British Commonwealth Air Training Plan: Wikis


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RCAF Harvards were used as a trainer aircraft by thousands of Commonwealth aviators from 1940 onwards. Harvard II from the BCATP Museum in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.
RCAF Cessna Crane as employed in the BCATP on display at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, also known as the Empire Air Training Scheme, Empire Air Training Plan, Commonwealth Air Training Plan or simply "The Plan" or "The Scheme", was a massive air-training program involving the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia during the Second World War. Under a parallel agreement, the Joint Air Training Scheme, South Africa trained 33,347 aircrew for the RAF, SAAF and other Allied air forces[1], exceeded only by Canada, which trained 130,000.[2] The plan remains the single largest 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 the Second World War. Various aircraft, transport and training artifacts may be seen at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, located in Brandon, Manitoba.

Students from many other countries attended schools under the plan, including Argentina, Belgium, Ceylon, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa and the United States.


General description

The British Air Ministry set up the massive training program after participating countries signed an agreement in December 1939. The United Kingdom 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. The organizers initially planned to train nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in the various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses.

The plan was agreed in Ottawa between delegates from the various countries; Lord Riverdale led the British contingent and the articles named after him as the "Riverdale Agreement" were signed on 17 December.

Under Article XV of the agreement, graduates from Dominion air forces were to be assigned to squadrons either formed by their own air forces, or with a specific national designation, under the operational control of the Royal Air Force (RAF).[3] If it was intended that they would be under RAF control, Dominion air force squadrons were usually given numbers in the 400–490 range — 400–449 was allotted to the Royal Canadian Air Force, 450–467 to the Royal Australian Air Force and 485–490 to the Royal New Zealand Air Force.[4][5] These were known as "Article XV squadrons." A few other prewar RCAF, RAAF and RNZAF units were also under RAF operational control, and Rhodesian squadrons were formed within the RAF. However, in practice — and technically in contravention of Article XV — most personnel from other air forces, while they were under RAF operational control, were assigned to British units.[5]


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 Luftwaffe and Japanese fighter planes and its relative proximity to both the European and Pacific theatres.

The RCAF would run the plan in Canada, but to satisfy RAF concerns, Robert Leckie, a senior RAF commander (at the time in charge of RAF squadrons in Malta) and a Canadian, was posted to Ottawa. Appointed to the Canadian Air Council, he directed the running of the training from 1940.[6]

Due to its prominence in the plan, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to Canada as "the Aerodrome of Democracy", a play on his earlier description of the United States as "the Arsenal 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.

In late 1944, the Air Ministry announced the winding-up of the plan, since the Commonwealth air forces had long had a surplus of air crews.


The RAAF trained aircrew through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan known in Australia as the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), commonly known as the "Scheme." Elementary training was offered in Australia to a limited number of that country's youth, who would be granted short-term commissions in the RAF upon completion of their training.

Australia undertook to provide 28,000 aircrew over three years, which represented 36% of the total number of proposed aircrew. The first basic flying course started on 29 April 1940, when training began simultaneously in all participating countries. Flight Lieutenant Keith Chisholm MC DFM, was the first Australian airman trained under the Scheme.[7] Prior to the Scheme, the RAAF had trained about 50 pilots per year. Within the Scheme, seven-ninths of the RAAF's intake were trained in Australia (all Elementary and some Advanced) with the remaining two-ninths trained in Canada (Advanced). The first Australian contingent embarked for Canada on 14 November 1940. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) schools were established across Australia to support EATS in Initial Training, Elementary Flying Training, Service Flying Training, Air Navigation, Air Observer, Bombing and Gunnery and Wireless Air Gunnery.

Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, the vast majority of Australian aircrews remained in the South West Pacific theatre. By 1944, Australia’s contribution to the scheme was wound back, at Britain’s instigation, and the scheme effectively ended in October 1944, although it was not formally suspended until 31 March 1945. By this time, more than 37,500 Australian aircrew graduated under the Empire Air Training Scheme. Some finished their training in Canada and Southern Rhodesia, but the great majority of them, over 27,300, completed their training in Australia. They included navigators, air gunners and 10,800 pilots. Of those pilots, 1,515 graduated from 5 Service Flying Training School, Uranquinty.

New Zealand

During the war, the RNZAF contributed 2,743 fully trained pilots to serve with the RAF in Europe, the Middle East, and Far East. Another 1,521 pilots who completed their training in New Zealand were retained in country; either as instructors, staff pilots, or manning operational squadrons formed during the latter half of the war. In 1940, before the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was fully developed, New Zealand also trained 183 observers and 395 air-gunners for the RAF. From 1943 onwards, the training of wireless operator/air-gunners, and navigators was carried on in New Zealand for Pacific operations. In addition, some 2,910 pilots were trained to elementary standards and sent to Canada to continue their training. More than 2,700 wireless operator/air-gunners, 1,800 navigators, and 500 bombadiers passed through the Initial Training Wing before proceeding to Canada. Of the 131,000 trainees who graduated in Canada under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, New Zealanders formed 5.3%.

Southern Rhodesia

On the outbreak of war in September 1939, there were no facilities for air training on any scale in Rhodesia, yet the country committed to training Rhodesian personnel for service in the Royal Air Force. The Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG), operating 1940–1945, was set up as part of the overall Commonwealth Air Training Plan. No. 25 Elementary Flying Training School at Belvedere, Salisbury opened on 24 May 1940. The original programme of an initial training wing and six schools was increased to ten flying training schools and bombing, navigation and gunnery school, a school for the training of flying instructors as well as additional schools for bomb aimers, navigators and air gunners (including stations at Cranbourne (Salisbury), Norton, Gwelo and Heany (near Bulawayo). To relieve congestion at the air stations, six relief landing grounds for landing and take-off instruction and two air firing and bombing ranges were established. Two aircraft and engine repair and overhaul depots were set up as well as the Central Maintenance Unit to deal with bulk stores for the whole group.

