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John’s Believe It Or Not… February 20th

* 1959 – Diefenbaker Government Cancels Avro Arrow Fighter Program * 1976 SEATO disbands * 1725 American colonists practice scalping * 1962 An American orbits earth * 1998 Tara Lipinski becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist

John Glenn | First American To Orbit Earth : Friendship 7 - Project Mercury 1962 NASA - YouTube

It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…

* 1959 – Diefenbaker Government Cancels Avro Arrow Fighter Program

On March 25, 1958, the infamous Avro Arrow made its very first test flight. The plane was the crown jewel of Canadian aircraft manufacturer A.V. Roe Canada, better known as Avro, then the third-largest company in Canada. The hypersonic fighter was on the cutting edge of aerospace technology at the time: it could reach a speed nearly three times the speed of sound, traveling at an altitude of 60,000 feet.

The first flight of the Arrow should have been a crowning moment for the Canadian aerospace industry. Yet the plane was scrapped by the federal government just a few months later, in a decision that remains controversial to this day. For many Canadians, the Avro Arrow has come to symbolize both the potential and the unfulfilled promise, of Canadian innovation.

“The Arrow represents a period when Canada stood up on its own and did its own thing,” said Paul Squires, a historian with the Canadian Aeronautical Preservation Association. “In many ways, it’s become a symbol of the country.”

“At the time, we were in the top three of the largest producers of aeronautical parts in the world. But the cancellation of the Arrow absolutely devastated the Canadian aerospace industry.”

When it comes to the Avro Arrow, the true regret is what might have been: Flying saucers. Hovercars. A Lunar rover – and even the possibility of a Canadian using it. Among Avro’s many innovative projects were plans to design a lunar rover. “If the company had been left alone to continue the development process, Canada would have had a man on the moon,” Rob Cohen declared, CEO of the Canadian Air and Space Museum. 

So why was the Avro Arrow canceled by the Canadian government in 1959? “The official reason given by the Diefenbaker government [at that time] was that the Arrow was too expensive, and it was no longer worth the money,” Cohen said. “Avro as a company was going through millions of taxpayer dollars.”

“The government had an agenda to destroy it. They wanted the money for other things, so they came up with all kinds of reasons why they didn’t need it,” Squires said.

The reasons for the cancellation of the Arrow were a mix of politics, timing, and bad luck. The CF-105 (as the Arrow was officially known) was originally designed as a long-range interceptor, meant to meet and destroy Soviet bombers. But on October 4, 1957 – the same day as the first Avro Arrow rolled off the production line – the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik, becoming the first nation to put a man-made object into orbit. And just like that, everything changed. “It really was a case of the worst timing,” Squires said. “The same day as Avro rolls out their aircraft, you had millions of people around the world looking up at the stars, trying to look for Sputnik.”

That development changed the focus for militaries on both sides of the Cold War, away from conventional bombers and towards atmospheric weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Then there was the often-contentious relationship between conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and Avro Canada president Crawford Gordon, Jr. “Diefenbaker didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, he was a complete teetotaler,” Squires said. “And in walks Crawford Gordon with his hip flask, a cigarette in his hand, pounding on Diefenbaker’s desk. They were complete polar opposites.”

There was also the changing politics surrounding the creation of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. One of the specifics of this deal was the purchase by the U.S. Air Force of the new Avro Arrow fighter. “When we were negotiating NORAD under the St. Laurent government, the U.S. would send a note, and the government would haggle over specifics and send one back,” Squires explained. “Well Mr. St. Laurent lost [the 1957 election], Mr. Diefenbaker came in, and the newest U.S. paper now says they no longer wish to purchase the Arrow.”

“Diefenbaker just looked at it, said ‘looks good’ and signed it. Even Americans were shocked because they expected some pushback.”

