The ThunderFish, Kraken’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) with an advanced sonar system to search the floor of Lake Ontario for scale models of the Avro Arrow. - Photo contributed

Search on for lost Avro Arrow models

SAS grad part of the hunt for aviation history

David Shea, a graduate of Salmon Arm Secondary, is on the hunt for underwater treasure – of the historical kind.

At the bottom of Lake Ontario is believed to be a missing piece of Canada’s aviation history. Nine prototype test-plane models of the infamous Avro Arrow jet were created and launched into Lake Ontario between 1954 and 1957.

The Avro Arrow, said to be the most advanced super-sonic aircraft in history at the time, was later unceremoniously cancelled and nearly all records and information about the plane were destroyed.

Shea is vice-president of engineering for Kraken Sonar Systems. The Newfoundland-based company has developed a programmable submarine, known as the ThunderFish, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) with an advanced sonar system to allow for searching with far clearer results than traditional sonar.

Shea was previously part of the successful Arctic search for the ships lost in the 1845 Franklin Expedition.

On Friday, July 28, the team from Kraken began work on the Raise the Arrow project, a collaboration between several private companies that are working with the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Military Institute to find these scale models. The nine prototypes are roughly one-eighth the size of the full-sized aircraft, so they aren’t going to be easy to find in the murky, cold waters of Lake Ontario. The team, which includes the scientists and archaeologists, is based in an area near Point Petre.

They are searching an area of 64 square kilometres, with the AUV moving in a lawnmower-like grid pattern to look for the models. The AUV essentially flies above the lake bed floor and records detailed images from below. These are then reviewed and analyzed by the search team.

While the team knows a few details of where the test models were launched and the angle at which they were launched, no one really know where they might have landed.

“The scientists at the time were interested in the data the models were recording on an FM transmitter, things like wind speed and velocity… They didn’t plan on recovering the models, so they really didn’t pay much attention to where they might have landed,” says Shea.

They also do not know if the planes remained intact, or if they broke up on impact. Other people have looked for the models, with no success.

“Our current theory is that they were estimating the planes were much farther out in Lake Ontario than we think,” says Shea. “I believe that if we are looking in the right area, we are going to find them, but it is a very big lake… It has been difficult to get information because so many of the records were burned and now, 60 years later, it is difficult to find people who actually worked with the program.”

Some of the models were made out of wood and stainless steel, while others were made from titanium and magnesium. The search will also be complicated by the fact that there is a lot of other metal debris at the bottom of the lake, since there also was a military test range nearby, which used to shoot artillery shells into the lake.

If found, Stephen Harpur, with investor relations for Kraken, says the models will be given back to the country for display in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario.