British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

From Academic Kids

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RCAF Harvards were used as a trainer aircraft by thousands of Commonwealth aviatiors from 1940 onwards.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, also known as the Empire Air Training Scheme, Empire Air Training Plan, Joint Air Training Scheme, or simply "The Plan", was a massive air-training program involving Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia during World War II. It remains the largest single aviation training program in history and was responsible for training nearly half the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners, wireless operators and flight engineers of the Commonwealth air forces during WWII.

The plan was set up by the British Air Ministry, following an agreement signed by participating countries in December 1939. It was designed to provide 50,000 trained aircrew a year, for as long as necessary. The United Kingdom was not considered to be an ideal location for air training, due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields, and its climate. Therefore the Dominions would train the majority of personnel. The initial projections of numbers to be trained annually was: 22,000 from Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, aircrews were to receive elementary training in the various Commonwealth countries involved before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. They were then supposed to be assigned to designated national squadrons within the Royal Air Force (RAF) (although in practice they were often assigned to British squadrons).

Canada was the primary location for the plan due to ample supplies of fuel, wide open spaces suitable for navigation training, industrial facilities for the production of trainer aircraft, parts and supplies, the lack of any real threat from Luftwaffe and Japanese fighter planes, and its relative proximity to both the European and Pacific theatres. 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.

Because of its prominence in the plan, Canada was referred to as "the Aerodrome of Democracy" by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a play on the United States being "the Arsenal of Democracy". At its height, the Plan included 231 training sites, more than 10,000 aircraft and 100,000 military administrative personnel.

In late 1944, the Air Ministry announced the winding-up of the plan, as a surplus of aircrews within the Commonealth air forces had long since been achieved.


The legacy of the plan in Canada included a strong post-war aviation sector and many new or improved airports across the country, the majority of which are still in use. The classic BCATP airport consisted of three runways, each typically 2,500 feet (760 meters) in length, arranged in a triangle so that aircraft could always land (more-or-less) into the wind -- that was critically important at a time when most light training aircraft (such as the Harvard) were taildraggers, which are difficult to land in strong cross-winds. That triangular runway outline is still easily visible at most Canadian BCATP airports, such as Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport and Boundary Bay Airport. Later modifications have often resulted in one runway being lengthened to handle larger aircraft such as jets, and in less-used runways being closed or converted to taxiways.

In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled The Ottawa Memorial, a monument erected in Ottawa, Canada to "[commemorate] by name some 800 men and women who lost their lives while serving or training with the Air Forces of the Commonweath in Canada, the West Indies and the United States and who have no known grave".

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