It’s August 2017, and a team of Canadian researchers have spent 12 days scouring the bottom of Lake Ontario. They’re looking for a crashed aircraft that they believe lies on the lake bed. And to their delight, they find it. It’s a small machine – much corroded by rust and far too small for a human pilot. So just what is this strange relic?
The company behind those researchers is OEX Recovery Group Incorporated. It’s supported by a consortium of Canadian financial and mining outfits, and it works to recover lost items of interest from the waters of Lake Ontario. The project, known as Raise the Arrow, is searching for items that are believed to have plunged into the lake in the 1950s.
The relic discovered by the Raise the Arrow team in August 2017 was recognizably some kind of aircraft. However, it had sustained a fair amount of damage, presumably when it crashed into Lake Ontario. Furthermore, the plane was cloaked with mussels, and there were cracks in one of its back wings as well as the nose section.
The team explored the depths of Lake Ontario using a submarine. They concentrated their efforts on a section of the lake near a wildlife conservation area called Point Petre, which is located within Prince Edward County in Canada’s Ontario Province. The nature reserve contains plenty of attractions, including pebble beaches and striking limestone formations.
The mini-submarine – or the ThunderFish autonomous underwater vehicle, to give it its full name – is a remotely operated craft. It’s equipped with a specialist sonar device that can produce high-resolution images. This enabled the researchers to scan the bed of the lake in great detail – and what they found was nothing short of extraordinary. What’s more, this discovery had laid at the bottom of the lake for more than 60 years.
Over the decades, a variety of intriguing objects have been found in lakes across the planet. Or in the case of Loch Ness in Scotland, allegedly found. Loch Ness, of course, is famous for its monster, which is known affectionately by locals as Nessie. But whether or not it really exists is open to debate. Scientists generally regard the Loch Ness monster as a hoax, in fact, although there are those who beg to differ.
Then there were reports in 2013 about a base in the depths of Lake Ontario, where our researchers were exploring with their mini-submarine. In the 2013 case, though, the allegation was that this underwater base was being run by aliens. But while the Raise the Arrow team’s discovery was undoubtedly real, we can safely discount the idea that the lake harbors an alien base.
Before we reveal what exactly the researchers found in Lake Ontario in 2017, let’s learn a little about the lake itself. It registers among the five North American Great Lakes, and it has shores in both U.S and Canadian territory. Ontario Province lies to the west, south-west and north of the lake’s waters while New York State is on its eastern and southern shores.
Here are a few important facts and figures about Lake Ontario. In terms of its size, there are only 12 bigger freshwater lakes on Earth. However, as well as being the most easterly of the Great Lakes, it’s also the smallest. It covers close to 7,500 square miles and, on average, the water is more than 280 feet deep. Moreover, its lowest point is in excess of 800 feet below the surface. The Niagara River supplies the majority of the lake’s waters, which run out down the St. Lawrence River.
The glacial grinding of the Wisconsin ice sheet created the physical shape of the lake. As a result, the lake bed and the surrounding landscape are littered with geological features called kames, moraines and drumlins. In layman’s terms, that means there are lots of hills, ridges, rocks and gravel and sand deposits around, the typical detritus of a retreating glacier.
Following the retreat of the ice at the end of the last Ice Age around 11,000 years ago, the lake as we know it now was temporarily an Atlantic bay. But as the land gradually expanded after being compressed by the weight of thousands of feet of ice, the lake was born. In fact, the land around St. Lawrence is continuing to grow at a rate of around 12 inches each century.
Now that we know a little about Lake Ontario, it’s time to concentrate on what precisely the Raise the Arrow project researchers were scouring the lake bed for. Of course, it was neither a flying saucer nor a mythical monster. They were actually searching for long-lost miniature prototype aircraft from the 1950s.
To find out why the researchers were looking for those diminutive planes in the summer of 2017, we need to first wind back some six decades to track the story of the Avro Arrow. That tale begins in 1946, when the Canadian government was looking to develop a jet fighter capable of intercepting hostile aircraft.
