Canadian Air Force (1920–1924)

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Canadian Air Force
Aviation canadienne
DisbandedBecame the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924
CountryDominion of Canada
AllegianceGeorge V, King of Canada
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Motto(s)Latin: Sic Itur ad Astra
"Such is the Pathway to the Stars"
Commander-in-ChiefGeorge V
Commander of the Canadian Air ForceA. K. Tylee
R. F. Redpath
J. S. Scott
J. L. Gordon
RoundelRAF Type A Roundel.svg
Aircraft flown
BomberAirco DH.9
FighterRoyal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
Sopwith Dolphin

The Canadian Air Force (CAF), which was formed on 17 May 1920, was one of Canada's early attempts at forming an air force. When the Air Board was formed in 1919 to manage Canadian aviation, one of its responsibilities was air defence; the CAF was formed to meet this responsibility.[1] The CAF would exist until 1924 when the prefix "Royal" was added, and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was officially created.


Prior to 1920, Canadian airmen flew with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Canada had tried to implement two other relatively independent "air forces" before 1920. The Canadian Aviation Corps, consisting of one aircraft, was formed in 1914 to provide service in Europe during the First World War. In 1918, a contingent of two squadrons known as the Canadian Air Force was formed as another attempt to provide a Canadian military aviation presence in Europe during the First World War.

This new CAF began as a small non-permanent air militia set up and managed by the Air Board. Its purpose was to give refresher air and ground courses to veterans and operated at Camp Borden. The courses were to be 28 days long and were meant to be given every two years.[1] The training scheme was short-lived, however, and training was stopped in 1922. Between 1920 and 1922, 1,271 airmen and 550 officers completed training at Camp Borden.[2] When the Air Board became the responsibility of the Department of National Defence in 1922, along with the Department of Militia and Defence and the Department of Naval Service, the CAF became responsible for all flying operations in Canada, including civil aviation.[3]

The first Air Officer Commanding of the Canadian Air Force was Arthur Kellam Tylee with the formation authorised an initial provisional strength of one Wing Commander, one Flight Lieutenant, one Warrant Officer, one Flight Sergeant and one Sergeant. In June 1920 the provisional strength of 1.340 officers and 3905 airmen (non commissioned officers and other ranks) was authorised.[4]

In 1922, the CAF's Inspector-General Sir Willoughby Gwatkin began advocating for the "Royal" prefix. In 1923, after the CAF was reorganized when the Department of National Defence was formed, formal application was made and the title was granted in February 1923.[5] The Canadian government finally approved of the title thirteen months later, and on April 1, 1924, The Royal Canadian Air Force became official.


The original uniform was a dark blue serge cut in army style with white shirts worn by officers. Army metal rank insignia and chevrons were worn but used Royal Air Force titles.[4]


Cap and collars[edit]

There were 10 major varieties of metal insignia - six cap and four collar types. These types consisted of styles for officers and NCOs. For both cap and collar badges, the officers' issue consisted of a copper base overlaid with a copper maple leaf and silver wings. A silver "CAF" monogram overlaid the maple leaf and was attached to the copper base.[6] Except for the silver CAF overlay, the NCO issue was cast as a single component in silver gilded metal. A feature of all officers' badges is red woven silk in the crown.

Cap and collars were issued with or without the motto (Sic Itur Ad Astra). The initial issue of these badges, designed and available in late 1918 or early 1919, was without the motto.[6] In early 1920, dress regulations were revised and the insignia began incorporating the motto into a scroll at the bottom of both cap and collar badges.

The collar insignia mirror the construction of the cap badges (with or without motto). Cap badges were designed for either the wedge (field service) cap or the peaked cap for service dress. The first issue (type 1) for both officers' and NCO's cap badges (without motto) had a crown that was mounted to the top of the maple leaf at a single point. The second issue (type 2) for the smaller wedge/field cap for both officers and NCOs had the crown attached to the wings for additional support. For the larger peaked cap versions, the crown was again attached at one point and attached to the back copper plate. All officers' cap and collar insignia were initially backed in black felt. Cap badges were fastened with double loops which were held in place with a cotter pin. Officers' models for the peaked cap used a brass metal support strip under the crown wire to strengthen the badge and to keep it flush against the cap. Both 1st and 2nd issue officer's collars had a single screw post to fasten onto the uniform, whereas the NCO versions were manufactured with double loops.

Pilot's wings[edit]

First authorized and issued in late 1918 or early 1919, this pilots' double wing was made in a style similar to the officer's cap and collar badges. It consisted of a copper back with overlays of two silver wings with a silver "CAF" monogram superimposed over a copper maple leaf. Black felt covered the back and a brass metal support strip was added under the fasteners. The design of the wings made the structure fragile.

While there appears to be two die sets of the most common version of these wings, an uncommon and distinct variety has drooped wings relative to the central portion.[6] Some versions are marked with the name of the manufacturer, "CaronBros" on one wing tip of the back copper plate.

Two examples are illustrated, neither with any maker marks, and both 2nd issue from the collection of AVM A.E. Godfrey during his tenure with the CAF. He had one set gold- and silver-plated, probably to be worn on a dress uniform at the time.

A replica set of several of the early 1920s insignia patterns were manufactured in 1967. The strike quality does not match the originals, but to the untrained eye, they can appear to have originated from the 1920s production. The pilots wing in this replica set retains the hallmark.

Heads of the Canadian Air Force[edit]

The following officers served as heads of the Canadian Air Force from 1920 to 1924:


  1. ^ a b Roberts 1959, p. 33.
  2. ^ Roberts 1959, p. 37.
  3. ^ Milberry 1984, p. 21
  4. ^ a b p.10 Shaw, S. Bernard Photographing Canada from Flying Canoes General Store Publishing House, 2001
  5. ^ Roberts 1959, p. 54.
  6. ^ a b c Carroll, Warren. "Eagles Recalled". Schiffer Publishing, 1997, p.48,71
  7. ^ French Canadians and Bilingualism in the Canadian Armed Forces
  8. ^ Johnson 1998, p. 16.
  • Milberry, Larry, ed. Sixty Years—The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. ISBN 0-9690703-4-9.
  • Roberts, Leslie. There Shall Be Wings. Toronto: Clark, Irwin and Co. Ltd., 1959. No ISBN.
  • Johnson, Vic. "Canada's Air Force Then and Now". Airforce magazine. Vol. 22, No. 3. 1998. ISSN 0704-6804.
  • Carroll, Warren. "Eagles Recalled". Schiffer Military History, 1997. ISBN 0-7643-0244-2