RCAF and Canadian aviation history: 23 Feb 1909 - Mar 31 1924

RCAF and Canadian aviation history, 23 Feb 1909 - Mar 31 1924

             On 1 April 1924, the RCAF was established as a permanent component of Canada's defence force. In 2024, the RCAF will be celebrating 100 years of service to Canada.  Many aviation enthusiasts have contributed to this compilation of key events in Canada's aviation history.  Where there are conflicting dates for the events recorded, the yardstick being used here is Samuel Kostenuk and John Griffin's RCAF: Squadron Histories and Aircraft 1924-1968. Hardcover.  (Canadian War Museum Historical Publications No. 14, 1 Jan 1977)

Key Dates in Canadian Aviation History

            Canadian aviation historian, and ex Air Cadet, Hugh Halliday has produced several well researched books on Canadian military aviation history.  One of his books, “Chronology of Canadian Military Aviation” (Canada War Museum Paper No. 6, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, 1975) provides details of early Canadian military interest in aviation.

           The early Canadian military grew out of the British trained and directed forces raised to defend Canada.  As early as August 1883, Captain H. Elsdale of the British Army used a captive balloon to take aerial photographs of the Halifax Citadel.   A Canadian citizen, J. L’Etoile, offered to create a Canadian balloon corps for the Canadian Department  of Militia that same year, but the offer was not accepted or acted on.

             In March of 1909 Master General of the Ordnance, Canadian Department of Militia and Defence, Col. R.W. Rutherford, began to press for a formal Canadian military policy on aviation.  On 15 May the Militia Council announced that assistance of men and equipment would be offered to inventors, but no cash.  The first group to take advantage of this offer was the Aerial Experiment Association of Halifax (see below), who displayed several of their early aircraft to Canadian civil servants  and officers. In June of 1909 the Association shipped the “AEA Silver Dart“, the first heavier than air aircraft to fly in Canada, to the Army Camp at Petawawa, Ontario (later home to Army AOP Troops, and today home to No. 427 Tactical Helicopter Squadron).  Four demonstration flights were made in early August 1909, ending in a minor crash on the last flight.  The similar CAC Baddeck No. 1 was then shipped to Petawawa, and continued flights on 11, 12 and 13 August. Again ,the demonstration ended when the aircraft crashed.  This series of flights captured the imagination of many younger officers, who pushed to purchase aircraft and take flying lessons for several years, but older officers and civil servants dismissed the aircraft as an impractical invention.

           Like most aircraft of the day, the Association’s aircraft carried Company logos, registration numbers or serial numbers.  We begin this chapter with some of the earliest key dates in Canadian civil and military history.

10 Aug 1840, “Professor of Chemistry and Aerostatic Exhibitions” Louis Anslem Lauriat inflated his massive balloon “Star of the East” with hydrogen gas in Saint John, New Brunswick and ascended in its basket.  As he drifted out over the countryside, he was observed by thousands of local residents and visitors.  This was reportedly the first manned flight in Canada.

08 Sep 1856.  Eugene Godard made the first successful Canadian passenger flight in a balloon, travelling from took off from Montreal to Pointe-Olivier, Quebec, with his balloon “Canada” and two local men, A.E. Kierzowski and A.X. Rambau for a balloon flight across the St. Lawrence River. These men thereby became Canada’s first aerial passengers. The balloon “Canada” was the first aircraft ever constructed in Canada. (Marus Wydera, History of Ballooning, Wikipedia.)

22 Sep 1859. Experienced Aeronaut and pilot John LaMountain and novice John A. Haddock took off at 5:33 p.m.in the hot air balloon “Atlantic” from a public square in Watertown, New York, for a  “short experimental flight.” Air temperature fluctuations, from 84°F on the ground to 18°F in the air, ledto a rapid ascent to at least two miles above ground. After four hours in theair in increasingly bad weather, they landed in wilderness area 180 miles north of Ottawa, Ontario, nearly 300 miles from Watertown. The survivors returned to a great welcome.  A few years later, John LaMountain brought the Atlantic into the Civil War. An advocate of reconnaissance by balloon, he took his well-traveled craft to the air while hewas stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and gave the Union Army its first effective aerial observation of enemy lines. (David C. Shampine Watertown Daily Times, 13 Feb 2023.)

04 Sep 1888. The first parachute descents in Canada, when Edward D. Hogan jumped from a hot air balloon took place at Sherbrooke, Quebec.

26 Sep 1888. Tom Wensley was accidentally carried into the air while holding the rope from at balloon at Ottawa, Ontario.  He let go too late andfell to his death – the first aerial fatality in Canada.

17 Dec 1903. After building and testing three full-sized gliders, Wilbur and Orville Wrights' successful powered heavier than air flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  Orville flew a 12-second flight, traveling 36m (120 ft). The best flight of the day, with Wilbur at the controls, covered 255.6 m (852 ft) in 59 seconds. They were not the only group working to place men in the air.

13 July 1906. Balloon flights were followed by dirigibles, powered by makeshift engines, while other would-be aeronauts experimentedwith gliders.  C.K. Hamilton completed the first powered flight under control in Canada, in a Knabenshue dirigible at Montreal, Quebec.

(Photo courtesy of Pierre Thiffault)

Larry Lesh glider flight, c1907.

