Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Avro Arrow

Fifty years ago yesterday, on February 20, 1959, the Canadian government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker cancelled the development of the CF-105 fighter plane -- the aircraft known as the Avro Arrow.

In hindsight, the Arrow was just another 1950s era fighter plane, although for its time, it was the fastest and most advanced. And while it is possible to debate the upsides and downsides of the aircraft (fast, great climb rate, potentially capable of Mach 3+ on the upside versus heavy, high drag, low manueverability on the downside) it is the cancellation of the aircraft that results in one of the "might-have-been" myths of our shared Canadian experience. What might it have been, what could we have achieved, if the Arrow had gone forward to full production?

Cancellation of the Arrow project led to a lot of engineering talent moving south, and enormously benefiting the American space program. It also ensured the loss of an entire industrial sector -- Canada never again produced its own domestic military aircraft.

The lesson is an outsourcing lesson -- the country gave up some existing capability to save money. In doing so, it also shut down some future possibilities. In just the same way, a company which outsources its IT, or its manufacturing, or its marketing in order to realize some immediate bvenefits will give up some future capabilities -- and in fact will make it impossible to travel down some possible paths.

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