Canada Trains The Empire's Warbirds

by James Montagnes

At 100 fields throughout Canada thousands of pilots and technicians are being trained. The training plan is 18 months ahead of schedule and 25 squadrons are already overseas flying for the Empire.

In December 1939 Canada's Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that the British Empire's airmen would be trained under a joint plan in Canada under Royal Canadian Air Force supervision. When the second anniversary of that momentous announcement rolls around Canada can announce that the Commonwealth Air Training Plan is in full swing, that more schools are in operation than were originally planned, that an instructional and ground staff of more than 46,000 is functioning, that nearly 72,000 officers and men are in the Royal Canadian Air Force, that the plan is some 18 months ahead of schedule, that thousands of pilots, gunners and observers are being trained monthly. In fact so well has the Plan worked out that there is now talk in Ottawa that the capacity of the Plan may be doubled with Canada taking on the full responsibility of training Great Britain's airmen as well as those of Canada, Newfoundland, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. Thirteen squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force were reported to be flying over Britain by mid-September, 1941. Establishment of 25 squadrons overseas was on the books for the end of 1941.

The tempo of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan has been greatly accelerated since its announcement. Announced to cost $600,000,000 during the three year term till April 1943, the cost has now been set near the $1,000,000,000 mark for that period. Planned to be in full production sometime in 1942, it is now functioning with more schools and airfields than originally planned, and requiring the completion of only a few schools to bring the total to 91 schools and 100 flying fields. Training has also been speeded up and pilots now come off the production line in 22 weeks, bomber-observers in 27 weeks, and wireless operator-gunners in 24 weeks. Advanced training in actual combat planes is given overseas as a finisher before graduates of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan take their places in fighter and bomber aircraft for operations in the various war zones.

Starting from scratch, with only the peacetime Royal Canadian Air Force of less than 3,500 officers and men as a nucleus, the Commonwealth Air Training Plan has come a long way. Great Britain sent over a small force of air force specialists to help organize the Plan, sent over some planes and engines as part of its share of the cost. Throughout Canada elementary and advanced flying schools were started, using the government-sponsored light flying clubs as a base for elementary training and private companies consisting mainly of small transport and school operators as a base for intermediate training. Royal Canadian Air Force schools were widely scattered throughout the Dominion for advanced flying, bombing and gunnery training, wireless operating, administrative and ground crew instruction. Civilians were used for much of the instructional work for both flying and ground crews. As the Royal Canadian Air Force expanded numerous of these civilian companies were disbanded or made a part of the air force.

Because Canada's aircraft industry in all its branches was small, many civilian pilots and mechanics were recruited in the United States. From south of the Canada-USA border have also come many recruits for the Royal Canadian Air Force, mostly pilots of experience and youths anxious to fly. It was stated recently by J T Thorson, Minister of National War Services in the Canadian Cabinet, that eight percent of all air crews being trained under the Plan are Americans, and that there are about 600 American instructors in the air training schools. Those in the Royal Canadian Air Force are distinguished by the wearing of a shoulder badge with the letters USA embroidered on black. The Americans come from all parts of the country, from all walks of life. Canadians make up the bulk of the air force, with a smattering from many parts of the Empire and the Latin-American republics. Australians and New Zealanders, the former easily distinguishable by their darker blue uniforms, make up about 15 percent of all the trainees under the Plan.

There are now 17 recruiting centers throughout the Dominion. On passing the medical examination and meeting all other requirements, recruits are sent to 6 manning depots where they receive elementary air force drill, are outfitted, given inoculations against typhoid, tetanus and smallpox, are sorted into ground and air crew. If picked for air crew they wear a white strip in their caps. Those picked for pilots or bomber observers go to 7 initial training schools, to receive instruction in mathematics, armament, instrument flying in Link trainers. They are watched by medicos and psychiatrists, put through many tests to check their ability to stand high altitude flying, their alertness, adaptability and initiative. After five weeks they are sorted out as to pilot and observer material. Meanwhile those who will become gunners and wireless operators have started their training in one of 4 wireless schools.

The pilots go to one of 26 elementary flying schools where they learn in 7 weeks to fly in Fleet Finch and de Havilland Moth trainers. If successful they will have done 25 hours solo flying at the end of this training period. Now comes 10 weeks at one of 16 service flying schools, to learn advanced flying, aerobatics and night flying in North American Harvard, or Fleet Fort. Graduation comes with the ceremony of receiving wings, sergeant's stripes, or commission as Pilot Officer (one-third at graduation, 17 percent overseas) depending on examination rating.

Air observers and bombers after their stint at the initial training schools go for 14 weeks to one of ten air observer schools to learn navigation, photography, reconnaissance, flying in Avro Ansons, Cessna Cranes, Fairey Battles or Noorduyn Norsemans. They also study mathematics, wireless, meteorology. Then come six weeks at one of 10 bombing and gunnery schools, where they learn to drop bombs on targets, study bombsights, wind-drift, to plot course. A final 4 weeks are put in at 2 air navigation schools for advanced navigation instruction. Graduation brings a half wing with letter O for observer, sergeant's stripes or if one of lucky third, a commission.

Wireless operator-gunner spends his first 20 weeks after the 2 weeks at the manning depot at one of 4 wireless schools, where he learns the ins and outs of modern aircraft radio communication, both in the air and on the ground. With him are studying ground radio operators and radio mechanics. He also learns to know the armament of the planes he is to fly, and when he passes the examinations at the wireless school puts in 4 weeks at the 10 bombing and gunnery schools learning to shoot moving model planes and in the air to turn his gun on real life size targets. Graduation brings him a half wing with letters AG for air gunner, sergeant's stripes, or if one of the top 20 percent of the class the rank of Pilot Officer.

Following graduation, a certain number of the men are turned into instructors, others receive operational training with the air force commands on the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, the balance go overseas to train.

Practically all the airplanes used for the elementary and intermediate training are now made in Canada. The Dominion will be using 4,000 planes by the end of 1941, according to plans made early in the year. Thirteen different types of planes are now made in Canada, a number which is to be cut in half to increase production and eliminate some now obsolete types. According to Ralph Bell, director general of aircraft production for Canada, the Dominion will shortly confine itself to building for the Empire air forces one elementary trainer, one single engined advance trainer, one twin engined advanced trainer, one coastal reconnaisance amphibian, one bomber and one fighter.

Establishing training schools and airfields has been a tremendous task which had to go ahead at the same time that actual flying training, ground and administrative training was carried on at maximum efficiency. In many out-of-the-way places training schools have been built and airfields laid out from virgin bush or farmland. Elsewhere provincial and municipal institutions have been turned over to the air force and equipped for use as initial training schools, wireless schools, ground schools, etc. In recent months has come the additional job of finding facilities and equipment for the training of the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

The Royal Canadian Air Force does not lack for recruits, and to build up a trained reserve the Air Cadet League has been set up to train high school boys in the rudiments of aeronautics, navigation, signaling, aero mechanics, aero engines, and air force drill, as an after school course destined to cut down air force training by several weeks when the boys become old enough to join the air force. The Air Cadets started operations on a national scale with the start of the current school year. Meanwhile Canadian schoolboys have contributed to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan by building exact scale models of all types of British, American, German and Italian planes used, the work being done by the boys at Ottawa Technical School. The models are used by the air force for a variety of purposes including type recognition, to point out vulnerable spots in enemy planes, for use as moving models on indoor gunnery ranges, for use in showing flight formations.

Universities have during the summer given special radio courses to air force trainees, and during the present university year will enable students desiring to join the Royal Canadian Air Force as air crew to take the five week initial training school work during the academic year with a two week training camp at an air force station to follow next summer. The course calls for 200 hours of instruction.

The Commonwealth Air Training Plan is now functioning smoothly, a vast organization set into operation less than two years ago. From now on it will turn out the maximum number of airmen for which it was set up, estimated to be 25,000 a year.

This article was originally published in the November, 1941, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 40, no 11, pp 56-57, 160.
The original article includes 6 photos.
Photos are not credited.