British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
December 1939, Canada signed an agreement with Britain to
provide training facilities for airmen from all parts of the
Commonwealth, primarily Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand
and, of course, Canada. A few even came from Hong Kong, India
and the Bahamas. Canada had already declared war in September
but the planning for this agreement had developed over the
previous couple of years. In fact, several British Air Training
Bases were already under construction across Western Canada.
R.A.F. Penhold (later RCAF Penhold, then CFB Penhold, and now
the Harvard Park area of Springbrook) and R.A.F. Bowden (now the location of a federal
prison) were two in Central Alberta of 27 RAF bases across
Canada. Construction of R.A.F. Penhold started in the summer of
1939 and opened as No. 36 Service Flying Training School in
September 1941 after a brief period as a RCAF Manning depot.
The Penhold facility
started with 31 buildings and 5
large double hangers (two more hangars were soon added). Training began with 20 Airspeed Oxfords
but the fleet grew to almost 200. There is indication that there
may have been a few DeHaviland Tiger Moths
and Fleet Finches in reserve.
This program came at a good time -- Canada was still suffering
the economic consequences of the Depression. The bases helped
provide an economic shot in the arm for communities nearby.
Furthermore, Canada proved to be a perfect location for the
program -- far away from the actual fighting with very little
risk of being bombed by the enemy, excellent flying conditions,
a great deal of expertise available and good locations to
construct facilities in proximity to the railway. There were already a number of flying
schools operating and experienced airmen who had helped open up
the North or had been involved in the First War.
Assembling these experts, developing airfields, procuring
equipment including aircraft, was a major undertaking. Training
actually began at some facilities in the spring of 1940 and
lasted 12 weeks, 60 pilots training at a time.
By the end of 1943, more than 3,000 students were graduating
each month across Canada. By the end of the war the BCATP had
produced 131,553 aircrew including pilots, wireless operators,
air gunners and navigators. More than 55 per cent were
The program started winding down in February 1944 as there was
getting to be a surplus of trained personnel and the program
ended March 31, 1945. The Penhold base was closed in the fall of
1944 having officially trained 1,555 students although there are
conflicting reports on the exact number. Most of the electronic equipment was
destroyed in 1945 and most buildings were demolished except for
the hangars and a few other structures.
The base re-opened in 1951 as R.C.A.F.
Penhold to support No. 4 Flying Training School for NATO using
the North American Harvard aircraft.
For more on the Penhold base, visit