In the summer of 1907 in Montreal, Quebec, Laurence J. Lesh (1892-1965) performed a series of soaring flights in self-made fragile gliders towed by a galloping horse. He also set a world record by staying aloft for 24 minutes over the St. Lawrence River, towed for ten kilometres by a motor boat. These were the first soaring flights in Canada, more than eighteen months before the "Silver Dart" flew in Canada. That same summer, Lesh tested a device in flight known today as an aileron. This took place eight months before the maiden flight of the "White Wing" by the AEA (generally credited for the introduction ofailerons in North America). The summer concluded with Laurence conducting over 50 flights in Montreal. (Pierre Thiffault)

In 1891, Experiments to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft flight began in the Baddeck area in1891 under the guidance and direction of Alexander Graham Bell, which would culminate in the flight of the Aerodrome Number 4, now famous as the Silver Dart. Alexander and Mabel Bell were major initiators and financiers behind the aircraft flight experiments. To get to their objective, they needed a team forthe necessary testing and dedicated work. Two years before the Silver Dart’s historical flight, a group of Canadian and American aeronautical enthusiasts formed the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA).

The members of the AEA, working under Alexander Graham Bell led the way with powered airplanes. Established in October 1907, the AEA conducted serious aeronautical research and development. It comprised Bell and his wife, Mable (who funded the group) and four young men: University of Toronto engineering graduates

Baddeck-born John Alexander Douglas McCurdy; Torontonian, F.W.(Casey) Baldwin; Thomas Selfridge, a lieutenant in the American Army; and Hammondsport, New Yorker, Glenn Curtiss, who was famous for the manufacture of motorcycle engines. The association’s aim was simple - to put a man in the air.

 Working at Curtiss’ farm at Hammondsport, N.Y., each of Bell’s protégés designed and flew his own aircraft. Dozens of test flights led to incessant modifications. McCurdy first flew his Silver Dart on 6 Dec 1908, then a further 13 times before Bell had the Silver Dart shipped to his estate at Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. This leads us to the first of the Key Dates in Canadian Aviation History.


(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3922995)

Silver Dart, 1909-2009 commemorative stamp, Bras d'Or Lake, Baddeck, Nova Scotia

23 Feb 1909.  J.A.D. McCurdy made the first successful aircraft flight in Canada, piloting the Silver Dart for a distance of 3/4 of a kilometre over the ice-covered surface of Baddeck Bay in Nova Scotia.  The next day he flew for more than 7 km in a complete circle back to his starting point.  Both flights were recognized by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom as the first successful powered, controlled, heavier-than-air flights by a British subject anywhere in the British Empire.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194128)

The Silver Dart, or Aerodrome # 4, was designed by J.A.D. McCurdy. It used Glenn’s very first water cooled engine, and most of the work was done by Glenn and J.A.D. McCurdy. It first flew at Stony Brook Farm in Hammondsport on December 6, 1908. Later, it was shipped to Nova Scotia, Canada. On 23 February 1909, it flew for the first time in Canada. This was the first flight of a heavier-than-air-machine in Canadian history.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3628602)

Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, c1914-1919.

The Silver Dart was the 4th production aeroplane of the Aerial Experimental Association (AEA) formed at Baddeck, Nova Scotia in Sep 1907 under the leadership of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and his associates, Canadian Engineers J.A.D. McCurdy and R.W. Baldwin, American motorcycle racer and engine maker Glen Curtiss, and US Army Lt Thomas Selfridge.

(Library of Congress Science Photo Library, H400/0022)

Members of the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907, (left to right): J.A.D. McCurdy, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, Alexander Graham Bell, Frederick 'Casey' Baldwin, Glenn H. Curtiss.

The Red Wing, or Aerodrome #1, was designed by Lt. Thomas Selfridge and built in 1908. The plane was outfitted with a Curtiss 40-horsepower, 175 pound, air-cooled V8 engine. It was named the Red Wing for the bright red color of its silk wings. On 12 March 1908, Casey Baldwin flew the aircraft off frozen Keuka Lake. This was the first public demonstration of a powered aircraft flight in the US as well as the first flight by a Canadian pilot. Unfortunately, the tail fell off 20 seconds after takeoff, leading the plane to crash. It was beyond repair, so they started building a new plane.

The White Wing, or Aerodrome #2, was designed by Baldwin and built in 1908. This was the first plane the AEA equipped with ailerons, which allowed the pilot to better control the direction the plane would fly. The plane was first piloted by Baldwin on 18 May 1908, and then flown by Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who became the first Army officer to fly an aircraft. Curtiss then flew the plane on May 21,1908. Two days later, John McCurdy and the plane crashed during a landing and was damaged beyond repair.

02 Aug 1909.  During the annual militia training camp held at Camp Petawawa, Ontario, McCurdy made four demonstration flights with the Silver Dart in an attempt to interest the Department of Militia and Defence in the aeroplane as a weapon of war.  On the last flight of the day, the machine was wrecked in a heavy landing and a second machine, Baddeck No. 1, crashed a few days later.  Official witnesses were not impressed.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4732064)

Canadian Aerodrome Baddeck No. 1 with Frederick W. "Casey" Baldwin and John McCurdy, preparing for military trials at Camp Petawawa, Ontario.  Its first demonstration flight was made on 11 Aug 1909.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3851249)

Canadian Aerodrome Baddeck No. 1 outside a hangar.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3851250)

Canadian Aerodrome Baddeck No. 1 with two members of the aircrew.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3851257)

Canadian Aerodrome Baddeck No. 1.


(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5398687)

Lohner No. 1 aircraft being prepared for test flight, Rideau Canal, Ottawa, 14 March 1910. A group directed by the German mechanic George Lohner constructed this ungainly-looking glider, which flew at least once.  As recorded in the Ottawa Citizen, 22 July 1910, it was towed aloft that day by a motorcar on the grounds of Landsdowne Park.  In this winter scene the crowd appears to be getting it ready to be towed aloft.


