Avro Canada Founded 1945-Defunct 1962-Location Toronto,
In 1952, Avro Aircraft Ltd., a Canadian firm located at Malton
near Toronto, began to develop a unique, supersonic fighter-bomber
aircraft that could takeoff and land vertically, cruise at low
altitudes on a cushion of air (also called ground effect) or
accelerate to high speeds at higher altitudes. The concept looked
promising and the Canadian government agreed to fund the study.
However, the contract expired before the study could be completed
and the government abandoned the project as too costly.
Work had progressed far enough to interest the Americans. In July
1954, the U. S. government awarded Avro two contracts worth nearly
$2 million to continue the study, and Avro added another $2.5
million. The program remained in Canada but was now owned and
controlled by the United States. Avro had named it Project Y but the
U. S. Department of Defense labeled it Weapon System 606A.
In 1958, when the U. S. Army and Air Force took control
of the project, they named the vehicle 'Avrocar' and designated it
the VZ-9AV ('VZ,' experimental vertical flight; '9,' ninth concept
proposal; and 'AV,' Avro). The Avro VZ-9AV Avrocar had fill some
enormous shoes. The Army strategists looked for a subsonic,
all-terrain reconnaissance and troop-transport vehicle, something
rugged and adaptable that could replace light observation aircraft
and helicopters. They wanted a two-man craft that could perform the
traditional roles of the cavalry: reconnaissance,
counter-reconnaissance, pursuit, harassment and screening. In
addition to its own airframe weight, the saucer had to carry 450 kg
(1,000 lbs) including the crew.
It also had to hover in ground effect and at higher altitudes,
and travel at speeds of about 48.3 kph (30 mph) for at least thirty
minutes. In short, the Army wanted a flying jeep.
U. S. Air Force planners wanted something else. They asked for a
VTOL aircraft that could hover near the ground, beneath the coverage
of enemy radar, and then rocket into the stratosphere at supersonic
speeds. To satisfy both services, the Avrocar would require a huge
performance envelope and rather naively, Avro engineers believed
they could build a supersonic flying jeep. John Frost was chief
project engineer for Weapon System 606A, the Avrocar. One of the
oddest features of Frost's design was its shape. The entire aircraft
was a circular wing shaped much like the ubiquitous Frisbee.
From a distance, the gleaming aluminum Avrocar looked like the
flying discs popularized in many Hollywood science-fiction movies of
that era. Frost and his design team powered the aircraft with three
gas-turbine engines and the combined exhaust from these power plants
drove a "turborotor" mounted in the center of the vehicle.
Turborotor thrust passed through a combination of annular nozzles
and peripheral jets to generate lift and control forces. On paper,
the design promised hovering takeoffs and landings and cruise speeds
upwards of 322-483 kph (2-300 mph) at an altitude of 3,040 m (10,000
It was thought that eventually, the aircraft could attain
supersonic speeds. A scale model of the aircraft was sent to Wright
Field outside Dayton, Ohio, for testing. At first, the test results
seemed to confirm Avro's calculations but further review of the data
revealed a serious setback. The jet of air generated by the
turborotor to cushion the aircraft near the ground grew increasingly
unstable at altitudes of more than a few feet. The problem could be
solved but it would reduce the craft's high-end performance.
The saucer would probably never fly supersonic. Despite this
setback, the Americans decided to stick with the program and hoped
that at least the Army's requirements for a subsonic aircraft could
be met. In the fall of 1959 the first completed Avrocar prototype
rolled out onto the taxiway apron at Malton.
Avro was already well advanced on a second prototype. Tests on
the first vehicle began, using a special test rig to suspend the
Avrocar in the air. The results led to immediate modifications to
the annular nozzles, a key element to the lift and propulsion of the
aircraft. After reworking the nozzle, Avro packed up the Avrocar
like an oversize dinner plate and shipped it to the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center at
Moffett Field, California. NASA had a wind tunnel at Moffett big
enough to hold the VZ-9AV. Meanwhile, Avro finished the second
prototype and began flight tests, using a safety tether, in
September 1959. The first free flight occurred later that winter.