RFC / RAF early roundel
Canadian Military Aircraft
Serial Numbers
The Beginnings
1883 to 1919
RFC / RAF early roundel

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The Canadian Air Corps
RFC/RAF in Canada
CAF in the UK
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Canadian Military Interest in Aviation
Prior to 1914

Canadian aviation historian, and ex Air Cadet, Hugh Halliday has produced several well researched books on Canadian military aviation history.  On a recent trip to the second hand book store I was lucky enough to find a mint copy of one of his early works, " Chronology of Canadian Military Aviation" (Canada War Museum Paper No. 6, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, 1975) which provided me with new details of early Canadian military interest in aviation.

The early Canadian military grew out of the British trained and directed forces raised to defend Canada.  As early as August 1883, Captain H. Elsdale of the British Army used a captive balloon to take aerial photographs of the Halifax Citadel.   A Canadian citizen, J. L'Etoile, offered to create a Canadian balloon corps for the Canadian Department  of Militia that same year, but the offer was not accepted or acted on.

In March of 1909 Master General of the Ordnance, Canadian Department of Militia and Defence, Col. R.W. Rutherford, began to press for a formal Canadian military policy on aviation.  On 15 May the Militia Council announced that assistance of men and equipment would be offered to inventors, but no cash.  The first group to take advantage of this offer was the Aerial Experiment Association of Halifax (see below), who displayed several of their early aircraft to Canadian civil servants  and officers.  In June of 1909 the Association shipped the "Silver Dart", the first heavier than air aircraft to fly in Canada, to the Army Camp at Petawawa, Ontario (later home to Army AOP Troops, and today home to No. 427 Tac Hel Squadron).  Four demonstration flights were made in early August 1909, ending in a minor crash on the last flight.  The similar "Baddeck No. 1" was then shipped to Petawawa, and continued flights on 11, 12 and 13 August.  Again the demonstration ended when the aircraft crashed.  This series of flights captured the imagination of many younger officers, who pushed to purchase aircraft and take flying lessons for several years, but older officers and civil servants dismissed the aircraft as an impractical invention.

Like most aircraft of the day, the Association's aircraft carried no registration, no serials, and no company numbers.  Slim pickings for the aeronumerologist.

The Canadian Air Corps

September 1914 to May 1915

In the rush to send arms and men to Europe in the early days of the First World War, a small air arm was organized to accompany the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Using their entire capital budget of $5,000, a single engine Burgess-Dunne was purchased, and shipped from the factory at Marblehead, Massachusetts  to Lake Champlain, Vermont.  It was assembled there, and ferried to Quebec City by company pilot Clifford Webster. This was to be its only known flying time.  The aircraft was immediately loaded on a freighter bound for England, and sailed for Plymouth In late September, arriving there on 2 October 1914.

By the time the aircraft had arrived and was unloaded, Canada realized that it had no trained airmen, and that its main aerial contribution in the early years of the war would be training airmen for the existing British flying services.  When the Canadian Air Corps was officially disbanded in May 1915, its only aircraft was well on its way to becoming Canada's first bio-degradable warplane.  Its exact end is lost in the mists of time.  I can find no record that this aircraft ever received any serial number, or any other markings.  Recent paintings showing the aircraft trailing two Canadian Red Ensigns from the wing struts may be speculative.  The RCAF Museum in Trenton, Ontario has recently purchased a replica of this aircraft.

The RFC/RAF in Canada
February 1917 to November 1918

Canadians began joining the British flying services even before the war began, and the British recognized that Canada could be an excellent source of recruits, aircraft production, and flying room.  At first, private schools were encouraged in Canada to train Canadians (and a few Americans and others) to FAI license standards.  The volume of recruits eventually swamped these early facilities, so in early 1917 the RFC began a massive expansion of schools, flying facilities, and aircraft production in Canada.

Construction of the first RFC school in Canada began at Borden, Ontario, in February 1917.  Today this site is home to a Canadian Armed Forces technical training wing, and a reserve helicopter squadron.  Some of the World War One buildings survive, and at least one is used as a museum.  Eventually, three main air stations would be operated in Canada, and a temporary detachment flew in Texas in the winter of 1917/1918.

The main aircraft type used was the Curtiss JN-4(Canadian), or Canuck, built in Canada by Canadian Airplanes Limited of Toronto, Ontario.  Glenn Curtiss' aerial association with Canada dated back to his joining Alexander Bell's Aerial Experiment Association on 30 September 1907.  By the start of World War One, Curtiss was an established aircraft manufacturer in the US.  Together with J.A.D. McCurdy, a former partner from the Aerial Experiment Association, he opened the Curtiss Aviation School, and an associated manufacturing and design facility, in Toronto, Ontario on 10 May 1915 to meet the British demand for trained pilots.  The factory was spun off as Canadian Airplanes Limited in the summer of 1916, as a result of early planning for a large scale increase in aircraft production and aircrew training in Canada.  This Canadian facility produced a number of Curtiss designs, original designs, and licensed designs, for training schools in Canada, for the British flying services, and for the US Army.  Known military serial numbers of aircraft built in Canada by Curtiss and Canadian Airplanes Limited in World War One are listed below.  In addition to those aircraft that received military serial numbers, a few Curtiss designs were delivered to civil operators, and at least one de Havilland D.H.6 was built by Canadian Airplanes Limited, and delivered to the RFC in Canada without a serial number marked.  This aircraft was later operated as a civil aircraft in the U.S., apparently without any registration.  (Things were simpler back then.)