04 Aug 1914.  Britain declares war on Germany, which also places Canada in a state of war; the First World War begins.

16 Sep 1914.  Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence, was responsible for assembling and despatching the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) for service overseas.  He asked the British Secretary of War about the need for aviators.  He was advised that Britain could accept six expert aviators immediately and more later.  Canada had none.  He approved the formation of the Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC).  The CAC personally authorized by Col Hughes was to consist of two officers and one mechanic.  He appointed Captain Ernest Lloyd Janney (16 Jun 1893, Galt, Ontario – 22 Apr 1941, Winnipeg, Manitoba), as "Provisional Commander of the CAC".  Capt Janney's deputy was Lieutenant William Frederick Nelson Sharpe (6 Dec 1892, Prescott, Ontario – 4 Feb 1915, Brighton, England) - pilot.  Sharpe later joined the RFC but was killed in a flying accident.  Staff Sergeant Harry A. Farr was the CAC's mechanic.  He left the CAC in 1915, and later joined the RFC in Feb 1917.

(RCAF Photo)

Lieutenant W.F. Sharpe, 1914.

Col Hughes also approved the expenditure of a sum not to exceed $5,000 for the purchase of a suitable aeroplane.  Capt Janney located and purchased a biplane from the Burgess-Dunne Company in Marblehead, Massachusetts for that amount, and arranged for its delivery to Quebec City.

01 Oct 1914  The Burgess-Dunne biplane, Canada's first military aircraft arrived in Quebec City and was immediately loaded on the S.S. Athenia, one of 30 ships preparing to transport the CEF to Britain the following day.  The convoy docked at Plymouth on 17 Oct 1914 and the biplane, which had been heavily damaged in transit, was unloaded and trucked to the Canadian troop camp at Salisbury Plain.  Because none of the three CAC members was a qualified pilot, the Burgess-Dunne never flew.  The aircraft deteriorated in the wet English weather until it was written off.  By May 1915, the CAC had ceased to exist.

(CASM Photo, 001535)

The Burgess-Dunne floatplane, shown here on board the S.S. Athenia, was designed by Englishman J.W. Dunne and constructed by American boat-builder Stirling Burgess. The Burgess-Dunne's wing span was 47 feet and length was 26 feet from nose to rear floats on the wingtips. It was 11 feet, 6 inches high and had a single float mounted directly under the pilot and passenger seats. Normal cruising speed ranged from 60 to 65 miles per hour.


(Blogspot.com Photo)

Lieutenant William F. Sharpe, c1914.

04 Feb 1915.  Lieutenant William F. Sharpe becomes Canada’s first military aviation fatality when he is killed on his first solo flight during a training flight at Shoreham, England. According to the Globe, “London, Feb. 4. –Lieutenant William F. Sharpe of the Canadian contingent, attached to the Royal Army Flying Corps, was killed this afternoon while making his first flight unaccompanied. The accident happened at Shoreham, where he had been underinstruction for about a fortnight. Piloting a Maurice Farman biplane, he made a flight up the Adur Valley. He was descending, and when he had aboutreached the ground his machine was seen to tip nose downwards abruptly and then fell in a heap. When assistance arrived Sharpe was still breathing, buthe died almost immediately. His machine was smashed to pieces04 Feb 1915.  Lieutenant William F. Sharpe becomes Canada’s first military aviation fatality when he is killed during a training flight at Shoreham, England.

20 May 1915.  The first flight took place at Long Branch, Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s first designated airfield.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3387289)

People watching an aeroplane in flight at the Exhibition in Toronto, Ontario, 4 September, 1915.


15 Dec 1916.  Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. an aircraft manufacturing company located in Toronto, Ontario was formed/  The company built aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps Canada during the First World War.  The company was created when the Imperial Munitions Board bought the Curtiss (Canada) aircraft operation in Toronto (opened in 1916 as Toronto Curtiss Aeroplanes) at a 6-acre facility at 1244 Dufferin Street south of Dupont Avenue in April 1917 (Galleria Shopping Centre since 1972 and Wallace Emerson Community Centre).  Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. manufactured the JN-4 (Can) Canuck (1200), the Felixstowe F5L flying boat (30), and the Avro 504.  The plant remained opened until after the Armistice and was sold to the Columbia Graphophone Company Ltd., in 1919.  After 1924 it was sold to Dodge Brothers Canada Limited as a car assembly plant till 1928.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3579881)

Avro 504N Wright TS Patrol AWS floatplane, RCAF (Serial No. G-CYGK), South March.  C-GYGK was the only RCAF Avro powered by a Wright J-5 engine.


13 Mar 1917.  The headquarters for Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Canada, established to train RFC personnel, stands up in Toronto.  Three days later the headquarters moved to Camp Borden, Ontario.

In 1917, the American, British, and Canadian Governments agreed to join forces for training.  Between April 1917 and January 1919, Camp Borden in Ontario hosted instruction on flying, wireless, air gunnery and photography, training 1,812 RFC Canada pilots and 72 for the United States.  Training also took place at several other Ontario locations.  Eventually Canadians made up nearly a third of RFC aircrew.

02 Apr 1917.  The RFC begins flight training at Camp Borden.  Air Stations were established in southern Ontario at the following locations: Camp Borden 1917-1918, Armour Heights Field 1917–1918 (pilot training, School of Special Flying to train instructors),  Leaside Aerodrome 1917–1918 (Artillery Cooperation School), Long Branch Aerodrome 1917–1918, Curtiss School of Aviation (flying-boat station with temporary wooden hangar on the beach at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island 1915–1918; main school, airstrip and metal hangar facilities at Long Branch), Camp Rathbun, Deseronto 1917–1918 (pilot training), Camp Mohawk (now Tyendinaga (Mohawk) Airport) 1917–1918 – located at the Tyendinaga Indian Reserve (now Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory) near Belleville 1917–1918 (pilot training), Hamilton (Armament School) 1917–1918, Beamsville Camp (School of Aerial Fighting) 1917–1918 - located at 4222 Saan Road in Beamsville, Ontario; hangar remains and property now used by Global Horticultural Incorporated.

