The History and the Aircraft of the Air Forces of Canada -  from 1914 to today.

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.

 The Canadian Aviation Corps. (CAC)

The real birth of Canadian military aviation can be dated to early September 1914 when W.F.N. Sharpe and E.L. Janney paid Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence, a visit at Valcartier where he was preparing the First Canadian Expeditionary Force for embarkation for Europe in October. By the 16th September Hughes had appointed Janney as a " provisional commander", commissioned him in the rank of Captain, and authorized him to look for an aircraft in the United States, since construction facilities were non-existent in Canada.

Taking his cue from Hughes’ emphasis on the words “quick delivery”, Janney had already made one visit to the United States (around 12th September) and made his selection for the Canadian Aviation Corps’ first aircraft. On the day of his appointment he crossed the border once again - with pistol on hip, appointment in pocket and a government cheque for $5,000.

Janney returned to the Burgess Company of Marblehead Massachusetts on the 17th and purchased their well-used, demonstration model Burgess-Dunne two-seater tailless swept-wing pusher floatplane (designed by British aeronautical pioneer Lieutenant J.W. Dunne and built by American boat builder Starling Burgess). 

After rushing an overhaul, Janney and Webster [the company pilot] set off for Valcartier, Quebec. This flight was an adventure in itself, with a forced landing about one hour after take-off which resulted in them being held temporarily as  suspected enemy agents, and another one just outside Champlain where a passing motorboat noted their distress and they were towed in.  Eventually, the Burgess-Dunne arrived at Quebec City where it and the Canadian Aviation Corps, now consisting of two officers and one mechanic (Sharpe had enlisted Harry A. Farr from a Victoria infantry unit in  Janney’s absence), were put aboard a troop transport taking the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Britain.  The aircraft was literally tied to the deck, and bounced all the way across the Atlantic.

Having formed the CAC Hughes characteristically lost all interest in it, and gave it no further support. Hughes further neglected to inform the Headquarters or the 1st Contingent of the CAC formation and they were uncertain as to how to employ them.  Janney was determined to create a proper aviation corps and once in the United Kingdom set out on an inspection tour with the intention of forming a one-flight squadron (estimated cost $116-117,000).  Militia Headquarters quickly informed the 1st Contingent ‘to sever Lieutenant [sic] Janney’s connection with the CEF.’ On the 23 January 1915, Janney was struck off strength and sailed for Canada. He would make two more brief appearances in Canadian aviation history: the first as Sub-Lieutenant E.L. Janney of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve and the second (unconfirmed) as an aerobatics pilot after the war.

Following its initial flight, the Burgess-Dunne aircraft never took to the air again. It was left standing, damaged in transit, on the docks until the request was made to move it. Eventually it appears to have been shipped to the Central Flying School at Upavon where it disappears from the record. An investigation several months later would discover only a few parts that couldn’t even be sold for scrap and two inner tubes which had been left at a local pub. An ignoble end for an aircraft of unique and, for the day, advanced design.  Fortunately the aircraft  design plans were not destroyed, and the RCAF Memorial Museum  now has a full scale replica of the Burgess - Dunne floatplane on display.

The other officer, Lieutenant W.F.N. Sharpe was first trained as an observer with the Royal Flying Corps then returned to England for pilot training. On his first solo flight, he became the first Canadian service aviation casualty when he was killed in a flying accident on February 4, 1915. The mechanic, H.A. Farr was discharged from the CEF in May 1915 ‘in consequence of Flying Corps being disbanded.’

The "History" pages include over 170 photographs of the aircraft that were flown during this period, which are grouped in  pages  commencing with the 1918 to 1939 era.

Acknowledgements: Part of the information on these pages was obtained from an untitled  publication put together for the 75th Anniversary of the RCAF- and is quoted verbatim. The aircraft are listed in the order of when they were phased out, according to research done by former RCAF Flying Officer Ben-Tahir. We would also like to thank the Canadian Aviation Museum, the Western Canada Aviation Museum and "1000aircraftphotos"  for their cooperation.


For more history and the photographs, please follow the link to the First World War :   

The First World War 1918 to 1939 Part 1 Second WW Part 1 1945 to Today Part 1