A group of Canadian researchers came together with a specific mission in mind — to recover a lost piece of Canadian history in Lake Ontario. OEX Recovery Group Incorporated pooled together resources to put together the search.
Their first order of business was to map out the locations of the lake where they felt the likelihood of finding the mysterious object would be greatest. The team knew this would be quite an undertaking.
The man behind the project
Raise the Arrow was founded by John Burzynski, the CEO of Osisko Mining — a gold mining company. In an interview, Burzynski pointed out the similarities between gold mining and searching for lost, buried artifacts.
“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 said.
Consulting the locals
To get the best idea where to dive and search, Burzynski and his team began asking the people in the area to find the best places to search. The locals directed them to an unlikely place.
The area in question is extremely popular with tourists. Known for its scenic beauty, thousands of visitors file in to this location every year to sit in awe of the sublime natural splendor.
They chose a spot to zero in on
According to the locals, and based on other research the team conducted, the most likely spot to find some lost military artifacts was around Point Petre — a wildlife conservation area known for its rock formations and fossils.
The location is extremely popular with bird-watchers, as it is an important stopover location for various species of duck during migration. However, what interested the researchers from project Raise the Arrow was that the spot was a frequent flight testing location for the Canadian military during the Cold War.
The latest technology was used in the search
Behold the ThunderFish, a remote-operated mini-submarine capable of using sonar to capture high-resolution images. These photographs would prove vital to the team as they conducted their search.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a former military testing area would spark some outlandish rumors and conspiracy theories. Many believe Point Petre is host to extraterrestrial activity. However, Raise the Arrow wasn’t concerned with these particular rumors. Albeit top secret, the type of technology they were searching for was created by humans.
What were they looking for?
In 1946, the Canadian government commissioned military research and development on a top secret aircraft. This was in the midst of the Cold War, when the United States and Canada were involved in a bitter arms race with Soviet Russia and its allies.
Canada wanted a more powerful, deadly aircraft that defended North America against the very real, potentially devastating threat of an aerial attack. Much of the testing of this top secret aircraft took place near Lake Ontario. To understand the gravity of the recent discovery, it’s necessary to delve into a bit of Cold War history …
The aircraft’s predecessor
Avro CF-100 Canuck was the first of these aircraft designed specifically to defend against airborne Soviet attacks. The Canadian government brought in the private firm Avro Canada to build these state-of-the-art planes.
Affectionately named the “Clunk,” after the loud sound the landing gear made when it retracted after takeoff, the CF-100 is the only Canadian fighter jet to enter mass production. While the interceptor certainly served its purpose, it quickly became clear the “Clunk” was far from ideal.
Keeping up with Russia
It quickly became clear that the Avro CF-100 just wasn’t good enough for the task at hand. By 1952, the Canadians decided they needed to improve the old design. Rumors circulated that the Russians were developing stronger, faster, and stealthier technology, and the “Clunk” — which was sometimes called the “lead sled” — could not keep up.
With the threat of death from above looming on the horizon, the Canadian government decided to switch gears — they wanted to be confident in their ability to defend themselves.
Avro Canada believed they found the solution with the CF-105 Arrow. The company promised that the Avro Arrow would be able to hit speeds of Mach 2 over 50,000 feet in the air. Avro Canada began working on the new plane even before the Canuck was launched.
Speed and handling of an aircraft is greatly affected once a jet exceeds the speed of sound. This phenomenon is known as reaching the “sound barrier,” when jets begin to feel the effects of “wave drag.” To remedy this problem, Avro Canada implemented a new aerodynamic improvement in the design: the delta wing. The new triangle-shaped wing, named after the Greek letter, reduces drag at high speeds by creating a sideways airflow pattern.
Flight tests at Lake Ontario
To test the new design, Avro Canada constructed nine prototypes to test over Lake Ontario. These aircraft were essentially miniature versions of the jet they intended to bring into production.
Each mini plane was about 10 feet long and had a wingspan of around 7 feet. In 1953, plane designers began to launch these prototypes from Point Petre. By observing the prototypes in flight, engineers were able to correct any design flaws they noticed.
Improvements were made
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) set up a strict timetable for producing the CF-105 — they wanted these jets as soon as possible. To keep up with the stringent deadlines, Avro implemented a Cook-Craigie plan. This meant a production line to build the planes would be set up before testing was completed.
The process is risky, because serious design flaws are often found during flight tests and the production line often needs adjustments or sometimes a complete overhaul. “I will not pretend that this philosophy of production type build from the outset did not cause us a lot of problems in Engineering. However, it did achieve its objective,” said Jim Floyd, vice president of Avro Engineering.
The space race adjusted priorities
Production of the RCAF’s first Avro CF-105 Arrow began in 1955. However, by 1957, Soviet Russia shocked the world by successfully launching the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit.
Canada became increasingly concerned that the vast sums of money they were dumping into developing this new military technology was being wasted. Why were they spending so much money on defense from conventional airborne attacks when the next threat might come from space?
What happened next was classified
In 1959, the RCAF abruptly canceled the program. The shutdown was devastating to the Canadian aviation industry. The event — which sent 14,528 Avro employees and 15,000 outside employees looking for new work — came to be known as “Black Friday” for Canadian airplane manufacturers.