(DND Archives Photo, PL-113903)

Curtiss JN-4 Canuck.

Each station had five training squadrons equipped with the Canadian-built Curtiss JN-4 Canuck.

18 May 1917.  First flight of Canadian fighter pilot Raymond Collishaw's "B" Flight of Naval 10 would initially be composed entirely of Canadians, and would later be nicknamed the "Black Flight", owing to the flight's black (front) engine cowling and wheel covers (to contrast with the red and blue of Naval 10's "A" and "B" Flights, respectively).  In addition, the flight decided to give their machines names in large (3-inch) white letters on either side near the cockpit.  Ellis Vair Reid, of Toronto, Ontario flew Black Roger; John Edward Sharman, of Winnipeg, Manitoba flew Black Death; Gerald "Gerry" Ewart Nash, of Stoney Creek, Ontario flew Black Sheep; Marcus Alexander, of Toronto, flew Black Prince; and Collishaw chose Black Maria (a reference to a police van).  During their first two months they claimed a record 84 German aircraft destroyed or driven down.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, PA-2788).

Squadron Commander Raymond Collishaw in a Sopwith F.1 Camel aircraft, Allonville, France, 1918.

Raymond Collishaw, CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, DSC, DFC, (22 November 1893 – 28 September 1976) was a distinguished Canadian fighter pilot, squadron leader and commanding officer who served in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the Royal Air Force (RAF).  He was the highest scoring RNAS pilot and the second highest scoring Canadian pilot of the First World War.  He was noted as a great leader in the air, leading many of his own formations into battle.  After the Great War, he became a permanent commissioned officer in the RAF, seeing action against the Bolsheviks in 1919-20, and subsequently commanding various Air Service detachments.  During the Second World War, he commanded No. 204 Group (which later became the Desert Air Force) in North Africa, achieving great success against the numerically and technologically superior Italian Air Force.  He retired in 1943.

(RAF Photo)

Capt Billy Bishop VC, with Nieuport 17 C.1 Scout, No 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps,  Filescamp, France, ca 1918.

11 Aug 1917.  King George V presents the Victoria Cross to Captain Billy Bishop; he is the first Canadian airman to receive the decoration.


(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN 3387943)

Armstrong-Whitworth F.K.8.

(IWM Photo, Q 67601)

2Lt Alan A. McLeod, VC.

27 Mar 1918.  While flying an Armstrong-Whitworth F.K. 8, 2Lt Alan A. McLeod won the Victoria Cross for an action fought by him and his observer, Lt A.W. Hammond.  2Lt Alan A. McLeod VC grew up in Stonewall, Manitoba.  During an air battle at an altitude of 5,000', 2Lt McLeod and his Observer, Lt A.W. Hammond MC, were attacked by eight German Fokker Dr.1 Triplane fighters.  2Lt McLeod skilfully manoeuvred to enable his observer to engage and shoot down three of the attackers.  Wounded five times and with his aircraft on fire, 2Lt McLeod climbed out onto the left bottom-plane of his aircraft and proceeded to control his machine from the side of the fuselage.  By steeply side-slipping the aircraft he was able to keep the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached.  The observer had by now been wounded six times when the machine crashed in "no man's land," and 2Lt McLeod, not withstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from enemy lines.  Wounded again by a bomb while engaged in this rescue, he persevered until he had placed Lt Hammond in comparative safety before falling himself from exhaustion and lack of blood.  He later died of influenza on 6 November 1919.  He was Canada's youngest VC winner, and the youngest winner of a VC for an air action.

01 Apr 1918.  The War Office's Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the air arm of the British Army before and during the First World War was amalgamated with the Admiralty's Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to form the independent Royal Air Force (RAF). During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance.  This work gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles with German pilots and later in the war included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and later the strategic bombing of German industrial and transport facilities.

(Luftstreitkräfte Photo)

Baron Manfred von Richthofen's Fokker Dr. I. Between January and September 1918 German pilots shot down 3,732 Allied planes while losing 1,099 aircraft.[ By the end of the war, the German Army Air Service possessed a total of 2,709 frontline aircraft, 56 airships, 186 balloon detachments and about 4,500 flying personnel.

21 Apr 1918.  Capt Roy Brown and Australian soldiers bring down Baron Manfred von Richthofen. von Richthofen was nicknamed the "Red Baron" for his custom-painted all-red Fokker Dr. I triplane. He had been the First World War's deadliest flying ace, setting a record of 80 kills. He he was flying his famous red triplane when he engaged in a dogfight with RAF fighters. Roy Brown got him to disengage from an attack on fellow Canadian Wop May and chased the Baron down to ground level in his Sopwith Camel. The Baron was flying low over the Allied lines, trying to escape from Brown, when he was killed by a single bullet to the heart, likely fired by an Australian rifleman. The Baron managed to crash-land his triplane under control before he died.

30 Apr 1918.  The Canadian High Commissioner in London sends a memorandum to the government recommending the formation of a Canadian Air Force in England.  A study in July found some 13,000 Canadians were in the RAF, of whom 850 were on secondment from the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.

05 Aug 1918.  The Air Ministry authorized the formation of two Canadian squadrons in England, one fighter and one bomber.

05 Sep 1918.  The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS)i, Canada's 3rd air force formation, was established in response to the RCN's recommendation that defensive air patrols be established off Canada's Atlantic coast to protect shipping from German U-boats.  The war ended on 11 Nov, and the RCNAS was disbanded on 5 Dec 1918.

