The Orenda Ring

Avro Arrow with Avro Canuck in the background. Both used Orenda engines.

Avro Arrow with Avro Canuck in the background.

During the cold war period after World War 2 the Canadian government contracted Avro Canada to develop a brand new all-weather interceptor that could meet and face the new Russian threat that may potentially invade the skies above our nation. A two seater, dual engined all-weather fighter began to take shape at Avro under the name of the CF-100 Canuck. Design of this new jet had to meet Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) specification for an all-weather fighter with advanced avionics and radar for all-weather and night sorties. The project was initiated at Avro Canada in October 1946.

The Canadian designed Avro CF-100 Canuck

The Canadian designed Avro CF-100 Canuck

Avro Canada asked another Canadian company to build the advanced jet engines for this new jet. The Orenda’s engine prototype was completed in less than a year, and the engine first ran in February 1949, a year before the CF-100’s maiden flight. Testing of this new top-secret, advanced jet engine took place in classified locations. When it entered production it was the most powerful engine in the world, a title it held until 1952. The Orenda engine also powered the Canadair F-86 Sabre fighter jet.

The Orenda jet engine (on display at Carleton University)

The Orenda jet engine (on display at Carleton University)

In 1953, Avro Canada once again turned to Orenda to produce an engine for the new ultra secret CF-105 Arrow project. Again, Orenda was able to prototype a new engine in a short period of time, starting development in 1953, completing it in May 1954 and building and running the prototype by December 1954. During the testing period, the new “Iroquois” was the most powerful jet engine in the world. It was aerodynamically matched for peak performance at 50,000 feet  altitude and Mach 2 speed. After some 7,000 hours of development testing, up to a simulated altitude of 70,000 feet (21,300 m) and a forward speed of Mach 2.3, the Iroquois program was cancelled, along with the Avro Arrow on 20 February 1959.

So where did these top secret jet engine tests take place? Local rumours and an area author in Prince Edward County believe secret Avro tests happened somewhere in a field 20 minutes south of Picton, Ontario, 15 minutes from my parents house.

According to the author of the book “Camp Picton: A Storied 70 Years in a Canadian Military Training Camp” by Joanne Courneya-Fralick, one day in 1951-52 the military stopped at a local school to offload jet fuel for a top secret operation near Point Petre. A CF-100 was on a truck and “for some reason it was being towed to Point Petre for testing.” The author visited Point Petre and recorded finding an asphalt ring in a field with a centre tether post of which the Avro test engines were attached for testing.

Avro technicians prepare an Avro Arrow test model attached to a Nike booster rocket to fire out over Lake Ontario at Point Petre in the 1950s.

Avro technicians prepare an Avro Arrow test model attached to a Nike booster rocket to fire out over Lake Ontario at Point Petre in the 1950s.

Rumour has it that experimental Orenda jet engines were tethered to a post in the centre of a large circular paved track in the middle of a secluded field. The experimental jet engine was bolted to a wheeled cart attached to a central post, then ignited. The accelerating jet engine would then spin around the asphalt track, tethered to the centre post, while engineers studied the performance of the engine as it spun around the track at high speed. Making notes and putting the new jet engine through its paces, the engine would scream around in this secluded field, far away from spying eyes.

Concept sketch showing how the Avro-Orenda field tests may have been conducted.

Concept sketch showing how the Avro-Orenda field tests may have been conducted.

The ultra-top secret test operations for the Orenda engines were only a few hundred metres from the Avro Arrow test facility that operated at Point Petre where scale models of the Arrow were fastened to Nike Rockets and fired out over Lake Ontario for aerodynamic study. It seems likely this Orenda jet engine test facility was used for both the CF-100 engine tests around 1950, and the later testing of the CF-105 Avro Arrow Orenda Iroquois engine.

Avro Arrow model launch pad at Point Petre

Avro Arrow model launch pad at Point Petre as it appears today (Bing Maps)

So does this Cold War era secret jet engine test facility still exist? Let’s find out…

I scoured the area of Point Petre on Google Satellite Maps and came across an unusual anomaly in a field that resembles a paved ring. Being in close proximity to the Avro Arrow test model launch pad, this seems the likely location of the Orenda Ring.