By the time the RFC wanted large quantities of trainers for its new Canadian schools, the Curtiss JN design had been evolved into a state of the art (for the time) trainer.  The Canadian built aircraft used their own model numbers, and the unofficial designations JN-4(Canadian) or Canuck are frequently used to distinguish the Canadian built JN-4, which differed in several respects from US built JN-4s.  The Toronto facility built about 1,210 for the RFC in Canada, and about 120 similar aircraft were delivered from Curtiss' American plant for use in Canada.

All Canucks were built with ailerons on the both the upper and lower wings, unlike the U.S. built JN-4s, which had ailerons only on the upper wing.  At least a few U.S. built aircraft received lower wing ailerons post-war, probably as a result of mingling of spare parts.  Canadian built aircraft did not initially receive the increased dihedral seen on US built JN-4s, but by the end of the war some Canadian built JN-4s had been re-rigged to match US production.

The aircraft of the RFC in Canada bore RFC markings, and distinctive squadron markings.  They were allocated their own serials, extending from C101 to at least C2000.  These numbers duplicated numbers in the C1 to C9999 series used by the RFC/RAF in Europe.  The records of the RFC Canadian serial numbers are incomplete, and sometimes contradictory.  I have relied on two main sources for the information below: "British Military Aircraft Serial numbers" by Robertson, and "Canadian Aircraft Since 1909" by Molson and Taylor.  I have attempted to resolve the differences between these sources in the tables below, but I can't make any guarantee of my accuracy.

At the end of the Great War, the surviving RAF in Canada aircraft were mostly sold, or donated (in small numbers) to the Canadian government.  The sold aircraft, including JN-4s, Avro 504s and one D.H.6, found their way into the hands of barnstormers and other early commercial operators in Canada and the US.  I have included information on the subsequent fates of these aircraft, when I have it.  I have found very little on the many aircraft I know were used in the US, and I would welcome any information you may may have on them.

In May of 2006 I was lucky enough to receive a CD of scanned photos from Thomas Granger.  The pictures were taken by his grandfather, while serving as a mechanic at the RFC/RAF repair depot in Toronto in 1918.  Thomas was kind enough to allow me to post these pictures on the web.

Brief lists
Detailed lists
brief list
2292 records
updated 5 September 2006

Military serial numbers of aircraft built by, or ordered from, Curtiss in Canada and Canadian Airplanes Limited
(details for RFC in Canada aircraft can be found below)
brief list
1900 records
updated 5 September 2006

C101 to C375

275 records
updated 7 September 2006

C376 to C580

205 records
updated 7 September 2006
The RFC in Canada
C581 to C776

96 records
updated 7 September 2006
C777 to C2000

275 records
updated 7 September 2006

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The beginnings of independent air arms

1918 to 1919

Late in the Great War, Canada had established itself as a military power to be reckoned with.  Its military leaders had learned the importance of military technology, including aircraft.  They had also learned that the British military command, however well intentioned, could not always be counted on to act in Canada's best interests.  As a result, Canadian government and military leaders began planning for an independent Canadian military, including an army, a navy, and an air force, well before the end of  the war.

The political and military struggles that led to the evolution of an independent Canadian Army during the Great War are well recorded elsewhere.  To provide support for this organization, planning for the first Canadian Air Force (CAF) began in the UK in April 1918.  It was to contain fighter and bomber squadrons, and would be equipped and organized along British lines.  The funding and the staff, however, would be Canadian.  Ground crew training commenced training at Halton in the UK on 22 August 1918, and formation of the Headquarters began in the UK in September 1918.  In late November, the first 2 Canadian squadrons came into existence, when No. 81 Squadron and No. 123 Squadron of the RAF became No. 1 and No. 2 Squadrons, CAF, respectively.  Both squadrons were disbanded in early 1920, and the last Headquarters unit was disbanded in August of that year.  Some of the personnel were to join the Air Board and the new CAF in Canada.

The two CAF squadrons in the UK operated RAF owned aircraft (19 records, updated 15 April 2005), in their original markings, plus a handful of war prize Fokker D.VIIs (including 6823/18, 6849/18, 8482/18,  and 8493/18).  Some of the ex-CAF aircraft were sent to Canada, where they joined the 10 or 12 USN flying boats from Halifax, and 10 of the RAF's Canucks, in the newly formed Air Board.

Planning for A Royal Canadian Navy Air Service (RCNAS) also began late in the war.  It would provide anti-submarine patrols off the Canadian East coast (in place of U.S. Navy units then performing that task from bases in Nova Scotia), and train pilots for the RAF.  It was intended that a USN base near Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with its equipment and Curtiss HS2L aircraft, would be transferred to the RCNAS when enough trained personnel were available.  Other naval aircraft in Britain and the US were set aside for this service, and some may have been shipped to Canada before the war's end, but never used.  By the end of the war training was underway, and some RCNAS members were serving with the RAF to gain operational experience.  The force was formally established on 5 September 1918 and disbanded on 8 December 1918, before any aircraft were operated.

Among the aircraft known to have been transferred to Canadian control, intended for the RCNAS, were:
  •  Sopwith Schneider, serial numbers 3707, 3709, 3765, and 3806; and
  • Sopwith Baby, serial numbers 8125, 8197, 8204 and 8209 (transferred less engines).

This data has come from a variety of sources, and may contain all sorts of errors. In the future, I will add a complete list of references. For now, some recent Internet references can be found at the links below.  I would welcome any corrections or additions you may have. Contact me using the link below.

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© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by R. W. R. Walker      All rights reserved under the copyright laws.
This is an amateur site - please don't rely on any of this data for anything important!
Created 24 April 2004. Updated 12 June 2008.