rule and will not made public for the next few years when all of this can either be proved or not. The only option left was to talk to the ‘old boy network’ and do a bit of digging to see what I could find. It wasn’t long before I hit the jackpot and found an ex RAF fitter now retired and involved in the museum scene who had heard a rumour about an Arrow being at Manston. He needed no prompting and told me the story that backed everything up perfectly. A friend of his who used to be based at manston had told of an Arrow landing there in secret. He stressed to me that it was ‘hearsay’ but within the 1960’s RAF it was fairly common knowledge and in his words an ‘Air Force myth’ but he had no photographs or documents to back it up and did not know the exact date.  When I asked what he thought the Arrow was doing at Manston what he said made perfect sense but also saddened me. ‘Well they burnt it didn’t they?’ It was the perfect place to destroy it. The base with a huge long runway where it was capable of landing, and behind a high perimeter fences the fire training school burnt aircraft on a regular basis. Nobody would have batted an eye lid. My eye witness who saw the Arrow land also described watching aircraft such as Vickers Viking’s being scrapped there and large aircraft such as a Vulcan and Hastings being used for the fire training school.  It makes sense that the Avro Arrow was spirited away to the UK as at this particular time in the early 1960’s the UK was at the forefront on the Aviation world. The English Electric Lightning was in service and TSR2 was well into production.  I personally think the aircraft would have been test flown, evaluated, studied and milked for all her secrets and when there was nothing left to learn from the aircraft she was quietly destroy to prevent any political embarrassment and awkward questions. It makes sense that she was burnt out then either broken up into unrecognizable lumps leaving the base in scrap skips or bulldozed into a huge hole in the ground and buried. If so sections of the missing Arrow could still be there. The Arrow was seen to land at Manston but no one ever saw one leave……

Politically and corporately this is all highly probably. Britain and Canada are both close allies with the British and Canadian aerospace industries being closely entwined. After the cancellation of the Arrow project Avro Canada was eventually taken over in 1962 by the UK Hawker Siddeley group with all assets being transferred to Hawker Siddeley Canada, however main control came from the UK. Previously in 1945 UK based Hawker Siddeley group had purchased Victoria Aircraft from the Canadian Government and created A.V. Roe Canada Ltd so the history of the two companies was already set in stone. I am sure in the time of crisis when ‘Black Friday’ loomed and it was evident that the masterpiece that was the Avro Arrow would be destroyed and lost forever at the hands of the politicians the management of Avro Canada turned to Hawker Siddeley who in turn most likely turned to the UK Air Ministry to hatch a plan to save one of the aircraft.

Taken directly from Wikipedia:  ‘’Rumours had circulated that Air Marshal W.A. Curtis, a 1st World War  ace who headed Avro, had ignored Diefenbaker (Canadian Prime Minister at the time) and spirited one of the Arrows away to be saved for posterity. These rumours were given life in a 1968 interview, when Curtis was asked point-blank if the rumour was true. He replied: “I don’t want to answer that.” He proceeded to question the wisdom of printing the story of a missing Arrow, and wondered whether it would be safe to reveal the existence of a surviving airframe only nine years later. “If it is in existence it may have to wait another 10 years. Politically it may cause a lot of trouble.” The fanciful legend endures that one of the prototypes remains intact somewhere.’’

52 years later I believe the missing Avro Arrow mystery has been solved.

I believe the ejection seats and other components (possibly even engines?) may have been removed prior to the aircraft destruction. If burning was the planned form of destruction the aircraft seats will have been removed to be disarmed as the pyrotechnics charges would have cooked off in a fire. It is likely that removed components including the pair of seats then went to Hawker Siddeley or BAC for further evaluation purposes and the engines if removed to Bristol Siddeley or Rolls Royce. As stated above, it is now known that at least one Orenda Iroquois turned up at Bristol Aero Engines in England! As both seats are known to have originated from the former BAC plant at Warton it makes sense that all removed components eventually ended up there when Hawker Siddeley and BAC merged in 1966. Another 10 years down the line in the 1970’s time will have taken its toll and people will have forgotten what the dusty old seats in storage were or where they had come from. I believe it was then that management within BAC must have made the decision to dispose of them locally not knowing what they were.

Taking all this into account what you are looking at is a monumentally important historic aviation artifact that along with my research and the eye witness account go a very long way to solving one of aviation’s most discussed mysteries.

All major structural components are original to the seat and have ‘MBEUAVR’ (Martin Baker / Avro) part numbers and are dated 1958. Soft furnishings (parachute, survival pack, harness, seat cushion) are not original however they are a very accurate representation of the correct period, and are dated circa 1958. We have subtly restored the seat by fitting components such as these to accurately represent what the seat would have looked like when fitted in the aircraft.

Please study the photo gallery below. They paint thousand words. The seat is stunning.

As this is in my opinion an Item of Canadian National Treasure that truly deserves to go to a good home, preferably in Canada, we invite Canadian museums to contact us to be put on our shortlist of potential new homes for this item. Should we get a beneficiary wanting to purchase this item and put it on public display we will pass on the list of museums.

This seat also in my opinion holds the answer to one of the most discussed mysteries and controversial chapters of aviation history and as such is really an irreplaceable item of significant Canadian national importance. As an item like this is near impossible to value. As such we are inviting offers from interested parties.

I thank you for taking the time to read our page and listening to our theory on the ‘Missing Avro Arrow’. I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed the journey of research and discovery.

One final thought: If this seat could talk I bet it could tell a few secrets. Just think it’s highly likely a test pilot sat in this seat fitted to a Iroquois engine equipped Avro Arrow that will have been thoroughly put through its paces in a flight test program. How fast did it do? How high did it go? Somebody somewhere knows!

Best Regards,

Chris Wilson, Managing Director

Jet Art Aviation LTD

Photos of the first seat serial number 14 Now on Display in Toronto can be seen here:

http://toronto.empireauctions.com/newsItem.php?id=123

 

 

 Avro Arrow Mk C5 Ejection seat Serial Number 11 Gallery: