Key dates in Air Force history

Date Event
February 23, 1909

The Silver Dart makes the first powered, controlled, heavier-than-air flight in Canada at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

August 2, 1909

The Silver Dart makes the first of four flights at Camp Petawawa, Ontario, to demonstrate the aircraft to the military. It crashes on the fourth flight.

August 4, 1914

Britain declares war on Germany, which also places Canada in a state of war; the First World War begins.

September 16, 1914

Colonel Sam Hughes approves the formation of the Canadian Aviation Corps.

February 4, 1915

Lieutenant William F. Sharpe becomes Canada’s first military aviation fatality when he is killed during a training flight at Shoreham, England.

February 2, 1917

Lieutenant William F. Sharpe becomes Canada’s first military aviation fatality when he is killed during a training flight at Shoreham, England.

March 13, 1917

The headquarters for Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Canada, established to train RFC personnel, stands up in Toronto. Three days later the headquarters moves to Camp Borden, Ontario.

August 11, 1917

King George V presents the Victoria Cross to Captain Billy Bishop; he is the first Canadian airman to receive the decoration.

April 1, 1918

RFC and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) amalgamate to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the RFC Canada becomes the RAF Canada.

September 5, 1918

The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS) is established. SEPTEMBER 19, 1918 The Canadian government approves the formation of the Canadian Air Force (CAF).

November 11, 1918

The Armistice ends the First World War.

November 20, 1918

RFC and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) amalgamate to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the RFC Canada becomes the RAF Canada.

December 5, 1918

Cabinet decides not to proceed with the RCNAS “on its present basis”, effectively ending the organization. The last member of the RCNAS finishes his tour of duty on December 10, 1919.

January 7, 1919

RAF Canada comes to a close with the departure of personnel from Camp Borden and the disposal of the Camp’s equipment.

March 25, 1919

No. 1 Wing, CAF, is formed in United Kingdom to administer the CAF squadrons.

June 6, 1919

Canada’s first Air Board, to control all flying in Canada, is established; it is constituted by an Order-in-Council on June 23.

January 28, 1920

No. 1 Squadron, CAF, disbands.

February 5, 1920

No. 2 Squadron, CAF, disbands.

February 18, 1920

The CAF in Canada is authorized as a non-permanent, non-professional force under the administration of the Air Board, with Camp Borden, Ontario, as the training site.

November 30, 1921

The CAF ensign, displaying the RAF roundel, is raised for the first time at Camp Borden.

June 28, 1922

The National Defence Act (NDA), which finalizes the separation of the CAF from the civilian Air Force and makes it a permanent force, receives Royal Assent.

November 28, 1922

Officers in the CAF adopt Air Force rank titles and drop the use of Army ranks.

