atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#6805: An aerospace double feature

Last night I happened across what I thought was one movie, which turned out to be quite another one.

I saw The Challenger Disaster on YouTube movies and, thinking it was The Challenger Disaster, got it going on Achernar in the family room where I could sit in a comfortable chair. (New desk chair is "out for delivery", so it'll be here soon enough).

It was not the 2013 movie about the commission that explored the loss of Challenger, which featured William Hurt playing Richard Feynman. No, this was a 2019 movie that explored an engineer's doomed attempts to delay the launch of Challenger on January 28, 1986.

This was not a bad movie, although there were a few moments where the actors were chewing the scenery. It wasn't really good, though, either.

Best line:
"How are we going to get the presentation to [three places] in 45 minutes?"
"It is 1986. We are rocket scientists. We work for NASA. We will fax it."

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube.

Anyway, after that was done I tried to figure out what else to watch, and then I remembered that The Arrow was also available in its entirety on YouTube, and since I already had Achernar set up to do it, I found that one and watched it.

This movie is about Canadian aircraft company Avro deciding to develop a fighter-interceptor in the late 1950s which would meet or exceed performance specifications that were then thought impossible with the technology of the day. Little things, you know, like sustained cruise above Mach 2 and being able to climb straight up with no loss of speed and being able to hold Mach 1.5 while in a standard-rate turn.

It's also three hours long. I had intended to watch maybe the first half of it; but I watched it all, and coupled with the first movie that ended up keeping me awake until 4 AM.

...but it's interesting. And tragic: not only is it the story of how a Canadian company developed the most sophisticated airplane of its day, but it's also the story of how Canada ceded its national defense to the United States.

Besides developing the airframe, Avro developed fly-by-wire systems for the airplane; they'd intended to use Rolls-Royce engines, but when Rolls canceled their project they went and developed their own: the Orenda Iroquois, which produced a stunning 20,000 lbs of thrust (a lot for a jet engine in 1958) and 30,000 lbs on afterburner.

I don't know anything about Canadian politics, even less so about what happened in the 1950s. I don't know where the politicians depicted in the show fall on the "left-right" spectrum, not the least because a "liberal" politician from 1958 would come across like today's hardest-line right-winger. What I do know is that Dan Ackroyd's character< Crawford Gordon Jr, had absolutely no love for the "progressive conservative" party which ended up taking power, and my feeling (at the time) was that the party in question was right-wing, hence the visceral and blatant hatred Gordon displayed for campaigners at the gates of the factory.

And so, here we are; a brief look at Wikipedia got me this: "Progressive Conservative" is "moderate to right-wing" and the people who were funding development of the Arrow were "Liberal", which is "moderate to left-wing". And so of course that's why Mr. Crawford Gordon Jr was not-quite violent with the campaigners.

The surprising thing--slightly surprising--is that the left-wing government spent so much money on the project. But as I said above, this was 1958, and even the left wingers--at least the ones who could win elections--were pretty hard cases. Just remember that John F Kennedy's politics would make him a Republican today; the Democrats would want nothing to do with him.

Besides that, Avro had 14,000 employees, and its subcontractors employed another 35,000. That's Keynesian economics right there; government spending on this one program kept almost 50,000 people employed in a country of seventeen million.

...until the Progressive-Conservative party shut it down. They were cutting spending everywhere, and they cut off funding for the Arrow, and Avro management got caught flat-footed by the move. The movie shows Gordon firing the entire plant over the PA system, thinking that'll force the P-C prime minister to reinstate funding, but--

...this is where the whole "ceding defense to the US" comes in. Through the latter half of the movie there's this complex dance where Canada is trying to build its own defense system, but the United States keeps pushing its own interests. Canada eventually decides to go with the BOMARC missile system: "Missles are the future! No one is going to be using bombers any longer!" ...except of course there was an ABM treaty signed sometime later, and anyway BOMARC never lived up to the promises, and it cost more than a flotilla of Arrows would have. There's a scene where Eisenhower is talking to...well, it wasn't clear who it was, but he was in the Canadian government. They were fishing, and Eisenhower was talking about what the US would have to do if Canada didn't put a line of BOMARC sites along its northern border: the BOMARC sites would go on America's northern border and the wreckage of Soviet aircraft would be falling on Canadian cities with fully-armed thermonuclear warheads. Very nicely written scene, with Eisenhower talking about his preference for using live bait when fishing, and the Canadian politician being carefully "fished" into accepting the American proposal at the expense of a domestic solution.

So the Canadian defense establishment is caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to accept that the United States will be defending their country from then on; worse, they won't have very much say in how that defense is accomplished. And with the cancellation of the Arrow program, countries all over the world (at least, in the movie) are asking to buy the planes and parts, as much as can be found, and a French manufacturer was asking after the 400 Iroquois engines they'd contracted to buy from Orenda; and the prime minister realizes that if anyone is allowed to have them, his administration will be a laughingstock. So, he orders that the entire kit and kaboodle be destroyed, right down to the blueprints.

Overall it was a really good movie. I first saw it in around 1997 or so, and liked it, but never had a chance to see it again. Glad I had the chance last night.

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