19 Sep 1918.  The Canadian Privy Council approved the formation of the Canadian Air Force (CAF) with two squadrons.  A Canadian Air Force Section, which later became the CAF Directorate of Air Services, was formed as a branch of the General Staff of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.  LCol W.A. Bishop, VC, was the first commander of the CAF in England.

11 Nov 1918.  The Armistice ends the First World War.

20 Nov 1918.  The RFC Canada becomes the RAF Canada.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, AH-517, PA-172313 and MIKAN No. 3238907)

Sopwith F.1 Camel, Capt William George Barker, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Two bars, two Italian Silver Medals for Military Valour, and the French Croix de guerre. He was also mentioned in despatches (MiD) three times.

22 Oct 1918.  William George "Billy" Barker was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on this day.  While returning his Sopwith Snipe to an aircraft depot, he crossed enemy lines at 21,000  feet above the Forêt de Mormal, France.  He attacked an enemy Rumpler two-seater which broke up, its crew escaping by parachute (the aircraft was of FAA 227, Observer Lt. Oskar Wattenburg killed).  By his own admission, he was careless and was bounced by a formation of Fokker D.VIIs of Jagdgruppe 12, consisting of Jasta 24 and Jasta 44.  In a descending battle against 15 or more enemy fighters.  The dogfight took place immediately above the lines of the Canadian Corps.  Severely wounded and bleeding profusely, Barker force-landed inside Allied lines, his life being saved by the men of an RAF Kite Balloon Section who transported him to a field dressing station.  The fuselage of his Snipe aircraft was recovered from the battlefield and is preserved at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.  At a hospital in Rouen, France, Barker clung to life until mid-Jan 1919, and then was transported back to England.  He was not fit enough to walk the necessary few paces for the VC investiture at Buckingham Palace until 1 Mar 1919.  Barker is officially credited with one captured, two (and seven shared) balloons destroyed, 33 (and two shared) aircraft destroyed, and five aircraft "out of control", the highest "destroyed" ratio for any RAF, RFC or RNAS pilot during the conflict.  The Overseas Military Forces of Canada recognized Barker as "holding the record for fighting decorations" awarded in the First World War.

In 1922 he rejoined the fledgling Canadian Air Force in the rank of Wing Commander, serving as the Station Commander of Camp Borden, Ontario from 1922 to 1924.  Barker was appointed acting director of the RCAF in early 1924 and he graduated from RAF Staff College, Andover, England in 1926.  While waiting to start RAF Staff College Course No. 4, Barker spent two weeks in Iraq with the RAF to learn more about the uses of airpower.  He formally reported on his findings to the Minister of National Defence, and informally to Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, of the US Air Service.  One of his achievements in the RCAF was the introduction of parachutes.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390995)

Sopwith 5F.1 Dolphins, Canadian Air Force, No. 1 and No. 2 Fighting Squadrons, Upper Heyford, England, 1919.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4817972)

Officers of No. 1 Squadron, Canadian Air Force (CAF), standing left to right: Lt W.L. Rutledge, AFC, MM, Lt P.F. Townley, Lt G.R. Howsam, MC (later Air Vice Marshall), unidentified officer, Lt F.V. Heakes (later Air Vice Marshall), Lt C.M. McEwen, MC, DFC (later Air Vice Marshall), Lt H.A. Marshal, Lt J. Whitfield, and an unidentified officer.  Seated left to right: Capt D.R. MacLaren, DSO, MC, DFC, Capt G.O. Johnson, MC (later Air Marshall), Maj A.E. McKeever, DSO, MC, (CO of the squadron), Lt J.T. Verner, Capt C.F. Falkenberg, DFC, 13 June 1919.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN 3523023)

Major Donald RoderickMacLaren, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC, Croix de Guerre, Compangnonde la Légion d’Honneur

Major Donald Roderick MacLaren, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC, Croix de Guerre, Compangnonde la Légion d’Honneur, born on 28 May 1893 in Ottawa, was credited with 54 victories and, afterthe war, and helped found the RCAF MacLaren joined  Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in May 1917, while his brother joined the Royal Navy.

MacLaren completed his training for the RFC at Long Branch, Armour Heights, and Camp Borden in Ontario.  He received a commission as a secondlieutenant in August, and then travelled to England where he continued his training on advanced aircraft at Number 34 Training Squadron at Turnhill. MacLarenflew Avro 504s,Bristol Scouts, Nieuport 12s, Sopwith Camels, and de Havilland DH 5s.  At the end of November,he was sent to the front to fly with Number 46 Squadron.  His first action over the lines of Flanders occurred on 13 December when he flew a Camel with Number 3 Squadron.  MacLaren was on a patrol with four others on6 March 1918 flying a Camel when three German Hannover CL.III two-seat aircraft were spotted 1,000 feet above them.  They ascended to meet the German aircraft and initiated an attack. MacLaren firedabout 100 rounds at one aircraft, sending it into a spin.  This was his first recorded victory.  On 10 Mar 1918, he engaged a German AlbatrosD.V. earning his second victory. MacLaren was then appointed deputy flightleader.

One of the greatest offensives by the Germans on the Western Front started on 21Mar 1918. MacLaren carried out a mission that included dropping four 25-poundCooper bombs on a German long-range run. He went on to flame a balloon that was over Biache St. Vaast, and continued on the same day to shoot down two LVG two-seater aircraft.  The next day, he shot down two more German aircraft over Bullecort, one of which he shared with Captain Marchant.  MacLaren shot down or assisted in downing three more enemy aircraft.  On 24 March, he flamed another balloon, and caused a Junkers J.I to go down out of control.

On 1 Apr 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and RFC merged, and the Royal Air Force(RAF) was born.  On 6 Apr 1918, the famous Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, shot down Sydney P. Smith, leader of Number 46 Squadron.  Don MacLaren became the new captain and leader of the squadron.  Later that month, on 21 Apr 1918, another Canadian, Roy Brown, took part in the downing of the Red Baron. MacLaren increased his number of victories that day when he sent an Albatros D.V out of control.  At the endof March, MacLaren received the Military Cross for the victories he had amassed over the month.  May was another very activemonth for MacLaren and when his number of victories jumped up to 32, he was awarded a bar for his Military Cross. His victories continued to mount rapidly in July and August, resulting in his receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.

September and the first week of October continued to be very successful for MacLaren, as his total victories mounted to 48 aircraft and six balloons, which made him the highest scoring Sopwith Camel pilot, and third best of all Canadian aces.   On 10 October, Donald MacLaren was having a friendly wrestling match with one of the junior officers in his squadron when he broke his leg.  Unable to fly, MacLaren was posted back to England on 6 Nov 1918.  Five days later, on 11 Nov 1918, the war was over as the Germans surrendered. MacLaren was given the Distinguished Service Order on 6 February 1919.Added to the honours he already received, MacLaren was awarded the Croix deGuerre and was made a Compangnon de la Légion d’Honneur by France.

20 Nov 1918. No. 1 Squadron (No. 81 Squadron (Canadian), RAF) was formed as a scout (fighter) unit at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England.  The squadron flew Sopwith Dolphin and S.E.5a aircraft on training until it was disbanded at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, on 28 Jan 1920.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390895)

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a.

28 Nov 1918. No. 2 Squadron (No. 123 Squadron (Canadian), RAF) was formed as a day-bombing unit at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England.  The squadron flew two-seater D.H.9as on training until it was disbanded at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, on 5 Feb 1920.

(Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3523020)

de Havilland DH.9a, No. 2 Squadron (No. 123 Squadron (Canadian), RAF), with four pilots, Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England, 1919.

05 Dec 1918.  Cabinet decides not to proceed with the RCNAS “on its present basis”, effectively ending the organization.  The last member of the RCNAS finishes his tour of duty on 10 Dec 1919.

The Canadian Air Force (CAF) was a contingent of two Canadian air force squadrons, one fighter and one bomber, authorized by the British Air Ministry in August 1918 during the close of the First World War.  The unit was independent from the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) the RAF.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3523023)

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a, No. 1 Fighting Squadron, Canadian Air Force, Upper Hayford, UK, 1919, flown by Capt Albert Debrisay Carter, DSO & Bar, Belgian Croix de Guerre, from Moncton, New Brunswick.  He also flew the SPAD VII and Sopwith 5F.1 Dolphin, and had 27 kills before he was shot down and captured.  He died while flying a captured German D.VII (Serial No. 84422/18), in England on 22 May 1919.

In addition to the two squadrons, a CAF Directorate of Air Services was formed, which was a branch of the General Staff of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada.  The CAF's first commander, LCol W.A. Bishop, began setting up the squadrons in August 1918.  The two squadrons never fought during the war, which ended on 11 Nov 1918.  The squadrons were administered by No. 1 Wing CAF, which was formed in Mar 1919.  The RFC provided Royal Aircfraft Factory S.E.5A and Sopwith Dolphin fighters, at least three captured Fokker D.VII fighters, and Airco DH.9A bombers.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3390430)

Fokker D.VII, 8493/18, No 1 & 2 Sqn, CAF, Upper Hayford, UK, 1919.

Both squadrons were stationed in England at Upper Heyford and later, Shoreham-by-Sea.  All aircraft, equipment and training facilities were provided by Britain.  Recruiting, pay and clothing, however, was a Canadian responsibility.

The British government cut funding for the squadrons in Jun 1919.  The Canadian government decided that a permanent peacetime air force was not needed and so both squadrons ceased operations: No. 1 Squadron on 28 Jan 1920, and No. 2 Squadron on 5 Feb 1920.  Aircraft and associated equipment were sent back to Canada.  The Directorate of Air Services was dissolved on 5 Aug 1920.  Greenhous, Brereton; Halliday, Hugh A. Canada's Air Forces, 1914–1999.  (Montreal: Editions Art Global and the Department of National Defence, 1999).

During the First World War it is estimated that more than 23,000 Canadians flew with the British air forces.  At the end of the war, some 20,500 Canadians, mainly pilots, observers or cadets, were on the RAF's strength of 281,165.  1,563 gave their lives.  Three earned the Victoria Cross.


 The Disposal of Canadian Equipment After the First World War, article by Captain Bradley T. Shoebottom.

One must not forget that Canada had aviation assets at the end of the war. While Canada had not shown any interest in forming her own Air Force in the first three years of the war this had changed by 1918. The Royal Canadian Navy had formed an aviation service and an independent Canadian Air Force (CAF) was created. They both had modest equipment holdings that would prove important in the1920's to the surveying and mapping programs carried out by the government.

The story of the Canadian aircraft at the end of the war is part of the larger story of the creation of a separate air service. A brief look at the creation and role of the Canadian air service is therefore necessary to understand how Canada ended up with the aircraft in her possession. Contented to let the British organize and run the air element, Canada did not have its own air force let alone her own aircraft until the last days of the war. Even the establishment of a Royal Flying Corps (RFC)training system in Canada in 1916 was under British control.[1] The British also asked Canada to produce aircraft for the training system under the auspices of the Imperial Munitions Board.[2] It was not until 1918 that concern was raised about the need for a Canadian air force.

