Royal Flying Corps Canada - Canada’s first military pilot training program

Members of the first graduating class of the Royal Flying Corps Canada at Camp Borden, Ontario, in May 1917

In 2017, the Royal Canadian Air Force is marking the 100th anniversary of the first military pilot training in Canada.

The Royal Flying Corps Canada (RFCC) was established in late January 1917 to recruit and train Canadians for service in the RFC during the First World War. Previously, Canadians who wanted to join the RFC generally transferred from the Army or obtained a basic flying certificate from a private company and then travelled to Great Britain in hopes of being selected.

Although the program was run by military staff from Great Britain, by the time the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, an estimated 70 per cent of the instructors and a large percentage of the non-flying staff were Canadians. The program also employed the Canadian-built JN-4 aircraft, built by Canadian Aeroplanes Limited.

Furthermore, the training program influenced the establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), arguably Canada’s most important contribution to the Second World War. However, this organization, unlike its First World War counterpart, would be developed, administered and commanded entirely by Canadians.

Activities commemorating the Royal Flying Corps Canada will take place at Canadian Forces Base Borden, Ontario, hosted by 16 Wing, including:

  • April 7 – Ceremony honouring James Harold Talbot, the first cadet to die in a flying accident (in his hometown of Dorchester, Ontario)
  • 2 June – Rededication of Royal Canadian Air Force cairn (at Borden)
  • 3 June – 16 Wing Air Force Day / Open House (at Borden)

More information about these events will be published as it becomes available.

In 1918, the training program (by then known as Royal Air Force Canada) “flirted briefly with the notion of recruiting women,” according to the RCAF’s official history. From early days of the program, women were hired as “civilian subordinates”; initially in clerical positions and eventually as drivers and mechanics.

In May 1918, the commanding officer of the RAFC obtained permission from the British Air Ministry and the Canadian government “to recruit for a branch of the Women’s Royal Air Force in Canada. The idea appears to have been dropped because upon investigation it was discovered that although the cost of barrack accommodation for men was about $235 per capita, for women, because of ‘the necessity for special provision’, the figure was $430.”

Twenty-three years would pass before Canadian women could join the Air Force in Canada, with the creation of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1941.

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