January 1, 1923 The NDA takes effect, creating the Department of National Defence. The Air Board ceases to exist and the CAF, Department of Naval Service and Department of Militia and Defence now fall under the new Department of National Defence (DND).
February 15, 1923 King George V approves the prefix “Royal” for the CAF.
March 19, 1923 The RCAF adopts the blue-grey RAF uniform.
April 23, 1923 The CAF motto, Sic itur ad astra (Such is the pathway to the stars), is replaced by the new RCAF motto, Per ardua ad astra (Through adversity to the stars), which is borrowed from the RAF. The CAF does not make formal application to use the motto, however, until the summer of 1928.
April 1, 1924 The CAF officially becomes the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and a permanent component of Canada’s defence force.
December 20, 1924 The first RCAF wings parade takes place at Camp Borden.
July 14, 1936 The RAF forms Fighter, Bomber, Coastal and Training Commands. RCAF personnel serve with distinction in these commands during the Second World War.
November 19, 1938 The senior air officer, previously responsible to the Chief of the General Staff, is made directly responsible to the Minister of National Defence, thus putting the RCAF on an equal footing with the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army.
December 15, 1938 The senior air officer is re-designated Chief of the Air Staff (CAS); Vice Air Marshal George Mitchell Croil, AFC, becomes the first CAS.
September 1, 1939 Germany attacks Poland; the RCAF is placed on active service.
September 10, 1939 Canada declares war on Germany and enters the Second World War.
December 17, 1939 An agreement to set up the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) is signed.
January 1, 1940 The headquarters of the RCAF Overseas is established in London, England.
July 1940 The RCAF adopts its own ensign in which the maple leaf appears in the centre of the roundel.
July 10, 1940 The Battle of Britain begins.
November 19, 1940 An Order-in-Council authorizes the formation of the Air Cadet League of Canada to prepare air cadets — 12 to 18-year-old boys — for future enlistment in the RCAF.
March 1, 1941 RCAF squadrons overseas are renumbered in the 400-series block of numbers to avoid confusion with RAF squadrons.
July 2, 1941 The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) is authorized, enabling the CWAAF to recruit women for ground trades.
December 7, 1941 Canada declares war on Japan.
February 3, 1942 The CWAAF is renamed the RCAF Women’s Division (WD).
August 19, 1942 Six RCAF fighter and two army cooperation squadrons provide air support for the Dieppe raid.
March 24–25, 1944 Nine Canadian prisoners of war take part in “The Great Escape”. They are recaptured and six are executed by the Gestapo.
June 6, 1944 D-Day, the invasion of Normandy and liberation of Europe, begins; RCAF provides air superiority.
March 31, 1945 The BCATP is terminated.
May 8, 1945 Victory in Europe (VE) Day; the ceasefire becomes effective after Germany’s surrender on May 7 and the Second World War ends in Europe.
August 14, 1945 Victory over Japan (VJ) Day; Japan surrenders and the Second World War ends.
January 19, 1946 The RCAF adopts the roundel with a red maple leaf in the centre as its official insignia and authorizes its use on all RCAF aircraft.
June 26, 1946 A peacetime program for air cadets, based on a combination of aviation and citizenship training, is put into effect by the Air Cadet League of Canada and the RCAF.
October 1, 1946 Reversion Day: almost all wartime personnel have been released and ranks are adjusted to peacetime establishments, with many taking a reduction in rank.
December 31, 1946 The RCAF Women’s Division is dissolved.
September 30, 1947 Canadian armed forces are “stood down” after being on active service since September 1939.
February 8, 1948 The RCAF Flyers win the Olympic gold medal and World Amateur ice hockey championship during the Olympic Winter Games in Switzerland.
November 1948 The first edition of Roundel magazine is published.
April 4, 1949 The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreement is signed.
June 5, 1950 The RCAF Colour and King’s Colour are consecrated in Ottawa. The RCAF is the first of any of the Royal Air Forces to have the King’s Colour dedicated to an individual or national air force.
June 24, 1950 North Korea invades South Korea and the Korean War begins.
March 21, 1951 The enrolment of women into the regular RCAF is authorized.
July 2, 1951 The first post-war RCAF women trainees are taken on strength.
July 27, 1953 The Korean Armistice Agreement is signed, establishing the border between North and South Korea and putting a cease-fire into effect. As no peace treaty was signed, the two nations technically remain at war to this day.
March 21, 1955 Construction of Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line defensive radar system across northern Canada and Alaska is announced.
July 31, 1957 DEW Line begins operations.
May 12, 1958 The United States and Canada sign the North American Air Defense Command Agreement, committing to mutual defence of North America.
October 1, 1961 The RCAF takes over Station Beauséjour, Manitoba, the first of 11 United States Air Force-operated Pinetree Line radar sites to be transferred to Canadian control.
December 28, 1961

The first RCAF Bomarc missile unit, No. 446 (SAM) Squadron, is formed at North Bay, Ontario.

