The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP)

In the Beginning …
In 1936, the British proposed setting up Royal Air Force aircrew training schools in Canada, for Canadian and British aircrew. However, at that time, it was not considered urgent and the idea was not well received in Canada, so no action was taken. Canadians had been recruited in Canada for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, but with no recognition as a Canadian contribution by the British; that history still rankled.
By 1938, Britain realized it must accelerate aircrew training. This was unrealistic in the UK due to limited airport space and crowded, dangerous skies. Again, the British proposed training both British and Canadians for the RAF in Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King said that training under the Royal Canadian Air Force, answerable to the Canadian Government, was the bottom line.
More negotiations; an amended proposal: a common training program between the RAF and the RCAF and, finally, under control of the RCAF. The quantities of aircrew trainees significantly increased and Australians and New Zealanders were added, so the Plan became “The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan” (BCATP). The Prime Minister agrees - almost!! More negotiations and Article 15, as insisted upon by Mackenzie King, was finally accepted by the British … the Canadian aircrews trained in the Plan under the RCAF would be incorporated into Operational Canadian Squadrons identified as RCAF.
The Plan was finally signed on Dec 17, 1939, Mackenzie King’s birthday! The estimated cost to Canada: 1.6 billion Dollars!
Ramping Up: 1940 - 1941
In 1939, almost all existing airports in Canada (24 of them) were grass fields; 80 more with paved runways had to be built from scratch. Hangars were standardized, and additional buildings were needed for residences, classrooms, canteens, kitchens, indoor recreational facilities and playing fields. Often existing buildings, if suitable, were commandeered from colleges and municipalities.
Suddenly money was flowing, the depression era was gone, and lots of work was instantly available. Villages and towns across Canada were vying for airfields.
  • First training centres opened in April, 1940.
  • In 1940, elementary trainers, Tiger Moths and Fleet Finches, were being built in Canada.
  • Canadian production of Anson aircraft started in late 1941.
  • Flying schools and their instructors joined (volunteered).
  • First grads with wings were sent to Instructor’s School.
  • By December of 1940, 36 facilities were up and running.
  • In early 1941, aerodromes were being built in about 8 weeks!!
  • 32 more were operational by the end of 1941.
  • By June, 1942, 84 sites were open and operating (see Map).
  • Aircrew graduates by the end of 1940 numbered 635.
  • Aircrew graduates by the end of 1941 numbered 14,182.
1940 – 1941: Facilities and Training
After being recruited, trainees went to …
  • Manning Depots - 4 weeks learning the elements of RCAF life.
  • Initial Training - 4 weeks on basic navigation, aeronautics, armament, marching drill, physical training and exposure to a Link trainer.
Then the first cut was made as to who goes where and for what type of training … pilot, wireless operator/air gunner, or observer.  
  • Elementary Training: first introduction to a real airplane - 6 - 8 weeks flying training on the Fleet Finch, Tiger Moth, or Cornell
  • Service Training: 10 - 16 weeks single engine (Harvard) or twin engine (Anson or Crane)
  • Operational Training: (England, Canada, Home Defense)
An Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) gave a trainee 50 hours of basic flying instruction on
a simple trainer like the De Havilland Tiger Moth, Fleet Finch, or Fairchild Cornell over 8 weeks.
  • Service Training: 28 weeks at wireless school and 4 weeks at gunnery school (Anson or Crane)
  • Three months at aerial navigation/bombing & gunnery school.
By the end of 1940, 17 new Elementary facilities and 9 new Service facilities were built. By 1941, new facilities were being built in about 2 months and by the end of 1942 there were …
24 Service facilities                               3 Flying Instructors schools                  
3 Wireless schools                                 10 Bombing & Gunnery schools                       
10 Observers schools                             30 Elementary facilities            
2 General Reconnaissance schools
Full Bore Training: 1942 & Onward
In 1942, the Plan was extended to March, 1945. New facilities were added, most courses were lengthened and new technology recognized (Radar, instrument landing, VHF). The urgent need for aircrew in 1941 had been met. Now quality, as well as quantity, was sought; passing standards and flying hours were increased.
