Centennial of Flight Celebrations
STEVEN DIETER
© 2015 FrontLine Defence (Vol 6, No 1)

The year 2009 marks the 100th Anniversary of the first powered, heavier-than-air, controlled flight in Canada, made by J.A.D. McCurdy in the “Silver Dart” in Baddeck, Nova Scotia (as depicted above).

Canada owes a unique debt to the power of flight. Aviation has carried on the work of the Canadian Pacific Railway in opening up the country, and continues to be a lifeline to many remote and northern communities. Even today, aerospace activity is a larger component of Canada’s industrial base than of any other nation.


Image: DND / Library and Archives Canada

The history of military aviation in Canada dates back to August 1909, when the Silver Dart conducted the first flight at a ­Canadian military establishment at Camp Petawawa in Ontario. While official interest in military air power waned, ­Canadians were captivated.

As war became a reality in 1914, thousands of Canadians enlisted for military service. The history of the Air Force is full of the achievements of Canadians who joined the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War, most of whom transferred from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Canada became a mainstay for training, as pilots were trained at the newly established Camp Borden in Ontario.

Efforts to create a Canadian Air Force began in 1918, but it was another six years before the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was officially created on 1 April 1924. ­Initially, the newly created RCAF was responsible for both military and civilian aviation. Matters such as photography and forestry operations, plus control of civil ­aviation (including issuing civilian pilot licenses), helped give the RCAF a raison d’être during the Great Depression, when the budgets of all three services – Navy, Army and Air Force – were being cut back.

When Canada entered the Second World War in 1939, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King put forward a proposal to train aircrew on Canadian soil. As a result, Canada became the home of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which prepared pilots and aircrew from all over the world for aerial combat. Thus, Canadian pilots helped defend the skies over England against German aerial attack during the Battle of Britain. As more Canadians became qualified as aircrew and departed for the European theatre of operations, more squadrons were created to accommodate them. In 1943, the number of Canadian bomber squadrons allowed for the creation of Number 6 Bomber Group which was one of Bomber Command’s most successful formations. Canadians also gained renown in the Pacific theatre.

The RCAF remained the air force of Canada from 1924 until 1968 when the three branches of the Canadian military were merged, to become the Canadian Forces. Following this, Air Command was formed in 1975.

The Air Force continued to play a role on the world stage after the Second World War; Canadian pilots served with American fighter squadrons in the Korean conflict. As a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, members of the Air Force team were posted to air bases in Europe to help defend the Western world from the Soviet threat. Subsequently, when the risk of attack was considered to be closer to home, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) – an alliance which continues to this day – was formed.

Since the formation of Air Command, the Air Force has contributed to the defence of Canadian values and humanitarian efforts at home and abroad. The efforts of the Air Force have contributed to operations around the globe – the First Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo and numerous UN peacekeeping operations.

This has not been without loss of life. In August 1974, a Canadian Forces CC115 Buffalo aircraft was shot down by a Syrian surface-to-air missile while on a United Nations (UN) mission, killing nine CF personnel. This was the single largest loss of Canadian lives on a UN mission.

Civil-military cooperation is perhaps the most visible role for the Air Force, as it works with the Canadian Coast Guard and civilian agencies to save lives through many search and rescue operations each year. The Air Force works with the Navy to protect the maritime approaches on our coasts and with the Army on key tactical operations. Our CF18 fighters scrambled on 11 September 2001, as part of the effort to protect the skies against further terrorism and to ensure the safe landing of countless aircraft that were diverted to Canadian ­airspace and Canadian soil as a result of attacks upon the United States.

Members of the Air Force have answered the call to serve, in peace and in war. Aircrew, ground crew and support personnel have defended the skies of the world and continually strive to increase the influence and impact of aviation at home and abroad. They have literally gone Through Adversity to the Stars – and beyond. The Air Force has been a proud part of Canada’s aviation history since nearly the beginning, and the future is looking bigger and brighter than ever.

Centennial of Flight Celebrations
The Department of National Defence, as represented by the Air Force, is one of 18 member organizations for the Canadian Centennial of Flight Project. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the celebra­tions and activities that will occur this year.

At the national level, the Canadian Centennial of Flight Project was envisioned as a way to provide support to Canadians who want to make the 100th Anniversary of the first flight in Canada an opportunity to celebrate the impact that aviation has had on world events. Celebrations will include not only the commemoration of the historical event of 23 February 1909, when the Silver Dart took flight, but also Canadian accomplishments in civilian and military aviation in the decades afterwards.

These celebrations encompass the history of aviation and space activities, the education of youth, the technological and commercial aspects of aerospace development and careers and, most of all, the opportunity to connect with Canadians. Many of the activities highlight achievements of the past 100 years and will increase Canadians’ understanding of the importance of aviation and space endeavours to their country.

To coincide with the Centennial celebrations taking place in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on 23 February 2009, Canada Post has indicated that they will issue a postage stamp featuring the Centennial of Flight logo. Also during 2009, the Royal Canadian Mint has struck a commemorative coin. More celebrations and special events – large and small, military and civilian – will take place throughout the year and across the country, involving communities, civilian aerospace organizations, the Canadians Forces, businesses and Canadians.

Plan an event and share the information with Canadians through the Centennial of Flight website. For more information, visit www.airforce.canadiancentennialofflight.ca.

Hawk One Takes to the Skies
The Hawk One is a restored Canadair F86 Sabre 5 Sabre jet fighter aircraft that will showcase Canada’s Air Force as part of the country’s aviation heritage. It commemorates the 100th Anniversary of powered flight in Canada, which takes place in 2009.  The aircraft is painted in the same gilt colour of the Sabres flown by the renowned Golden Hawks aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The Hawk One is not part of Air Force inventory however. All funding for the Hawk One project, which has been estimated at about $2.5 million, has been raised by the private sector. The Sabre fighter jet, which had been in use as a demilitarized civilian registered aircraft, was purchased for the project by Vintage Wings of Canada – a private collection of classic aircraft owned by Michael Potter, an Ottawa entrepreneur and aviation enthusiast, and located at Gatineau airport in Quebec.


Photo: Peter Handley

The restored Sabre features an upgraded ejection seat, which had to be replaced because the armament charges necessary to eject the seat are no longer manufactured. The upgrade makes the seat safer and meets a strict set of requirements laid down by the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of Technical Airworthiness ­Engineering Support.

The F86 Sabre was the principal fighter jet for the RCAF and the United States Air Force during the first decade of the Cold War. The Golden Hawks, a military formation flying team, was formed in 1959 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of flight and the 35th of the RCAF.

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Lieutenant Steven Dieter is an associate Air Force historian with the office of Air Force Heritage and History, and a former historian of the Billy Bishop Museum in his home town of Owen Sound, Ontario.
© FrontLine Defence 2009

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