The History and the Aircraft of the Air Forces of Canada

These pages provide the stories of the short lived Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC – 1914), the Canadian Air Force (CAF – 1920 to 1923), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF – 1924 to 1966), the Canadian Forces Air Element (1967 to 1985) and, from then until now, the Air Force, which still remains part of the unified Canadian Forces.

It should also be remembered that, with the disbandment of the Canadian Aviation Corps at the very beginning of the First World War, Canadians then served with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and subsequently the Royal Air Force (RAF).

For Canada, not only did the names of the Air Force change over the years, but so did the colours of the uniforms: Khaki until 1918, Navy Blue until 1923, Air Force Blue until 1966, Dark Green until 1985 and then, once again Air Force Blue.

One thing has always remained constant however, the dedication to duty and readiness to make the supreme sacrifice if necessary, shown by all men and women who have been or are a part of Canada’s Air Forces.

The Very Beginning

The first flight of an aircraft in Canada, and in the British Empire, took place on February 23, 1909 on icy Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia when J.A.D. McCurdy was airborne for a distance of one half a mile in his biplane the Silver Dart.

After the success of that flight, McCurdy and his associate F.W. Baldwin tried to interest the Canadian Department of Militia and Defence in the use of aircraft for the military. On August 1, at Petawawa, “SilverDart” made four flights in front of Militia Department officials but on the last flight the aircraft was wrecked in a hard landing. A second aircraft, two weeks later, suffered a similar fate and further tests were cancelled.

Several far-sighted Canadians, however, continued to work towards the creation of a Canadian air force. Among these were a number of civilian aviation pioneers including the members of the Aerial Experiment Association (Silver Dart and Baddeck trials), and military staff officers. Colonel Eugene Fiset, Deputy Minister, Colonel R.W. Rutherford, Master of Ordnance and Major G.S. Maunsell, Director of Engineering. However, despite years of carefully laying the groundwork, the creation of Canada’s first air force would fall to three other men.