Lieutenant-General Bill Carr and the formation of Air Command

News Article / January 22, 2014

From RCAF Public Affairs

To date, Canada is the only member of the Commonwealth to unify its armed forces.

Unification has its roots in the concept of “integration”, which has been adopted by other Commonwealth nations and the United States. With integration, certain functions common to the Army, Navy and Air Force are assigned to one service and then shared by all three. For instance, instead of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy and RCAF each having their own medical, dental and postal services, the Army was assigned these responsibilities and provided access to the Navy and Air Force.

Unification started with Bill C-90 on July 16, 1964, creating one unified headquarters with Air Chief Marshal Frank Robert Miller as the first Chief of the Defence Staff.

Bill C-243, the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act (which amended the National Defence Act), received its final reading in Parliament in May 1967 and received Royal Assent soon after. Unification took place on February 1, 1968, when the Act came into effect. As a result, the Canadian Armed Forces, whose personnel wore a common green uniform, were assigned a common military rank structure and operated within a single command structure, came into being. Single organizations to serve all Canadian Armed Forces’ commands in areas such as health care, logistics, pay and benefits, procurement and more, were established.  Occupations that were common to all elements (not specific to the land, maritime or air) – ranging from medical, intelligence or logistics clerks to chaplains, clerks, military police and more – were unofficially nicknamed “purple” trades.


Although the Navy was the service most opposed to unification, the Air Force received the shortest end of the stick and lacked even a command structure. The Air Force was spread out amongst five commands: Maritime (Navy), Mobile (Army – Mobile later became Land Force), Air Defence, Air Transport and Training. No. 1 Canadian Air Division, which had been downgraded to 1 Canadian Air Group, became part of Canadian Forces Europe.

But the division of air assets along functional lines just wasn’t working. Air doctrine wasn’t being taught or upgraded. There was no central oversight of flight safety. Moreover, Maritime and Mobile Commands weren’t really “joint” but had become Navy or Army with Air Force assets attached to them. Perhaps most seriously, there was no voice for the Air Force, especially when air assets were identified to take heavy hits during the 1973 budget cuts.

Lieutenant-General Bill Carr, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, was in a position to do something about it.

“Unification, when first announced, was — I felt — a good idea,” he said in a 2005 interview.

“Within a few years it became apparent that the amalgamation of all the services had particularly impacted the aviation arm in a harmful manner… Morale [also] suffered considerably, and one of the main reasons was a lack of organizational identity.

“[W]e really needed to create a consolidated organization to properly administer all military aviation in Canada.

“Two other key players were Major-Generals Dave Adamson [Chief of Air Operations at National Defence Headquarters] and Norm Magnusson [commander of Air Defence Command]. We had to move carefully and produce well-reasoned arguments that would be acceptable to both the Chief of the Defence Staff [General Jacques Dextraze], who had an army background, and the Defence Minister [James Richardson] who, coincidentally, had served in the RCAF during World War Two.”

On September 2, 1975, the efforts paid off and Air Command was created. With its headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Lieutenant-General Carr as its first commander, Air Command controlled all air assets within the Canadian Armed Forces.

Air Command groups 

In 1975, Air Command organized its command and control structure into five groups, with Air Reserve Group being established the following year. This structure of groups remained in place until 1997. 

Fighter Group (FG), headquartered in North Bay, Ontario, controlled fighter aircraft and liaised with the NORAD command centre in Colorado Springs.

Maritime Air Group (MAG), headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a detachment at Esquimalt, British Columbia, commanded maritime air assets.

Air Transport Group (ATG), headquartered in Trenton, Ontario, was responsible for air transport and search and rescue operations.

1 Canadian Air Group (1 CAG), headquartered in Baden-Soellingen, West Germany, was responsible for air operations in Europe.

10 Tactical Air Group (10 TAG), headquartered in St. Hubert, Quebec, was responsible for the operation of Mobile Command (army) air assets.

Air Reserve Group (ARG), headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was formed in 1976 and was responsible for Air Command reservists.


Join the RCAF - Dare to be extraordinary

Aerospace Control Officers contribute to air operations by providing air traffic control services and air weapons control.

Aerospace Control Officers are responsible for the conduct of aerospace surveillance, warning, and control of airborne objects throughout Canadian airspace. As an integral part of the Canadian Air Navigation System, they also provide control to civilian and military aircraft during combat and training operations worldwide.

Date modified: