The OriginsExcerpts from the Handbook for Air Force Non-Commissioned Members
The 20th century found a youthful Canada building its nationhood. The "Dominion of Canada" was still closely aligned with Great Britain. Even though the British Empire was beginning to fade, close links remained between the former "colonies" and Britain. The advent of two new forms of transportation, the automobile and the airplane, were both to have a profound effect on Canada.
The first successful "airplane" flight in Canada was by J.A.D. McCurdy at Baddeck, N.S., February 23, 1909. On the birth of Canadian aviation, McCurdy piloted his biplane, the "Silver Dart," for half a mile over the ice-covered surface of Baddeck Bay. The next day McCurdy flew four miles in a complete circle returning to his starting point. These flights were recognized by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom as the first successful heavier-than-air flights by a British subject anywhere in the British Empire.
The Aircraft which McCurdy flew was a product of the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). The AEA was formed in Halifax, N.S. in September 1907, under the leadership of the renowned inventor Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Associated with Bell in the AEA were J.A.D. McCurdy and F.W. Baldwin, two young Canadian engineers, Glenn Curtiss, an American motorcycle racer and engine manufacturer, and Lt Thomas Selfridge, an American army officer. Using the Curtiss factory at Hammondsport, N.Y. as their summer base, and Bell's laboratories in Baddeck as their winter headquarters, the members of the AEA collaborated in designing, constructing and testing several biplanes. The "Silver Dart" was their fourth production and first success.
McCurdy and Baldwin formed the Canadian Aerodrome Company to continue their aviation experiments. They sought the interest of the Department of Militia and Defence for possible military applications of their Aircraft and were given permission to make some flights during the annual militia training camp. They shipped the "Silver Dart" to Petawawa and August 1, 1909 made four demonstration flights. However, the biplane was wrecked in a heavy landing during the final flight. Militia Department officials and officers who witnessed some of these flights were not impressed. It was decided to await the outcome of similar tests and experiments which were being conducted in Britain. McCurdy and Baldwin offered to sell their Aircraft to the government and instruct officers to fly them. Their offer was rejected. In the next few years one officer at Militia Headquarters made repeated efforts to have the Department form an aviation section, but these proposals were declined because "no funds were available." When the World War I began August 4, 1914, Canada had neither pilots nor Aircraft in the armed forces.
World War I - 1914 to 1919
Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC)
The outbreak of war immediately moved the fledgling airplane into prominence. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Belgium, France, and Britain placed air forces in the field to work with their armies and navies. When Canada began to organize the first overseas contingent, the Minister of Militia and Defence, Major- General Sir Sam Hughes, offered to provide the British Secretary for War with an aviation corps of six expert pilots. The Minister had to be content with sending only two officers and one NCO as members of the "Canadian Aviation Corps." CAC authorization was granted to spend up to five thousand dollars for one Aircraft including accessories. The Aircraft purchased was an American built Burgess-Dunne biplane of unique design, somewhat resembling modern swept-wing supersonic Aircraft. In October 1914, the CAC made up of three personnel and one Aircraft, accompanied the First Contingent overseas.
The Burgess-Dunne did not fly once in England. It was left lying in the open at the Canadian camp on Salisbury Plains, deteriorating until it was unable to take off. The "Provisional Commander" of the CAC returned to Canada resigning his appointment. His colleague, Lt W.F. Sharpe, received some flying training and experience in France. Upon his return to England to complete his training, he was killed in a flying accident on February 4, 1915. Lt Sharpe was the first Canadian to give his life while serving in the air forces of Britain in World War I. His death marked the end of Canada's first air corps.
Recruiting and Training
Three years elapsed before any further action was taken to form a Canadian Air Force. In the interval some significant developments had occurred. From the beginning of World War I, Britain's Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) viewed the Dominion as a fertile source of recruits, and enroled many Canadians into their services. In the early period of the war the two services accepted only applicants who were qualified pilots. There were very few of these, and the hundreds of young Canadians who sought to volunteer for the RFC and RNAS were first required to enter a civilian flying school and obtain the necessary certificate at their own expense. Later in 1918, these two air services were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF continued the search for Canadian pilots. A number of volunteers enroled in the Curtiss School of Aviation in Toronto. The school graduated 129 pilots in 1915 and 1916.
Civilian schools were inadequate to meet the demand for the rapid expansion of the British air services. In 1917 the RFC set up its own training establishment in Canada with headquarters in Toronto and training wings at Camp Borden, North Toronto, and Deseronto, Ontario. A few months later the United States entered the war and a reciprocal agreement was made whereby ten American squadrons were trained in Canada during the summer and autumn of 1917. The RFC transferred its training program to Texas during the winter months. Later in 1918, some White Russian pilots were also trained in Canada. The RFC training establishment of 1917-18 set the Canadian-based training precedent for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) of 1939-45 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) training of today.
The total number of Canadian personnel trained in Canada during 1917-18 was 3,135 pilots and 137 observers. Over 2,500 of these volunteers went overseas to serve in World War I.