The Canuck was affectionately known in the RCAF as the "Clunk" because of the noise the front landing gear made as it retracted into its well after takeoff. Its less-attractive nickname was the "Lead Sled", a reference to its heavy controls and general lack of maneuverability, a nickname it shared with a number of other 1950s aircraft. Others included CF-Zero, the Zilch, the Beast, all references to an aircraft many pilots considered less glamourous than RCAF day fighters like the Canadair Sabre.
The aircraft operated under the US/Canadian North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to protect North American airspace from Soviet intruders such as nuclear-armed bombers. Additionally, as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), four Canuck squadrons were based in Europe with 1 Air Division from 1956–1962, and were for some time the only NATO fighters capable of operating in zero visibility and poor weather conditions.
When the Korean War started, the USAF was in urgent need of a jet-propelled, all-weather, interdiction/surveillance aircraft. The urgency was so great that the USAF was willing to consider two foreign designs: the CF-100 and the English Electric Canberra. The CF-100 was rejected because of insufficient range and payload. The English Electric design was selected and developed into the Martin B-57 Canberra.
The CF-100 served with nine RCAF squadrons at its peak in the mid-1950s. Four of these squadrons were deployed to Europe from late 1956–1962 under the NIMBLE BAT ferry program, replacing some NATO RCAF squadrons equipped with Canadair Sabre day fighters to provide all-weather defense against Soviet intruders. Canucks flying at home retained natural metal finish, but those flying overseas were given a British-style disruptive camouflage scheme: dark sea gray and green on top, light sea gray on the bottom.
During his Avro Canada years, the Chief Development Pilot, S/L Zurakowski, continued to fly as an aerobatic display pilot, with spectacular results, especially at the 1955 Farnborough Airshow where he displayed the CF-100 in a "falling-leaf." He was acclaimed again as the "Great Zura" by many aviation and industry observers who could not believe a large, all-weather fighter could be put through its paces so spectacularly. His performance led to Belgium purchasing the CF-100.
In its lifetime, 692 CF-100s of different variants were produced, including 53 aircraft delivered to the Belgian Air Force. Although originally designed for only 2,000 hours, it was found that the Canuck's airframe could serve for over 20,000 hours before retirement. Consequently, though it was replaced in its front line role by the CF-101 Voodoo, the Canuck served with 414 Squadron of the Canadian Forces at CFB North Bay, Ontario, until 1981, in reconnaissance, training and electronic warfare roles. After the CF-100 was retired, a number of aircraft still remain across Canada (and elsewhere) as static displays.
Its planned successor, the CF-105 Arrow along with the sophisticated Orenda Iroquois engine, both Canadian-designed, were cancelled in 1959 in a controversial decision by the Canadian government.