RAF Type A roundel

Canadian Military Aircraft
Serial Numbers
RCAF 1 to 1000
from the lean years to
the start of World War II

RAF Type C1 roundel


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When non-military flying operations were transferred to the Air Board's Directorate of Civil Air Operations in 1927, some hoped it would allow the RCAF to focus on its military capabilities. In fact, the civil operations took most of the money, most of the aircraft, and most of the trained staff. Some RCAF histories refer to the next few years as the lean years.

A few new operational aircraft were procured from the UK and the US in 1927 and 1928. Along with the aircraft left behind by the DCAO, these received RCAF serial numbers starting at 1. This new registry of RCAF serial numbers was started in early 1928, but the exact date  of renumbering of existing aircraft is not always clear.  These early numbers appear to have been allocated in no particular order. When the Depression hit Canada, the slim Air Force funding was cut even further. Staff levels dropped, procurement of new equipment ceased, and flying was at a minimum in 1932 and 1933. The deteriorating political situation in Europe led to small increases in 1934, and procurement of relatively modern aircraft began again. As the European situation became worse, RCAF funding increased, and large scale procurement and Canadian production began. The RCAF budget underwent dramatic changes during this period, from less than $5,000,000 in 1931, to $1,700,000 in 1932 and 1933, then back up to $7,000,000 by 1936,  and to nearly $30,000,000 in early 1939.  By the end of 1939, a multi year budget of $350,000,000 had been established for the RCAF's role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan alone.

Starting in 1928 and 1929, the RCAF began using three digit serial numbers, allocated in blocks by aircraft function - see the table below. (The descriptions are my own, I haven't found an official description of the various blocks.)  At the same time, some of the surviving one and two digit aircraft were remarked with the appropriate three digit number.  (Note that RCAF serial number 1000 was actually the last aircraft in the block starting at 901.)  The last few Air Board aircraft still carrying civil registrations were given RCAF 3 digit serial numbers, or disposed of, by 1936.

Obviously, different blocks filled at different rates, so the relative ages of RCAF aircraft from this period cannot necessarily be determined by comparing the serial numbers.  When Finch 1001 was delivered by  Fleet on 27 October 1939, several of the 3 digit blocks were still not full.  The outbreak of World War 2 resulted in most of the blocks filling in a very short period, although not all serial numbers in these blocks were allocated.  It appears that the RCAF became less particular about what types of aircraft used each block as procurement speeded up.  The last three digit RCAF serial numbers allocated were probably ex RAF Dakotas 993 and up, taken on strength from the RCAF Overseas in July and August 1946.  From late 1939 4 digit RCAF serials, and eventually 5 digit RCAF serial numbers, were used for most new procurement.

During the years before the Second World War, the RCAF made a deliberate effort to align its procurement, policies, and organization with the RAF. As a result, when photos of RCAF operations from this era are seen, one is struck by the similarity to photos of the RAF in the same period. The aircraft and most markings are often identical.  The ground equipment, the uniforms, the buildings and even the haircuts are identical. The one feature that allows a photo to be positively identified as RAF or RCAF is the serial number marked on the aircraft. Canadian aircraft always bore a pure number, with no letter prefix (except for a very few RAF aircraft loaned for evaluation - more about them in a future revision of these pages). Even when camouflage became increasingly common in 1938 and 1939, the RCAF was kind enough to mark their distinctive serial numbers in large characters on the lower wing surfaces.

Almost all of these aircraft were only used in Canada, with a few notable exceptions.  Bolingbrokes, Kittihawks, Geese and Lodestars traveled to Alaska, in response to the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians.  A few Liberators and Dakotas regularly visited the UK on long range patrols, or carrying mail and cargo.  When the first RCAF squadrons deployed to the UK in 1940, they took with them a few of the original Hurricanes (serials in the 300 range), and some Canadian built Lysanders (serials in the 400 range).   These were found to not be up to the latest RAF modification standards, and were traded for up-to-date equipment with the RAF.  Most of these RCAF aircraft  were brought up to UK standards, and eventually used by various RAF and RN units.  Some received RAF serials, while a few Hurricanes continued in RAF service still carrying RCAF 3 digit serials.

Some of the aircraft listed here survived the war, and continued in RCAF service.  In particular, a few Dakotas and Norsemen continued in use for SAR, photo survey, transport and training duties.  The Norsemen were all retired or sold prior to 1960, but a few 3 digit Dakotas lasted to unification in 1967, and received CAF serial numbers in 1970.  At least one of these Dakotas was still in regular use with the CAF when the fleet was retired in the late 1980s, over forty years after it first received an RCAF serial number.  A handful of Dakotas, Norsemen, and others found their way onto various civil registers, and some were still airworthy at the beginning of the  21st century.  When I can find information on the subsequent lives of these aircraft, I include it in the database.

The table below will connect you to two types of listings of these aircraft. The "Brief lists" present a minimum amount of information about as many aircraft as I can fit on a reasonably sized page. Use these lists to identify individual aircraft, or to quickly scan a large range of serials. The "Detailed lists" contain all the information currently in my database, and are broken into many more pages to keep the data manageable.

 

Brief lists

Detailed lists

Description

RCAF 1 to 1000
(894 records)
updated 8 January 2005

1 to 50
(50 records)
updated 7 May 2005

51 to 100
(50 records)
updated 3 June 2005

the lean years

101 to 150
(50 records)
updated 18 June 2005

151 to 200
(50 records)
updated 5 February 2010

201 to 250
(50 records)
updated 15 July 2005

251 to 300
(33 records)
updated 29 July 2005

Trainers

301 to 350
(46 records)
updated 9 December 2006

351 to 400
(28 records)
updated 5 August 2005

Fighters (and later light transports)

401 to 450
(50 records)
updated 5 August 2005

451 to 500
(49 records)
updated 5 August 2005

Army Cooperation (and later light transports)

501 to 550
(50 records)
updated 12 August 2005

551 to 600
(43 records)
updated 19 August 2005

Single engine bombers (and later patrol bombers and transports)

601 to 650
(48 records)
updated 23 December 2005

651 to 700
(51 records)
updated 23 December 2005

Photographic survey aircraft

701 to 750
(43 records)
updated 5 April 2008

751 to 800
(49 records)
updated 12 June 2008

Multi engine bombers (and later light transports)

801 to 900
(68 records)
updated 9 July 2006

Single engine flying boats (and later fighters)

901 to 950
(48 records)
updated 18 February 2006

951 to 1000
(43 records)
updated 18 February 2006

Multi engine  flying boats (and later transports)


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, 2008, 2010 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 25 April 2004. Updated 5 February 2010.