The main driving force behind the creation of a separate Canadian air force was Lieutenant-Colonel Grant Morden. He wrote a memorandum advocating a separate Canadian Flying Corps in early 1918. A conference was then held, with the British Air Board, in March of that year. Canadian support for such a plan was mixed.[3]

The public was not calling for an air force. Some newspapers and the Canadian Aero Club called for it. The strongest supporters were the famous Canadian fighter pilots Billy Bishop and Mulock. Interestingly the strongest political advocate for a Canadian air service was found in Prime Minister Borden.[4]

The government eventually decided to establish its own air force because of concerns "about identity and status in the military and constitutional spheres."[5]The Canadian Air Force (CAF) was formally established on 20 November 1918 in England. It took over the Sopwith Dolphins and DH 9's of Numbers8 and 123

Squadron Royal Air Force and was renumbered 1 and 2 Squadrons CAF.[6] These units never saw action but stayed in England much longer than the CEF.

The question now that Canada had an Air Force was what she should do with it in peacetime. The Cabinet wanted to demobilize it like the CEF. Kemp suggested the return of the CAF to Canada for flying operations. During these discussions the CAF's strongest political supporter, Borden, was distracted by the Paris peace talks.[7]A conference held on 3 March 1919 between Canadian and British Air Staffs made several suggestions about Canadian aviation in general. The members in attendance suggested that Canada should control all aspects of her aviation, that the national (Canadian) government be involved in aviation, and that a national air force be established.[8] Most of the activities proposed to be carried out by the CAF were forestry patrols and surveying. Therefore, it was further suggested that the Air Force should be controlled under a civilian agency that would control both civilian and military operations. Eventually the high cost of maintaining two operational squadrons became the overriding criterion. A further pressure was that the British agreed to only underwrite the costs of the two squadrons until 30 June 1919.[9]

            Thus, the civilian agency called the Air Board was established on 23 June 1919 to control both civil and military operations.[10] The two English based squadrons were formally disbanded in England on 28 January and 5 February 1920. Under the control of the Air Board the CAF was demobilized and a small military section was created with some full time staff and air reserve airmen.

The Air Ministry of Great Britain was in an exceedingly generous mood with respect gifts of aircraft at the end of the war. The British agreed to give aircraft to Canada because Britain was destroying aircraft that it could not afford to maintain at the time.[11] In total some $4,933,000 worth of equipment and aircraft were given to Canada on 4 June 1919. Great Britain gave Canada replacement aircraft for those that Canada's Overseas Club and Patriotic League had given Great Britain during the war that had been accounted for as 1 and 2 Squadrons equipment.[12] These aircraft were identified as eight F.3 flying boats with spares and one Fairey C.3 seaplane.[13]

The value of the aircraft was $500,000. The remainder were unspecified. There was also a gift of 100 aircraft, six airships and approximately 300 vehicles. The aircraft were sixty-two Aero 504 K trainers, twelve DH 9 bombers, twelve SE 5fighters, two H.16 flying boats, one Bristol fighter and twelve miscellaneous aircraft. The miscellaneous aircraft were most likely ten DH 4's bombers, one more Bristol fighter and one Sopwith Snipe fighter.[14] Included in this total dollar figure were some kite balloons, machinery, radios, machine guns, cameras, hangers and other technical equipment.[15] The Imperial Air Fleet also made a gift of three unspecified aircraft.[16]


[1] D. Carnegie, The History of Munitions Supply in Canada 1914 - 1918, (London: Longmans, Green and Co.), 1925, 174;and, Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force, RCAF Logbook, (Logbook),(Ottawa: Kemp Printers, 1949), 8.

[2] Ibid, 174.

[3] S.F. Wise, The Official History of the RCAF, Vol 1, Canadian Airmen in World War One,(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 580.

[4] Ibid., 583. Borden became concerned after Canadian officers in the RFC complained of fair play and adequate recognition with respect to promotions and appointments.

[5] Ibid., 581. Sir Edward Kemp, the Overseas Minister, further noted that 25% of the RFC was Canadian and that the number could be as high as 40%. (p 597.)

[6] Canada, Logbook, 10.

[7] Wise, Canadian Airmen in World War One,616. 

[8] Ibid., 617.

[9] Ibid., 619.

[10] Canada, Logbook, 11.

[11] Wise, Canadian Airmen in World War One,614.

[12] F.H. Hitchins, Air Board, Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force, (Air Board), Canadian War Museum Paper Number 2, (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1977), 6.

[13] Ibid., 407.

[14] Ibid., 407.

[15] Ibid., 5.

[16] Canada, Report of the Ministry 1918,352.


07 Jan 1919.  RAF Canada ends with the departure of personnel from Camp Borden and the disposal of the Camp’s equipment.

25 Mar 1919.  No. 1 Wing, (No. 1 Canadian Wing RAF), is formed at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England to administer the CAF squadrons.  It began its duties on 1 Apr 1919 when it moved to Shoreham-by-Sea.  It was disbanded on 5 Feb 1920.

06 Jun 1919.  The Canadian government passed the Air Board Act, authorizing a 7-member board to regulate and control all aeronautics in Canada.  The Air Board was to form three divisions: a Civil Aviation Branch for the control of commercial and civil flying, a Civil Operatoins Branch in charge of all non-military flying operations, and a Canadian Air Force (CAF) primarily responsible for training, rather than defence.  The first Air Board was constituted by an Order-in-Council on 23 Jun 1919.  Four Felixstowe F.3 flying boats, 18 Curtiss HS-2L flying boats, 11 de Havilland DH.4 landplanes and three Avro Viper seaplanes were employed on forest fire patrols, anti-smuggling patrols, treaty money flights to First Nations and general communications and transport work.

(Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643537)

de Havilland DH.4, Reg. No. G-CYDM, Canadian Air Board, 4 Nov 1922.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3575578)

Felixstowe F.3 flying boat of the Canadian Air Board, 5 Sep 1921.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643587)

Curtiss HS-2L, G-CYDT, Canadian Air Board, Victoria Beach, Manitoba, 3 Aug 1921.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3574032)

10 Jun 1919.  Handley Page V-1500, preparing for an Atlantic crossing, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.

As the First World War ended in 1918, the Handley Page V/1500 bomber named ‘Atlantic’ had just entered operational service. To participate in the first non-stop trans-Atlantic aviation race, the ‘Atlantic’ was packed in crates and left Liverpool, England, aboard a ship on 2 May 1919. Upon arrival in Newfoundland on 10 May, reassembly of the ‘Atlantic’ began under the supervision of Col. Ernest W. Stedman on an airfield prepared in Harbour Grace.

During the first trial flight on 10 June, the crew discovered an overheating problem and realized that new radiators would have to be installed.  While awaiting their arrival by ship from England, the trans-Atlantic aviation race was won by British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who made the crossing in the Vickers Vimy biplane.  This aircraft later crashed at Parrsboro, New Brunswick on 5 July 1919.  It was repaired and flew on to New York on 9 Oct 1919.


28 Jan 1920.  No. 1 Squadron, CAF, disbands.

05 Feb 1920.  No. 2 Squadron, CAF, disbands.

18 Feb 1920.  The second, but home-based CAF in Canada was authorized.

23 Apr 1920.  Approval was granted to appoint six officers and men with temporary rank in the CAF.  The CAF was a non-permanent, non-professional organization tasked to provide biennial 28-day refresher training to former officers and airmen of the wartime RAF

31 Aug 1920.  A CAF Association was established , with branches in all provinces, to maintain a roster and select personnel for training.  The program began at Camp Borden using the hangars and other installations that had been erected by the RAF in Canada during the war, and the aircraft and other equipment that had been donated by the British and American governments.  By the end of 1922, when refresher training was suspended, 550 officers and 1,271 airmen had completed the course.  The CAF seconded trained personnel to the Air Board for its Civil Operations Branch.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388157)

1920.  Boeing C3 aircraft which inaugurated airmail service between Seattle, Washington, and Victoria, British Columbia.


30 Nov 1921.  The CAF ensign, displaying the RAF roundel, is raised for the first time at Camp Borden.


28 Jun 1922.  The National Defence Act (NDA), which finalizes the separation of the CAF from the civilian Air Force and makes it a permanent force, receives Royal Assent.

28 Nov 1922.  Officers in the CAF adopt Air Force rank titles and drop the use of Army ranks.

(RCAF Photo)

Martinsyde F.6. Reg. No. G-CAEA.

A Martinsyde F.6 biplane was transferred to the Canadian Air Force in 1922 for test purposes.  The F.6 was powered by a single Hispano-Suiza 300 hp engine, which had a top speed of 235 kph/145 mph, faster than any other single-seat aircraft of the period.


01 Jan 1923.  The NDA takes effect, creating the Department of National Defence. The Air Board ceases to exist, and the CAF, Department of Naval Service and Department of Militia and Defence now fall under the new Department of National Defence (DND).

15 Feb 1923.  King George V approves the prefix “Royal” for the CAF.

19 Mar 1923.  The RCAF adopts the blue-grey RAF uniform.

23 Apr 1923.  The CAF motto, Sic itur ad astra (Such is the pathway to the stars), is replaced by the new RCAF motto, Per ardua ad astra (Through adversity to the stars), which is borrowed from the RAF. The CAF does not make formal application to use the motto, however, until the summer of 1928.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643581)

Canadian Vickers Viking Mk. IV, RCAF Reg. No. G-CYEV, Victoria Beach, 1923.

Jun 1923.  Canadian Vickers ventured into aircraft manufacturing when it won a contract to supply Vickers Viking flying boats to the recently formed Canadian Air Force.  Between 1923 and 1944, Canadian Vickers produced over 400 aircraft, some of which were original Vickers' designs while the remainder were other manufacturers' designs built under license.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3580999)

Canadian Vickers Vancouver, RCAF (Serial No. 903), No. 4 (Flying Boat) Squadron, 19 Aug 1936.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3552857)

Canadian Vickers Vanessa, RCAF Reg. No. G-CYZJ, 2 Sep 1927.  The construction of the Vanessa was a private venture taken over by the RCAF.  S/L R.S. Grandy flew this aircraft, the only  one built.

(RCAF Photo)

Canadian Vickers Vigil, RCAF Reg. No. G-CYZW, on skis.  The Vigil was designed to RCAF specifications for a forestry patrol aircraft.  One one was built.

Canadian Vickers aircraft designs included the Vancouver (6 built), Vanessa (one built), Varuna (8 built), Vedette (60 built), Velos (one built), Vigil (one built) and Vista (one built).  Aircraft built under license production included the Vickers Viking IV (6 built), Avro 504N (13 built) Avro 552 (14 built), Curtiss HS-3L (3 built), Fairchild FC-2 (11 built), Fokker Super Universal (15 built), Bellanca Pacemaker (6 built), Canadian Vickers (Northrop) Delta (3 Mk. I and 17 Mk. II - the first all-metal stressed-skin aircraft built in Canada), Canadian Vickers Stranraer (40 built) and the Canadian Vickers PBV-1 Canso (30 built at Vickers, 282 built at the Cartierville/Canadair plant).  The company also built a Fairey F-IIIC and a Felixstowe F-III for transatlantic attempts, and did engineering work on a Buhl Airsedan for the Ontario Provincial Air Service.  It manufactured components of the Handley Page Hampden and carried out repairs on the R-100 Airship.

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