Students for Rhodesia came from Britain principally, but also from Australia and South Africa in addition to the Rhodesian intake. There were also pupils from the Royal Hellenic Air Force in training. Over 7,600 pilots and 2,300 navigators were trained by the RATG during the war.

South Africa

Harvard trainer in WW2 SAAF colours with yellow wings distinctive to all JATS aircraft.

Despite the prewar South African Air Force (SAAF) expansion plans, the start of the Second World War in 1939 caught the SAAF unprepared. New flying schools had been established at Pretoria, Germiston, Bloemfontein and Baragwanath, while a training command under Lieutenant Colonel W.T.B. Tasker would oversee the SAAF’s overall training programme. With the establishment of the Joint Air Training Scheme (JATS) 38 South African–based air schools would be employed to train Royal Air Force, SAAF and other allied air and ground crews. Aircraft and other equipment required for the training was provided to South Africa free of charge by the United Kingdom.[8] Under this scheme, the SAAF, by September 1941, increased the total number of military aircraft to 1,709 while the personnel strength had grown to 31,204, including 956 pilots. During its five year existence, the JATS was ultimately to turn out a total of 33,347 aircrew, including 12,221 SAAF personnel.

United States

Prior to Pearl Harbor, training centres were made available for the RAF; by war's end, 16,000 RAF aircrew were trained in the United States.

Re-creation of a BCATP base at the Western Development Museum, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada



In Canada

As Canada was the main participant, the legacy of the plan there included a strong postwar 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 m) 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 North American Harvard) were taildraggers, which are difficult to land in strong cross-winds.

That triangular runway outline is perfectly preserved at Gananoque Airport, but is still easily visible under later runway extensions at most Canadian BCATP airports, such as Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport, Boundary Bay Airport and Pendelton, Ontario 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.

A memorial cairn at the location of the former RCAF Station Mossbank

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

The Commonwealth Air Training Plan (CATP) Museum is a non-profit, charitable organization in Brandon, Manitoba, founded and operated by volunteers. The museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and serves as a unique memorial to those airmen who trained and served, and especially those who died, while serving their country in the air war of 1939–1945. This is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to this goal, located in Manitoba where so much of the training was carried out.

South Africa

South African memorial to Royal Air Force personnel that died during the Joint Air Training Scheme.

The South African Air Force Memorial at Swartkop, Tshwane includes a memorial to the Royal Air Force members who died is South Africa during the Joint Air Training Scheme.

The Port Elizabeth branch of the South African Air Force Museum is still housed in the original 42-Air School Air Gunnery Training Centre used during the Joint Air Training Scheme.[9]

Other countries

The "Scheme" cost Australia about £100,000,000 for her commitments. In addition to the Empire Air Training Scheme, wartime demands had led to training for home requirements. The RAAF built air training and ground training schools, airfields and specialized schools that served the country well in wartime as well as postwar. All the service flying training schools were disbanded, except Uranquinty. The Uranquinty Base continued to provide refresher courses for qualified pilots and even briefly became a migrant centre in the late 1940s until it reopened as No 1 Basic Flying Training School between 1951 and 1959 when it finally closed. The Wireless Air Gunners' School at Ballarat remained as the RAAF Radio School until 1961.

A Memorial was dedicated to 5 Service Flying Training School RAAF, within the Empire Air Training Scheme at Uranquinty, 19 September 1999.

EATS pilot training schools at Evans Head, New South Wales, Cunderdin, Western Australia, Point Cook, Victoria, Essendon, Victoria and Laverton, Victoria are on state or national heritage lists. Wireless operator/air gunners' schools at Maryborough, Queensland, and Ballarat, Victoria, are currently recommended for state heritage listing.

See also



  1. ^ Becker, Captain Dave, Yellow Wings - The Story of the Joint Air Training Scheme in World War 2, Pretoria: The SAAF Museum, 1989
  2. ^ Hatch, F. J. "Aerodrome of Democracy." Retrieved: 12 September 2009.
  3. ^ "Empire Air Training Scheme." Australian War Memorial Encyclopedia (AWM Encyclopedia), 2007 Retrieved: 24 March 2007.
  4. ^ Squadron information from Government of Canada Retrieved: 13 October 2007.
  5. ^ a b AWM, "History Conference — Air War Europe", 2003 Retrieved: 13 October 2007.
  6. ^ BCATP Retrieved: 4 December 2007.
  7. ^ "Biographical cuttings on Keith Bruce Chisholm, first Australian airman trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme." NLA Catalogue. Retrieved: 12 September 2009.
  8. ^ "The Department of State Bulletin, Volume XII, Issue 301, 1 April 1945." United States Department of State. Retrieved: 12 September 2009.
  9. ^ "SAAF Museum - Port Elizabeth.", SA-Transport. Retrieved: 12 September 2009.


  • Barris, Ted. Behind The Glory: The Plan that Won the Allied Air War. Markham, Ontario: Thomas Allen & Son Publishers, 2005. ISBN 0-88762-212-7.
  • Collins, Robert. The Long and the Short and the Tall: An Ordinary Airman's War. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1986. ISBN 0-88833-187-8.
  • Conrad, Peter C. Training for Victory: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in the West. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1989. ISBN 0-88833-302-1.
  • Dunmore, Spencer. Wings For Victory. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994. ISBN 0-77102-927-6.
  • Hatch, F.J. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939–1945. Ottawa: Canadian Department of National Defence, 1983. ISBN 0-660-11443-7.
  • Long, Gavin. The Six Years War: A Concise History of Australia in the 1939–45 War. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1973. ISBN 0-64299-375-0.

External links


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