February 1, 1968 The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act comes into effect, amalgamating the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the RCAF into a single tri-service organization known as the Canadian Armed Forces. The RCAF headquarters is dissolved and air activities are distributed among various functional components.
September 2, 1975 Air Command is formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and becomes responsible for all Canadian Armed Forces air operations.
July 31, 1982 Governor General Edward Shreyer presents Air Command with its new Colours in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
1985 The Air Force returns to a light blue uniform.
May 17, 1985 North American Air Defense Modernization Agreement is signed at Quebec City, establishing the North Warning System (NWS) to replace the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.
August 1, 1986 The disbanding of a number of Pinetree Line radar stations is authorized, following construction of the initial NWS radar sites.
August 2, 1990 Iraq invades Kuwait. The Canadian Armed Forces deploy to the Persian Gulf region on Operation Friction, comprising a Naval Task Group, a field hospital and 24 CF-18 fighters.
January 17, 1991 The air campaign against Saddam Hussein’s forces begins, two days after Iraq’s deadline to withdraw from Kuwait expires. Ground operations begin on February 24 and the operation ends March 3 when Hussein agrees to withdraw from Kuwait.
July 3, 1992 The airlift of supplies into Sarajevo, coordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, begins. The Canadian contribution, dubbed Operation Airbridge, continues until March 31, 1995.
January  1, 1993 Flying operations cease at 1 Air Division in Europe.
April 1, 1993 Wing formations are re-established throughout Air Command. For instance, Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, Quebec, becomes 3 Wing Bagotville. 16 Wing is established at St-Jean, Quebec (later moving to CFB Borden, Ontario), to become a training centre for Air Command. Some wings are lodger units on other bases.
July 31, 1997 1 Canadian Air Division is created, Air Command headquarters moves to Ottawa, and the office of Chief of the Air Staff recreated. Group headquarters disappear and 1 Canadian Air Division assumes responsibility for their functions.
March 24, 1999 NATO’s Operation Allied Force, the air campaign against targets in Kosovo, begins. Canada’s contribution eventually grows to 18 CF-18s and 300 personnel; the mission is dubbed Operation Echo. On June 20, the NATO Secretary General formally ended the air campaign.
April 22, 2001 Chris Hadfield, a former CF-18 pilot, becomes the first Canadian to walk in space during his second space shuttle mission aboard Endeavour.
September 11, 2001

Terrorist attacks are carried out against the United States. Canada’s airports accept 224 diverted planes and more than 33,000 displaced passengers. All NORAD forces, including Canadian NORAD Region CF-18 Hornets, go on heightened state of alert in preparation for further attacks.

October 8, 2001 The first Canadian contribution to the Afghanistan campaign begins.
November 18, 2001 The first air force deployment as part of the Afghanistan campaign begins in the form of the strategic airlift detachment.
November 27, 2001 Two CP-140 Auroras deploy to the Afghanistan region to support the Canadian Naval Task Group as part of Operation Apollo.
December 27, 2001 The Canadian Armed Forces begin working out of Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates; the unit working there is eventually named the Theatre Support Element. Camp Mirage is assigned to Operation Athena (established in July 2003) on August 16, 2003.
July 13, 2005 For the first time since the Korean War, an airdrop resupply mission for troops engaged in combat operations is conducted in Afghanistan.
December 6, 2008 The Joint Task Force Air Wing is stood up in Afghanistan as part of Operation Athena.
June 24, 2009 2 Canadian Air Division/Air Force Doctrine and Training Division is established in Winnipeg.
November 21, 2009 The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is activated. The Canadian contribution is called Operation Attention and the mission includes members of the Navy, Army and Air Force.
November 5, 2010 Camp Mirage closes.
February 25, 2011 Task Force Malta, the first phase of Operation Mobile, begins. Over 11 days, the Air Force assists in the evacuation of Canadian and foreign nationals from Libya.
March 18, 2011 The second phase of Operation Mobile begins. Dubbed Task Force Libeccio, it is the Forces’ combat mission to the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector in the seas near and skies over Libya.
July 7, 2011 The Canadian Armed Forces combat mission in Afghanistan ends. The final RCAF flying unit returns home in November and Operation Athena ends on December 1.
August 16, 2011 The titles Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force are restored, replacing Maritime Command, Land Force Command and Air Command.
October 31, 2011 Operation Mobile ends.
November 10, 2013

Operation Renaissance, the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution to humanitarian aid in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, begins.

March 18, 2014 The last Canadian troops return home from Afghanistan.