An unusual ring shape in a field near Point Petre...possibly the Lost Ring oF Orenda.

An unusual ring shape in a field near Point Petre…possibly the Orenda Ring.

ringdiameter

There was only one way to find out if this is the actual abandoned 1950s Cold War Avro jet engine test facility…to hike in and find out what remained.

Ring shape in a field as seen from the air near Point Petre.

Ring shape in a field as seen from the air near Point Petre.

Using Google and Bing Map satellite images, a distinctive ring shape can be seen with a centre area clearly visible. This is most likely the once secret Orenda engine test site. Abandoned for 60 years after the Avro program was cancelled in 1959, the asphalt test track the engine sleds would rotate at high speed around could possibly still be there.

Despite the snow covered grounds of late December, I thought the ring could still be visible and maybe found…and it was.

Details of this fascinating discovery below…

Closer view of what looks to be the Orenda Ring.

Closer view of what looks to be the Orenda Ring.

After driving to Point Petre, I mapped out where the Orenda Ring would be and headed into the scrub brush.

After driving to Point Petre, I mapped out where the Orenda Ring would be and headed into the scrub brush.

Hiking through the deep snow, I broke through the scrub brush and came across the ring track. ATVs have used it.

Hiking through the deep snow, I broke through the scrub brush and came across the ring track. ATVs have used it.

The ring track has quite a large diameter, with a gradual curve to it.

The ring track has quite a large diameter, with a gradual curve to it.

Hiking in from the perimeter to the centre of the ring a post was visible.

Hiking in from the perimeter to the centre of the ring, a post was visible.

..and there it was...after 50 years of sitting abondoned in an overgrown field, the Orenda jet engine tether post sits as a lonely reminder of the Cold War tests that happened here.

..and there it was…after 50 years of sitting abondoned in an overgrown field, the Orenda jet engine tether post sits as a lonely reminder of the Cold War jet engine tests that reportedly happened here.

With the paint hardly worn, the 60 year old Orenda jet engine tether test pole looks almost brand new despite sitting in the elements since 1959. Tether chain and the rotator cap still remain.

With the paint hardly worn, the 60 year old Orenda jet engine tether test pole looks almost brand new despite sitting exposed to the elements since the 1950s. Tether chain and the rotator cap still remain.

Surrounded by vegetation that would have never been there during the jet engine tests of the 1950s, the tehter post has a visble anchor pad under the snow.

Surrounded by overgrown vegetation that would never have existed during the jet engine tests of the 1950s, the tether post has a visible anchor pad under the snow.

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17 comments

  1. Interesting story, it sounds dangerous to be anywhere near that ring, with a 1.25 ton 7,000 lbs thrust chunk of metal spinning around it. Orendas were tested in flight on a Lancaster Bomber that had two Merlins removed, and replaced with Orenda gas turbines. These same Orenda Engines are still in use today, to generate electricity, and will continue to be used for another six years, at least. It’s nice to hear one run, I always stop and listen.

  2. I think that post and circle was used for something else, they had and still have test cells at Orenda. Giffels Co. on Carlingview had the A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. eng.dwgs. for plant construction etc. they did the work back then. If that post and circle was built for Avro Canada, the answer would be there.

  3. I was at Point Petre in November but had no idea that this was once the test site for the Arrow development! I only went to Point Petre because my parents took me camping at Salmon Point starting in the early 70’s and I took my kids there until the campground closed. We could see the lighthouse at Point Petre from the campground and I always wondered what to see it up close. You have a great blog, I’ve just spent the last couple of hours reading all of it! I’m looking forward to the next entry.

    Ward

    1. Thanks Ward, I’m glad you enjoy the stories. There are lots of adventures to be had in PEC and it sounds, especially out near Point Petre. Stay tuned for more adventures!

