This Week in History


Aerodrome of Democracy

For the week of Monday, April 27, 2015

On April 29, 1940, the No. 1 Initial Training School in Toronto, Ontario, began recruiting aviation students for the Second World War. It was the first school created as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The BCATP provided training in basic and advanced flying, bombing, navigation, wireless operation, air observation, flight instruction, and general reconnaissance at more than 90 schools.

Pilots with a Curtiss Kittyhawk I aircraft of No. 111 (F) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force
© Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e002282744

The BCATP, developed by British and Canadian representatives, was approved on December 17, 1939. Officials originally estimated that 1,400 personnel would graduate from training per month. However, when France fell to Germany in May 1940, Britain was left isolated. More pilots and aircrew were badly needed because fighter planes and bombers provided the best protection for Britain, and made an air offensive against Germany possible.

The Canadian Minister of Defence for Air, Charles Gavan Power, sped up the construction of existing training schools and built new ones. With the partnership of British authorities, Power incorporated 14 Royal Air Force (RAF) training schools into the BCATP. He also shortened pilot training from 24 to 17 weeks and equipped the schools with 1,000 new planes. As a result, the number of pilots graduating per month jumped from 102 to more than 350!

By 1943, the BCATP was operating at maximum efficiency, training 3,000 personnel per month. Recruitment stopped in 1944 and many facilities either closed or were converted into civilian airports. When the BCATP’s contract expired in March 1945, 131,553 pilots and personnel had graduated. Canadians represented 55 per cent of the graduates and the other 45 per cent were British, Australians, and New Zealanders.

Ground crew servicing Consolidated Liberator VI T aircraft 570 of No. 168 (HT) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force
© Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-065335

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is an Event of National Historic Significance. One of the original training facilities, the BCATP Hanger No. 1, in Brandon, Manitoba, is a National Historic Site. Charles Gavan Power is a Person of National Historic Significance for his contributions to the war effort.

To learn more about the BCTAP and Canadian aviation, read Canada’s War Effort Takes Flight, Enemies in Our Waters!, and Operation Husky: The Canadian Landing in Sicily in the This Week in History archives. For more on the Second World War, visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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