Women were recruited for 69 trades, and 17,000 served.
Navigator training was upgraded to Navigator ‘W’ (Wireless and Navigator) and Observers became Navigator ’B’ (Bomb Aimer and Navigator).
More than 39,000 aircrew trained in 1943. School enrolment increased significantly. For example, at Jarvis, Ontario, in January, 1942, 130 enrolled; in January, 1943, over 400 enrolled.
At its peak, nationwide, “The Plan” employed 104,000 staff, operated 3500 aircraft, and had 104 schools and 184 ancillary units.
Operational Training Units (OTUs) were added, initially for Coastal Command, but soon to provide ferry crews for flights across the Atlantic.
Canadian OTUs graduated about 13,000 aircrew by 1945, including RCAF, RAF, RAAF and RNZAF trained at Boundary Bay and Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island.
BOUNDARY BAY - a typical BCATP Station
The airport in Delta (Boundary Bay) opened in April, 1941, with 11 buildings as Elementary Flight Training School #18. In April, 1942, this EFTS moved to Alberta, because Boundary Bay was now required for Home Defense in the Pacific Theatre.
A Hurricane squadron was transferred from Sea Island (now YVR airport) in May 1942, and then was itself replaced by a P-40 (Kittyhawk) Squadron. These were RCAF operational squadrons.
In 1944, Home Defense ended at Boundary Bay and Operational Training Unit (OTU) No. 5 moved in. Up to 80 bombers arrived (B-24 Liberators and B-25 Mitchells). Station personnel, both ground crew and aircrew, now totalled over 4000. There were over 40 buildings; runways had been widened and extended; more barracks, a third hangar, canteens, and a 55-bed hospital had been added. The big heritage hangar that one sees today at Boundary Bay airport is original, but is the only original building left.
By early 1945, the war’s end was in sight and the base began to downsize.  Shortly thereafter, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, effectively ending the war, and demobilization commenced. On October 31, 1945, this once busiest of RCAF stations, closed.
In 1948, the property became a DND Communications Centre and more buildings were constructed. But in 1971, the land ceased to belong to DND. Like other BCATP facilities, it was eventually taken over by the local community and became the Boundary Bay Airport we know today - CZBB.
Abbotsford was a later addition to the BCATP structure, with #24 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) opening in July, 1943, using Cornells. In 1944, the Cornells departed, runways were extended and strengthened, and additional barracks built in preparation for the arrival of #5 Operational Training Unit (OTU). It was to be a relief base for Boundary Bay.
All personnel were RCAF with their wings but they came from different backgrounds. Some had just arrived from Service Flying Training Schools (SFTSs). Others had operational experience in Europe or elsewhere. All were at Abbotsford for conversion to a new aircraft type.
The plan was to train squadrons for the Pacific theatre of war with the B-24 Liberator, a heavy four engine bomber with 50 cal. machine guns and a crew of 11. Also included in the conversion training were B-25 Mitchell medium bombers with similar armament. Before they could deploy, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Japan and the war was over.
The peacetime future for Abbotsford airport was not military, but commercial. The facility became the airport (YXX) that we know today with scheduled domestic and international airline service to many destinations. Abby is also home to Conair aerial fire suppression operations, general aviation private aircraft, pilot training schools, Air Cadets, maintenance repair and overhaul businesses, and the world famous Abbotsford International Airshow. This lasting benefit to the community is a typical legacy of the BCATP in Canada.
Winding Down
  • Canada and BCATP had supplied 25% of all aircrew, but new enlistments were dropping.
  • Over supply of aircrew, higher casualties in bomber squadrons, but lots of trained reserves available.
  • Recruiting was suspended in June of 1944.
  • “THE PLAN” terminated in March, 1945.