The desire to have such a fighter plane in the Canadian military’s armory came at a time when the Cold War dominated world affairs. During that conflict, the Communist states led by Russia were pitted against the Western democracies headed by the U.S. and its allies, which notably included its northern neighbor Canada.
After the conclusion of the Second World War, the Soviets started to increase their airborne military capacity. Specifically, they built planes capable of transporting nuclear warheads. These aircraft could fly across the Arctic from Russia to potential targets in Canada as well as the U.S. So, naturally enough, Canada wanted to develop the ability to respond to this danger.
To counter the Russian threat, the Canadian firm A. V. Roe Canada Limited – later to become Avro Canada – started developing the predecessor to the Avro Arrow in 1946. This was the Avro CF-100 Canuck. After a prolonged development period, the Canuck was officially launched in 1953. Nicknamed the “Clunk,” it was to remain in service into the 1980s.
In 1952 the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) saw that the Russians were developing new generations of high-speed, high-altitude bombers capable of striking Canada. It had taken some seven years to bring the Canuck from the drawing board into operation. Taking into account those delays, air force commanders decided that now was the time to start work on a new plane capable of intercepting modern Soviet bombers.
So, the year before the Canuck had become fully operational, the Canadians had already begun to plan its successor. In March 1952 the Canadian Air Force handed over a document to Avro Canada titled “RCAF’s Final Report of the All-Weather Interceptor Requirements Team.” And this would form the basis for the specifications for the new Avro Arrow.
The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, to give it its full name, was to be a supersonic interceptor. Aviation engineers planned to build on the technical achievements of the CF-100 Canuck by increasing its power and speed. The Arrow would be capable of flying at speeds of up to Mach 2, in fact. That’s in excess of 1,500 mph, a speed that it would also be able to attain at an altitude above 50,000 feet.
A key part of the development program for the Arrow was the testing of model prototypes. Between 1953 and 1957, nine of these craft were built and launched over Lake Ontario. Engineers had already carried out wind tunnel testing, but actually flying these models would give the team another vital source of data.
One of the most striking features of the Arrow was its delta wings, which gave the plane a triangular profile. These innovations were designed to solve a problem created by flight speeds that exceeded the velocity of sound. This issue in question was a phenomenon called wave drag, and the craft’s delta wings were able to negate its effects.
The Avro Arrow’s test models were approximately 10 feet long, with a wingspan of around 6.5 feet. In all, the researchers mounted nine model replicas onto rocket boosters that ran on solid fuel. These prototypes were launched from Point Petre, on the shores of Lake Ontario, and then propelled over the water.
The early aircraft were taken up to a velocity of Mach 1.7 and subsequently allowed to plunge into the lake, having served their functions. They yielded important information about two crucial factors: flight stability and aerodynamic drag. The engineers modified the wings, fuselage and nose of the plane and added a tail cone as a result of the testing.
Avro started building the Arrow in earnest in 1955 and the first production model was unveiled before the public and press in October 1957. However, this launch was rather overshadowed by another dramatic event on the same day. That was the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik 1, the first to orbit the Earth, which dominated the world’s front pages.
Although the RCAF could hardly be blamed for the ill-fated choice of launch date, it did nonetheless seem that the Avro Arrow was jinxed. However, it wasn’t the engineers who were to blame for the sad demise of the project – it was the politicians. Even although testing had been largely successful, the whole program was dropped in February 1959.
Canadian politicians had decided that the Avro Arrow project was costing too much money, in fact. So instead of proceeding with the program, Canada bought McDonnell F-101 Voodoo aircraft and Bomarc B missiles from the U.S. This cancellation saw just short of 30,000 people lose their jobs. And with that, the supersonic Arrow dream was over.