  4. My wife & I went camping at Sandbanks 2yrs ago. Part of our reason for going was I have a telescope that I like to do a bit of astrophotography with(TO is a bust for AP). I had been searching Google Earth, dark sky maps & the provincial campground maps looking for appropriate sites to camp at with unobstructed 360* views. Sandbanks seemed to be a pretty good location. Noticed how much darker the skies are around Point Petre are so I was curious if there was a spot I could make a side trip to on a clear night while at Sandbanks. Couldn’t help but notice the ring on Google Earth which really peaked my interest. While I never did set up out there we did do some hiking/photography along the shoreline. Of course I had to go see/walk the ring as I was very curious as to what it was. Enjoyed reading your blog/stories, while not sure if that is what it was used for, guess it could be possible. Couldn’t imagine standing anywhere near the ring while a jet engine was being tested lol
    Any how, thanks for the stories/blog, very enjoyable reading!

  5. Interesting. We never knew about the Orenda ring when we used to ride our dirt bikes on the “go cart track” when we were kids in the ’70’s. Had a head on collision with my brother after he decided to reverse course one time. Made a mess of his YZ 80.

    My grandparents owned Salmon Point for about 50 years until their death. Grandfather also fished Lake Ontario and pulled up some balsa wood in his nets once. Thereafter got a visit from the USAF. Turns out out was from the explosion of an experimental Bell X-1. One of the crew was killed and the body lost. The body was eventually found inside the parachute that was tangled in the rudder of a freighter in the Welland canal.

  6. Interesting theory, but wrong on so many levels. First off the image of the “Avro Arrow model launch pad at Point Petre as it appears today” is the transmitter site for CFB 8 Wing Trenton (the receiver site is just outside Carrying Place on Hwy. 33).
    Secondly Orendas’ test site was located just outside of Parry Sound Ontario in a place called Nobel. I can’t for the life of me imagine a 4650 pound engine hurtling itself around the circular track, the forces on that engine, and centre post would be unimaginable, and probably quite destructive. The Iroquois was also tested while mounted on an American B-47 bomber, which was subsequently scrapped when it was returned to the Americans after the program was cancelled.

      1. I am quite aware that this is the area where Avro models were launched, a nearby neighbor of mine was part of an expedition that actually located at least one of the models. I was stating that the picture shown was in fact the transmitter site for CFB Trenton.
        From what I have gathered the circle was part of a launch pad for remote control drones that were used for AAA target practice. From pictures that I have seen of the Nike, it doesn’t appear that the circle was part of that system.

  7. I went there about 8years ago looking the place where the Nike missiles were launched, and wound up at the place where the huge rhombic antennas were still strung up. I think the two sites must be in close proximity.

    1. You were so close, the transmitter site was the launch site. The picture above shows a rectangular pad near the bottom of the frame adjacent to the lake. This is where the Nike missiles were launched, as well as other tests out into the lake.

  8. Chris…The Orenda 11- 14 Series engines had a very good thrust to weight ratio at 1.25 ton. The higher weight given above includes the weight of the Reems engine can that the engines are stored and shipped in. ..Cheers

  9. Chris ..thanks for the info on the launch site, and the ring. I bet there are a lot of things in the water south of that site. You have probably heard about the previously undiscovered 1800’s era sailing ship that the RCN found while side-scanning for the free flight models. I thinks it’s about 300 ft deep. There is a de Havilland Vampire in the water south east of Bowmanville as well. We only know the general location. Rumour has it that it was found in the late ’70s, rigged up and moved closer to shore, but then dropped again.

    1. Good video of that wreck on this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib0_PDNRm0s. They started out supposed to be looking for some of the models, but kind of fizzled on that when they found a different booster or missile that they were trying to link to Gerry Bull. As far as I know the models are still out there but permission has not been granted for the recovery of one. From the pictures that I saw they were pretty beat up from the impact of the water at mach+?.
      More than a few of our airmen were lost to the “Vamp” to label them a widowmaker wouldn’t be unjust. (some crashes could be blamed on the transition into the jet age as well as reliability of early jet engines) It would be nice to see it recovered though.

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