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Thread: December 17th the 70th Anniversary of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

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    Default December 17th the 70th Anniversary of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

    What was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan?

    British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a massive air-training program involving the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia during the Second World War. Canada, trained 130,000, more than all other participants combined. The plan remains the single largest aviation training program in history and was responsible for training pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners, wireless operators and flight engineers of the Commonwealth air forces during the Second World War…Students from many other countries attended schools under the plan, including Argentina, Belgium, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Greece, Holland, Norway, Poland, South Africa and the United States.

    The British Air Ministry set up the massive training program after participating countries signed an agreement in December 1939. Britain was an unsuitable location for air training, due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields and the unpredictable climate, so the plan called for the Dominions to train the majority of personnel.

    Canada was chosen as the primary location for "The Plan" due to ample supplies of fuel, wide open spaces suitable for flight and navigation training, industrial facilities for the production of trainer aircraft, parts and supplies, the lack of any threat from enemy forces.

    Due to its prominence in the plan, United States President Roosevelt referred to Canada as "the Aerodrome of Democracy". At its height, The Plan included 231 training sites and more than 10,000 aircraft and 100,000 military administrative personnel. Over 167,000 students, including over 50,000 pilots, trained in Canada under the program from May 1940 to March 1945.

    While the majority of those who successfully completed the program went on to serve in the RAF, over half (72,835) of the 131,553 graduates were Canadians.

    When you add in the ground crews, fitters, armourers, and all the others trained through the program it becomes literally hundreds of thousands.

    Why is it important today?

    The BCATP program introduced the world to Canada with participants coming from almost every continent, many marrying Canadians and returning, adding to our culture. The Plan acted as a major component in the industrialization of Western Canada with the construction of the massive bases and hundreds of airfields as well as the support systems and factories needed to maintain and build the aircraft and other equipment.

    After the Second World War the airports, buildings and surplus equipment became the affordable basis for new industry and many of the buildings across Western Canada are still in use today.

    In short…The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan forever changed the face of Canada and how the rest of the world perceived Canada.

    Particularly Canada’s Prairie Provinces bringing industry and driving the economy, including tourism ever since.

    Why is it important to celebrate and showcase today?

    Today the accomplishments and effects of the BCATP are still something to celebrate.

    The program was a massive non combat contribution to the Second World War effort that continued to have positive effects on air travel for decades after.

    The program opened the eyes of the world, first hand, to how wonderful Canada was and inspired immigration for decades. This also diversified our cultural base and helped grow the Canadian population.

    The massive construction projects and industrial build up to support the program helped pull Canada quickly out of the depression era of the 1930’s. these same projects spurred the growth of many communities across Canada and opened the door to many economic opportunities that continue through today.

    The program continues to benefit Tourism today as many veterans and their families return to visit the places of their youth and in many cases where they met their spouses.

    It is an opportunity for Canadians to be proud of a massive accomplishment in the creation and operation of a program that did so much to help bring an allied victory in the second world war and create all of the benefits listed. Canada can be proud of a peaceful contribution that did so much to end the greatest conflict of the 20th Century.

    The BCATP was a major factor in development of Edmonton as a centre of aviation. #2Air Observers School, commanded by none other than the famous bush pilot W.R. (WOP)May, trained tens of thousands of personnel in the hangar that now houses the Alberta Aviation Museum.

    #16 Elementary Flight Training School was operated by the Edmonton Flying Club on Edmonton’s airport and added many more to the total number.

    The improvements to the airport and the wartime buildings constructed made possible Edmonton becoming the “Cross roads of the World” for the airline industry for some years after World War Two.

    Even today the last three remaining World War Two hangars on Edmonton City Centre Airport house not just the Alberta Aviation Museum but a number of other businesses.

    The BCATP still contributes to Edmonton’s economy with visitors from across the Commonwealth returning to view the place that gave them wings and show their families where many first flights began.

    The Alberta Aviation Museum celebrates this Thursday with the unveiling of a new exhibit that uses conventional, digital and computer interactives to bring this important part of Edmonton’s history to life.

    -- Thomas Hinderks
    Executive Director
    Alberta Aviation Museum

  2. #2

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    The Alberta Aviation Museum is proud to announce an addition to the BCATP exhibit that was unveiled December 17th, 2009.

    Building the BCATP...an exhibit outlining and showcasing how the schools and bases were built and the scale of the construction program.

    A special 4 foot by 8 foot exhibit featuring the scope of the plan, a 1/1000th scale model of a generic Elementary Flight Training School with descriptions of the facilities.

    Imagine...

    At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 Canada had only 5 RCAF air bases
    By the end of 1941 there were over 200 training schools across Canada.
    In a day and age when most major construction work was done by hand this amazing coast to coast project was created at an incredible pace. Each base was in effect a miniature town or small city with not only all of the buildings needed to operate as an air base but all the buildings and services to house personnel, repair vehicles, and supply medical services, food services, laundry and other needs.

    Imagine for a moment…a government program building over 8000 buildings, hundreds of kilometers of roads and runways, sewage, medical as well as power and water services across our entire nation with the benefit of only limited construction and other heavy equipment, all of it done while we were at war.



    Of course the most impressive part of the exhibit is our building, the last double wide double long BCATP hangar. Around the exhibit you can view our building, how it was designed and how it was built.



    Thomas Hinderks
    Executive Director
    Alberta Aviation Museum Association

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    YXD was the busiest airfield in WW2 at one point was it not? I'd heard tell of this because of it's location as a staging post to Alaska for raids on Japan.
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    cnr67

    Sorta right.

    Blatchford Field, then known as the Edmonton Airport, was the busiest airport in the world a number of times 1943-1945.

    The (2) training schools, 2AOS and 16EFTS made a considerable contribution but several other major operations were also underway.

    Aircraft Maintenance #1 (Now Northgate Trailer) was the largest aerospace facility in Canada and was overhauling, repairing and servicing thousands of RCAF and USAAF aircraft through the war. In addition they were responsible for Cold Weather preparation on the aircraft being ferried to the USSR.

    Speaking of which, somewhere between 20-25,000 aircraft came to Edmonton as the start of the Northwest Staging route which transfered the aircraft from here to Grande Prairie then Fort St. John, Watson Lake, Whitehorse and finally Anchorage. From Anchorage the aircraft then flew into the USSR and into combat against the Nazi forces.

    P-39s, P-40s, P-63s, A20s, B25s, DC-3s and a host of others went on their way from here to the USSR.

    Of course some of these aircraft got lost, crashed so there was a large search and rescue operation from here to save the crews that went down. In fact para-rescue was invented here in Edmonton. WOP May received a "medal of honour" from the USA for para rescues creation because of all the US pilots that were saved.

    In addition the Alaska Highway was under construction with bushplanes coming in and out of Edmonton on a regular basis. TCA (now Air Canada) was operating a Coast to Coast service through here at the same time and other aircraft were being ferried through to BC for coastal defense and into combat in the Aleutian Islands.

    To top things up the USAAF used a section of the east side of the facility as a service and cold weather testing centre as well as a research centre. (The first captured Zero came through Edmonton, the P-59 AirComet jet was tested here and the B-29s as well)

    And I know I'm missing some stuff, but you get the drift that aviation wise this was the place!


    Tom

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Hinderks View Post
    cnr67

    Sorta right.

    Blatchford Field, then known as the Edmonton Airport, was the busiest airport in the world a number of times 1943-1945.

    The (2) training schools, 2AOS and 16EFTS made a considerable contribution but several other major operations were also underway.

    Aircraft Maintenance #1 (Now Northgate Trailer) was the largest aerospace facility in Canada and was overhauling, repairing and servicing thousands of RCAF and USAAF aircraft through the war. In addition they were responsible for Cold Weather preparation on the aircraft being ferried to the USSR.

    Speaking of which, somewhere between 20-25,000 aircraft came to Edmonton as the start of the Northwest Staging route which transfered the aircraft from here to Grande Prairie then Fort St. John, Watson Lake, Whitehorse and finally Anchorage. From Anchorage the aircraft then flew into the USSR and into combat against the Nazi forces.

    P-39s, P-40s, P-63s, A20s, B25s, DC-3s and a host of others went on their way from here to the USSR.

    Of course some of these aircraft got lost, crashed so there was a large search and rescue operation from here to save the crews that went down. In fact para-rescue was invented here in Edmonton. WOP May received a "medal of honour" from the USA for para rescues creation because of all the US pilots that were saved.

    In addition the Alaska Highway was under construction with bushplanes coming in and out of Edmonton on a regular basis. TCA (now Air Canada) was operating a Coast to Coast service through here at the same time and other aircraft were being ferried through to BC for coastal defense and into combat in the Aleutian Islands.

    To top things up the USAAF used a section of the east side of the facility as a service and cold weather testing centre as well as a research centre. (The first captured Zero came through Edmonton, the P-59 Air Comet jet was tested here and the B-29s as well)

    And I know I'm missing some stuff, but you get the drift that aviation wise this was the place!


    Tom
    You are an amazing wealth of knowledge in local aviation. Thank you kindly for your effort in researching this and giving me such a thorough answer. My Father flew the 732 you have and was the last aircraft he ever flew. It was his retirement aircraft from CYYC to CYXD.The Museum is certainly fortunate to have you at it's helm. Many thanks again!
    Make the RIGHT choice before you take your last breath......

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    It's been a long time, but a friend's father back in England was an RAF pilot involved in training Canadian airmen here in Alberta long before I had even heard of the place. I heard many stories of how they'd take a plane from Penfold, where they were stationed, up to Edmonton or down to Calgary for a Saturday night out. His take on it was that being sent here was probably the cushiest posting he could have dreamed of.

    Tom, do you have any records of RAF personnel who served here at that time?

  7. #7

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    Howie

    We don't have RAF records here, or anywhere in Canada to my knowledge. But i will try to get the RAF contact info and PM it to you...they have kept impecable records and respond quite quickly to inquiries.

    Tom

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    Many thanks for that, Tom. The fellow has long since passed away, and I've lost contact with his family.

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    cnr67

    "Thank you kindly for your effort in researching this and giving me such a thorough answer."

    Thanks...but I'd didn't research that was just the off the cuff. If I researched it would be much more extensive and detailed and likely get boring.

    But like I said thanks.

    howie

    Without a family connection the RAF will not release information, they are very careful about that.

    Tom

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    Hmmm, okay Tom, that's quite understandable. It's a shame, though, because my own father was employed during the war on what was known as "essential services". These were people out of recruitment age (dad was 36 at the time) but were 'drafted' by the government to work on war work. As a bricklayer he was employed at RAF Bourne in Cambridgeshire where a Canadian squadron (97, I believe) of Bomber Command were based, building bomb dumps. As a civilian, the RAF would have no record of his time there. Many thanks for your efforts, though, Tom.

  11. #11

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    Howie

    IF he was essential services he "may" be listed with the RAF

    Heres a starting point...
    http://www.raf.mod.uk/links/contacts.cfm

    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/r.../airmanraf.htm

    Good luck

    Tom

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