The cancellation of the CF-105 Arrow was a deathblow for Avro. It was also a serious setback for the Canadian aerospace industry as a whole. “Fifteen thousand people lost their jobs at Avro [as a result of the Arrow’s cancellation], but many more people outside of the company lost their jobs too,” Cohen said. “People in the supply chain, parts manufacturers, the support network. Within six months, thousands more were out of work.”

To many Canadian aerospace experts, the real loss in the cancellation of the Avro Arrow wasn’t just in the plane itself, but the possibilities for what Avro may have done in the future. For instance, SPAR Aerospace, the company which designed the CanadaArm, was originally the Special Projects and Research branch (hence the acronym “SPAR”) of Avro Canada. “Avro had a top-secret design department with the brightest and most innovative thinkers. Total out-of-the-box thinking,” Cohen said. Some of the special projects at Avro were right out of science fiction. Others were years ahead of their time. The company had plans for a lunar rover, a flying saucer (the “AvroCar”), and even a hovering truck. Cohen notes other plans, such as a monorail system for Toronto from Union Station to what is now Lester B. Pearson airport, cameras that could capture an airplane traveling 1,300 mph and technology that could capture a rocket blast.

For Squires, the connection to Avro Canada is particularly personal – his father helped worked on the Avro jetliner, the C102. “It broke four different records during first flight to New York,” Squires said. “If they had built the jetliner, they would have jumped 10 years ahead on commercial aircraft, and it would have given Avro another leg to stand on.”

Today, the legacy of the Avro Arrow is one of both pride and frustration for most Canadians. This is especially true for Cohen. Two years ago, the Canadian Air and Space Museum was evicted from its home in the old de Havilland building in Toronto’s Downsview Park. The museum is currently trying to find a new home while most of its planes – including a full-size replica of an Avro Arrow – sit in storage at Pearson airport.

Cohen acknowledges that while funding was a problem, the main issue was a change in direction from above. “Downsview Park has a whole host of new goals, and it’s obvious that the rich aviation history that once existed there is not part of their plans,” Cohen said. “A gun was to our head, and we had to do what we needed to do.”

In the late 1950s Canada's Avro Arrow led the race to become the top military aircraft
In the late 1950s, Canada’s Avro Arrow led the race to become the top military aircraft (Wikipedia)

* 1976 SEATO disbands

After operating for 22 years, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization concludes its final military exercise and quietly shuts down. SEATO had been one of the bulwarks of America’s Cold War policies in Asia, but the Vietnam War did much to destroy its cohesiveness and question its effectiveness.

SEATO was formed in 1954 during a meeting in Manila called by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Eight nations—the United States, France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan—joined together in the regional defense organization to “stem the tide of communism in Asia.” At the time, that “tide” was most threatening in Southeast Asia, particularly in the former-French colony of Vietnam. There, a revolution led by the communist Ho Chi Minh resulted, in 1954, in an agreement for the withdrawal of French forces, the temporary division of Vietnam (with Ho’s forces in control in the north), and national elections two years hence to reunify the nation and select a president. The United States, believing that Ho was merely a pawn for international communism, reacted by establishing SEATO and including “South Vietnam” (which was not technically an independent nation) under its umbrella of protection.

When the United States became fully committed to the Vietnam War in 1965, it called upon its SEATO allies for assistance. Only Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand responded with a few thousand troops and other aid. This made clear that the driving force behind SEATO was the United States. Despite their anti-communist rhetoric, Great Britain and France wanted no part of another Asian war and Pakistan simply wanted the military assistance that membership in SEATO granted. As the war in Vietnam became increasingly frustrating and unpopular, SEATO began to crack. By the time the conflict in Vietnam ended in 1975—with South Vietnam’s fall to the communist North Vietnamese—only five nations were left to carry out the final SEATO military exercise in February 1976. A mere 188 troops from the United States, Great Britain, the Philippines, Thailand, and New Zealand showed up in the Philippines to conduct what was basically a civic action operation. Roads, schools, and a dam were built by the troops in the Philippine countryside. Afterwards, while “Auld Lang Syne” was played, closing ceremonies marked the end of SEATO.

