Group Captain George Howsam, director of training during the Second World War.

Ten years after the First World War ended, civil and military aviation was in a sorry state. Pilots were in short supply and flying training schools were almost non-existent. The government

and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) set out to fix this by allowing airmen (not just military college grads) to apply to be pilots, creating more airfields and creating civilian flying clubs.

The flying club program came into being in 1927 to stimulate interest in aviation, train civil pilots and create a partly-trained RCAF reserve. In return, the RCAF supported the clubs, especially by loaning them aircraft, such as de Havilland Moths and Curtis-Reid Ramblers, and helping train club instructors. In 1939, the civilian clubs began training RCAF personnel because the RCAF simply did not have the capability to take this on.

With the outbreak of war, civilian flying clubs became central to success by providing instructors and becoming the basis of Elementary Flying Training Schools. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was possible because of the clubs’ ready and willing participation.

Wing Commander (later Air Vice Marshal) George R. Howsam, head of training for the RCAF, called the clubs the “primary ace in the armoury of the RCAF” because of their high standards. He noted that the clubs made it possible for RCAF officers to focus on training other instructors, thus speeding up the BCATP’s ability to produce flyers.

From 1949 until 1958, during the Cold War, flying clubs again “stepped up” and provided refresher training for air reserve pilots, using the de Havilland Chipmunk.

A Curtiss-Reid Rambler


Homing pigeons are readied for a patrol on a Canso aircraft in 1942.

For a quarter century the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) flew pigeons. No, not airplanes. Real homing pigeons!

Pigeons were introduced into service in 1920, and by 1929 the RCAF was operating eight homing pigeon lofts. The feathered flyers were used to request assistance for downed aircraft and to advise headquarters of forest fires. They were far smaller and more reliable than contemporary radios! With the Second World War, the RCAF needed more pigeons and pigeon handlers. The pigeon service eventually grew to 30 lofts and 103 personnel, who also provided courses to the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army.

With improvements to radio technology, the pigeons became obsolete. By May 1946, the service had been disbanded.