Instead of building the new planes, the RCAF decided to just buy planes from their friendly neighbors down south. After purchasing the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet fighter and Bomarc-B missiles from the United States, the RCAF ordered all blueprints, designs, models, and information regarding the Avro Arrow destroyed.
All evidence was destroyed (almost)
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police became concerned that Soviet moles had infiltrated Avro — an allegation that was later partially confirmed by the Mitrokhin Archive. Rather than let the information fall into the wrong hands, the government demanded that anything regarding the Avro Arrow be destroyed.
Despite the express instructions to destroy all evidence, rumors began to circulate that the head of Avro, Air Marshal W.A. Curtis, ignored the orders and stowed away one of the Arrows. In a 1968 interview, Curtis declined to confirm or deny the rumor.
The Mitrokhin Archive
A collection of handwritten notes by a former KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin, shocked the world after it was released in 1992. Mitrokhin had defected to the United Kingdom following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and brought with him extensive accounts of many unscrupulous actions taken by the Soviet government.
Included in the report were the names of many KGB operatives that had infiltrated the United States’ National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association and Scotland Yard. It also detailed the Soviet Union’s disinformation campaign against the United States and support and installation of communist governments. The report alleged that Avro Canada had also been infiltrated, meaning much of the research and development information regarding the CF-105 Arrow had likely been compromised.
Fast-forward to 2017 — scientists think they found something at the bottom of the lake
After weeks of searching for abandoned top secret technology at the bottom of Lake Ontario, the researchers from project Raise the Arrow noticed something promising on the submarine sonogram near Point Petre.
They were able to get a good picture of the shape. The team wasn’t quite sure what they were looking at yet, since whatever it was happened to be covered in zebra mussels. One thing was for sure — they needed to get a closer look.
Assessing the relic was incredibly dangerous
Divers were sent down deep to assess and recover the mysterious object. This meant staying underwater for extended periods of time, as the divers got to work scraping off the pesky zebra mussels.
The incredible depths required the divers to wear specialized atmospheric suits to handle the immense pressure. The process was hard work, but it paid off — they had made a jaw-dropping discovery.
The first discovery
Deep in the lake, project Raise the Arrow had found exactly the type of artifact they had been searching for. It was one of the original prototypes of the Avro CF-105 Arrow — an incredibly rare and fortuitous discovery.
“This is an unexpected success,” said John Burzynski, leader of the project. “It’s something we didn’t really know existed.” The team was overjoyed to have found such a mysterious piece of Canada’s history. But their work wasn’t done yet …
The team had to get creative to recover the jet
If you thought it’d be easy to pull this miniature jet from the bottom of Lake Ontario and haul it back to shore, you’re sorely mistaken. Recovering the prototype was an incredibly strenuous and coordinated effort.
Divers had to dig around the submerged aircraft to make room for a cage-like receptacle to fit underneath it. Using a pulley system, the team was able to get the Cold War relic onto the boat.
The process took an entire year
The whole team cheered when they brought the prototype up above the surface, and with good reason — recovering the mysterious artifact took a whole year. Apparently, ripping a 60-year-old, 10-foot hunk of metal out of the bottom of a lake is a pretty difficult task!
Once they had the prototype above the surface, cleaning the jet became a whole lot easier, and it gave them the opportunity to get a good look at the artifact.
Confirming what they found
Even with the considerable amount of degradation that occurred on the jet prototype after spending over half a century at the bottom of Lake Ontario, researchers were able to clearly match it to secret scaled drawings of the prototype the team was able to uncover.
The prototype was in surprisingly good condition considering where it had been for many decades. It makes sense — without the advanced technology of today, the only way to test a jet was to fly it. Therefore, the prototypes had to be built to last.
Jim Johnson was brought in to take a look
By this point, researchers were practically positive they knew what they were looking at, but they wanted to get one last set of eyes to confirm it. For this, they called in one of the engineers that worked on the original project around 60 years ago.
In this picture, Jim Johnson (in the navy-blue shirt), a member of the Avro Arrow test program from 1952-57, looks over one of the prototypes he and his team launched over the lake around six decades ago.
What’s next for Raise the Arrow?
The team believes there are tons more items to be recovered in Point Petre. In fact, their sonar system has identified over 200 potential targets. This means a lot more work for the team, but also the potential for many more awesome discoveries. “The only way we can tell (for certain what these items are) is to get divers on them,” said John Burzynski.
Project Raise the Arrow also hopes to recover “Velvet Glove” and “Sparrow,” which are air-to-air missiles that were test-launched in the same area. The team is confident they’ll be able to uncover more lost pieces of Canadian military history in the coming years by surveying the vast Lake Ontario.
The geography of Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario is interesting from a geographical standpoint since it is almost evenly split between Canada and the United States. The smallest of the Great Lakes in North America, the body of water stretches 7,340 square miles.
The southern shore of Lake Ontario sits off the shore of New York state, while the northern shore borders Canada. There are several small islands scattered throughout Lake Ontario — many caused by coastal erosion.
The creation of Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario was carved out by Silurian-age rocks being moved by the Wisconsin ice sheet during the last ice age. The action of the ice gradually brought the basin below sea level, and the lake briefly became a bay of the Atlantic Ocean.
The lake is still gradually rebounding from the release of the weight lifted from the gigantic ice sheet. The rebound is most observable around the St. Lawrence area where the surface level rises approximately 12 inches per century.