SEATO poster containing organizational facts
SEATO would be disbanded in 1977 (Century of Conflict)

* 1725 American colonists practice scalping

In the American colonies, a posse of New Hampshire volunteers comes across a band of encamped Native Americans and takes 10 “scalps” in the first significant appropriation of this Native American practice by European colonists. The posse received a bounty of 100 pounds per scalp from the colonial authorities in Boston.

Although the custom of “scalping” was once practiced in Europe and Asia, it is generally associated with North American native groups. In scalping, the skin around the crown of the head was cut and removed from the enemy’s skull, usually causing death. In addition to its value as a war trophy, a scalp was often believed to bestow the possessor with the powers of the scalped enemy. In their early wars with Native Americans, European colonists of North America retaliated against hostile native groups by adopting their practice of scalp-taking. Bounties were offered for them by colonial authorities, which in turn led to an escalation of intertribal warfare and scalping in North America.

8 American Colonies Paid Bounties For Indian Scalps
8 American Colonies Paid Bounties For Indian Scalps (Listverse)

* 1962 An American orbits earth

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Hershel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut.

Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959 to become America’s first astronauts. A decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes.

Glenn was preceded in space by two Americans, Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and two Soviets, Yuri A. Gagarin and Gherman S. Titov. In April 1961, Gagarin was the first man in space, and his spacecraft Vostok 1 made a full orbit before returning to Earth. Less than one month later, Shepard was launched into space aboard Freedom 7 on a suborbital flight. In July, Grissom made another brief suborbital flight aboard Liberty Bell 7. In August, with the Americans still having failed to make an orbital flight, the Russians sprinted further ahead in the space race when Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits. As a technological power, the United States was looking very much second-rate compared with its Cold War adversary. If the Americans wanted to dispel this notion, they needed a multi-orbital flight before another Soviet space advance arrived.

It was with this responsibility in mind that John Glenn lifted off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 9:47 a.m. on February 20, 1962. Some 100,000 spectators watched on the ground nearby and millions more saw it on television. After separating from its launching rocket, the bell-shaped Friendship 7 capsule entered into an orbit around Earth at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour. Smoothing into orbit, Glenn radioed back, “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous.”

During Friendship 7‘s first orbit, Glenn noticed what he described as small, glowing fireflies drifting by the capsule’s tiny window. It was sometime later that NASA mission control determined that the sparks were crystallized water vapor released by the capsule’s air-conditioning system. Before the end of the first orbit, a more serious problem occurred when Friendship 7‘s automatic control system began to malfunction, sending the capsule into erratic movements. At the end of the orbit, Glenn switched to manual control and regained command of the craft.

Toward the end of Glenn’s third and last orbit, mission control received a mechanical signal from the spacecraft indicating that the heat shield on the base of the capsule was possibly loose. Traveling at its immense speed, the capsule would be incinerated if the shield failed to absorb and dissipate the extremely high reentry temperatures. It was decided that the craft’s retrorockets, usually jettisoned before reentry, would be left on in order to better secure the heat shield. Less than a minute later, Friendship 7 slammed into Earth’s atmosphere.

During Glenn’s fiery descent back to Earth, the straps holding the retrorockets gave way and flapped violently by his window as a shroud of ions caused by excessive friction enveloped the spacecraft, causing Glenn to lose radio contact with mission control. As mission control anxiously waited for the resumption of radio transmissions that would indicate Glenn’s survival, he watched flaming chunks of retrorocket fly by his window. After four minutes of radio silence, Glenn’s voice crackled through loudspeakers at mission control, and Friendship 7 splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. He was picked up by the USS destroyer Noa, and his first words upon stepping out of the capsule and onto the deck of the Noa were, “It was hot in there.” He had spent nearly five hours in space.

Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. He later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Out of a reluctance to risk the life of an astronaut as popular as Glenn, NASA essentially grounded the “Clean Marine” in the years after his historic flight. Frustrated with this uncharacteristic lack of activity, Glenn turned to politics and in 1964 announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio and formally left NASA. Later that year, however, he withdrew his Senate bid after seriously injuring his inner ear in a fall. In 1970, following a stint as a Royal Crown Cola executive, he ran for the Senate again but lost the Democratic nomination to Howard Metzenbaum. Four years later, he defeated Metzenbaum, won the general election, and went on to win reelection three times. In 1984, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president.

In early 1998, NASA announced it had approved Glenn to serve as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery. On October 29, 1998, nearly four decades after his famous orbital flight, the 77-year-old Glenn became the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine-day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. In 1999, he retired from his U.S. Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio.

Astronaut John Glenn orbited Earth in the "Friendship 7" spacecraft in 1962.
Astronaut John Glenn orbited Earth in the “Friendship 7” spacecraft in 1962. (VOA Learning English – VOA News)

* 1998 Tara Lipinski becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist

On February 20, 1998, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski wins the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and becomes the youngest gold medalist in her sport.

Lipinski donned her first pair of skates at age six. In 1994, at age 12, she won a gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival, a junior-level competition. In 1997, Lipinski, then 14, took first place at both the national and world figure skating championships, beating out her American rival and perennial fan favorite, Michelle Kwan. Lipinski was the youngest person ever to take home either title. At the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Lipinski, and teammate Michelle Kwan were both considered favorites for the gold medal. Earlier that season, the diminutive Lipinski, known for her energetic jumps, had been defeated twice in competition by Kwan, who was considered the more artistic skater of the two. Both Kwan and Lipinski turned in strong performances; however, Lipinski’s program was considered more technically difficult and she was awarded the gold medal. Kwan took home the silver medal and China’s Chen Lu won the bronze. Lipinski, then 15, was the youngest person in figure skating history to capture Olympic gold. (At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, 16-year-old Oksana Baiul from Ukraine won the gold in women’s figure skating.)

In April 1998, Lipinski announced she was turning professional. She went on to perform in skating shows such as “Stars on Ice” and also pursued an acting career. In 2006, she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Tara Lipinski of the USA is the youngest woman to win Olympic gold at 15
Tara Lipinski of the USA is the youngest woman to win Olympic gold at 15 (Sizzlepixs.com)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* Global News                                                                        https://globalnews.ca/news/427985/55-years-later-biggest-question-surrounding-avro-arrow-remains-what-if/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                            

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

10 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 20th”

  1. Like many, I’ve always admired and respected astronaut John Glenn. His is a life lived to its fullest, to space and back several times, in and out of politics and just being a humane person. Thank you for refreshing my memories. All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved the story of the Arrow which was another victim of politics. Canada makes some nice regional jets. John Glenn was a hero for sure. He never lost his cool when for all intents and purposes he thought he was going to burn up. Lipinski was a prodigy. Well done, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the effects of the cancellation of the Arrow was that many of the best engineers left Toronto and headed to NASA where they gave the space race to the moon a boost. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the great memories of watching Glenn and Lapinski. John Glenn’s orbit was such a big deal, I can still recall watching it on TV in my fifth grade classroom. I’d forgotten about SEATO. And I have no words for scalping. Opher took care of that. Thanks, John!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, those are great memories of significant achievements. I think I was in Grade 6 when Glenn flew. I included the piece on the scalping not to denigrate the Americans, but to underline that White Europeans loved to describe the Indigenous peoples as “savages”. The American colonists may have done the scalping but the British colonial authorities paid the bounties. Truly civilized! Thanks, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. According to my research, the Indigenous peoples practiced that form of barbarism before the Europeans arrived in North America. It seems to be similar in intent to the practice of cutting out the heart of a brave enemy warrior and eating it – to share in the bravery. Thanks, Opher. I’ve often wondered how different that was from the Catholic practice of consuming the body and blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine – as Holy Communion.

      Like

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