British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) 1940-1945

Great Britain was dangerously close to the action and vulnerable to enemy attack. Canada, with its plentiful airspace, aviation industry, access to fuel and safe distance from the Axis forces was an ideal location to train Commonwealth aviators how to fly.

In 1939, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCAPT) agreement was signed between Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to train aircrew for service overseas. The Plan trained aircrew, including pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators and flight engineers.

Canada graduated more than 131,000 personnel and establishing nearly 200 schools and other establishments in large and small communities across the country. Canadian historian J. L. Granatstein has described the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan as “a great undertaking that would unquestionably rank as the major Canadian military contribution to the Allied war effort” (Canada’s War: The Politics of the Mackenzie King Government, 1939-45).

It was tremendously successful; the United States president, Franklin Roosevelt, so admired the Plan that he called Canada “the aerodrome of democracy”.

Beginning in the fall of 1940, Allied aviators trained in Canada would take the fight to the enemy in Europe and, ultimately, to victory.

Did you know?

Future Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson ghost-wrote the famous “aerodrome of democracy” phrase for President Roosevelt, which appeared in a letter the President wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

“The President wished to send a message of congratulation to Mr. King on the third anniversary of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a project in which Canada now took a great and justifiable, pride,” Mr. Pearson wrote in his memoirs. “I was surprised when a friend on the White House staff, ignoring all rules of diplomatic propriety and without telling the State department anything, asked me whether I would be kind enough to do a draft of the message for the President. I did. So on 1 January 1943 the Prime Minister of Canada received a very impressive letter lauding Canada as the ‘aerodrome of democracy’ drafted by me but signed by the President of the United States!”

PL-16961, DND Archives

Commonwealth airmen study a map before taking off in their Avro Anson on a training flight from RCAF Station Hagersville, Ontario, in May I943. Hagersville was the home of No.16 Service Flying Training School, one of many stations across the country that operated under the BCATP