So, the Avro Arrow was consigned to aviation history. And, strangely, following the cancellation of the program, all evidence of the aircraft’s existence was deliberately wiped out. Indeed, instructions were given that every item and piece of data should be destroyed shortly after the cancellation, which was done ostensibly for security reasons.
Fast-forward more than half a century, and that’s where the individuals behind the Raise the Arrow project come into our story. For although the Canadian government had comprehensively destroyed all relics connected with the 1950s program, there had been some things it couldn’t eradicate. These were the nine model prototypes lying on the bed of Lake Ontario.
In July 2014 David Shea, a senior engineer with Kraken Sonar, which is a company that provides some of the equipment for Raise the Arrow, told the National Post, “The government destroyed all the drawings, models and burned everything so it wasn’t replicated. These models, at the bottom of Lake Ontario, are the only intact pieces of that whole program.”
Karl Kenny, also of Kraken Solar, explained, “Back in the 1950s, there was no computer modeling to see how they’d fly, so the designers had to use a physical model. Then, it went back to the engineers for fine-tuning. The ninth model is the Holy Grail. They had it perfected.”
And now, assisted by a remote-controlled autonomous mini-submarine from Kraken Sonar, the search for the nine model Avro Arrows got underway on July 12, 2017. Project leader John Burzynski from gold mining company Osisko Mining spoke to the Globe and Mail about the motivation for the project.
“As professional explorers in the mining business, we initiated this program about a year ago with the idea of bringing back a piece of lost Canadian history to the Canadian public,” Burzynski told the newspaper. And fellow team member David Shea, whom we heard from earlier, described how the hunt for the Arrow model had been planned.
“The problem isn’t the technology. The problem is making sure you are looking in the right place,” Shea told the Globe and Mail. He added that it was his belief that the area off on the Lake Ontario shores was the best place to look, since that had reportedly been the launch site location.
One man who’d actually witnessed the 1950s launches, Jack Hurst, gave his thoughts. “I would guess that [the models] went a few thousand feet in the air and I don’t think they would be much more than a mile out,” he said. The Raise the Arrow team subsequently searched the lake for almost two weeks with their high-tech equipment.
Speaking to the CBC TV station, Praise the Arrow project leader John Burzynski explained how the operation was being carried out. “We’re starting with the high probability areas,” Burzynski said. And asked how long it would be before the hunt produced results, he was very confident – perhaps surprisingly so.
“You won’t have to wait weeks and months,” Burzynski told CBC on July 28, 2017. “This will be within days.” And Burzynski was as good as his word. At a press conference on September 8, in fact, he made a dramatic announcement. According to The Star’s report, he declared, “Well, we found one.” And it had only taken 12 days of searching to make this remarkable discovery of a model Avro Arrow.
Kraken Sonar’s David Shea was jubilant. “I think being able to showcase using cutting-edge Canadian technology – being our sonar systems and underwater vehicles – to actually find and resurrect cutting edge Canadian technology… I think it’s an amazing example of what we can do as Canadians looking back at our history,” he said.
Although the Raise the Arrow team had located one of the nine model prototypes, it would still be some time until they were actually able to retrieve it from the bottom of Lake Ontario. Indeed, they’d have to wait until August 2018 before extracting the aircraft from the deep waters. And even then, the group still hadn’t located the ninth and most highly developed prototype that they most longed to discover.
What the team had dragged from the depths of the lake was in fact an earlier prototype. Erin Gregory of the Canada Aviation & Space Museum explained the purpose of this particular model. “The delta wing was a relatively new concept at that point, so it required a lot of testing to determine whether or not it would perform well, particularly at supersonic speeds,” she pointed out.
So, a piece of Canadian history had emerged into the light of day after laying hidden at the bottom of Lake Ontario for 60 years and more. The Raise the Arrow team won’t be stopping there, either. Indeed, they intend to mount further searches to uncover more of the nine prototypes that are thought to lie at the bottom of the lake. And John Burzynski is keen to continue the search with the dream of finding one of the later prototypes that are almost exact replicas of the final plane.