Royal Canadian Air Force

The Royal Canadian Air Force is the air force of Canada. Its role is to "provide the Canadian Forces with relevant, responsive and effective airpower". The RCAF is one of three environmental commands within the unified Canadian Armed Forces. As of 2013, the Royal Canadian Air Force consists of 14,500 Regular Force and 2,600 Primary Reserve personnel, supported by 2,500 civilians, and operates 258 manned aircraft and 9 unmanned aerial vehicles. Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger is the current Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Chief of the Air Force Staff.
The Royal Canadian Air Force is responsible for all aircraft operations of the Canadian Forces, enforcing the security of Canada's airspace and providing aircraft to support the missions of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army. The RCAF is a partner with the United States Air Force in protecting continental airspace under the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The RCAF also provides all primary air resources to and is responsible for the National Search and Rescue Program.
The RCAF traces its history to the Canadian Air Force, which was formed in 1920. The Canadian Air Force was granted royal sanction in 1924 by King George V to form the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1968, the RCAF was amalgamated with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army, as part of the unification of the Canadian Forces. Air units were split between several different commands: Air Defence Command, Air Transport Command, Mobile Command, Maritime Command, as well as Training Command.
In 1975, some commands were dissolved, and all air units were placed under a new environmental command called simply Air Command. Air Command reverted to its historic name of "Royal Canadian Air Force" in August 2011. The Royal Canadian Air Force has served in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Persian Gulf War, as well as several United Nations peacekeeping missions and NATO operations. As a NATO member, the force maintained a presence in Europe during the second half of the 20th century.


1920–1945: Pre-unification

The Canadian Air Force was established in 1920 as the successor to a short-lived two-squadron Canadian Air Force that was formed during the First World War in Europe. John Scott Williams, MC, AFC, was tasked in 1921 with organizing the CAF, handing command over later the same year to Air Marshal Lindsay Gordon. The new Canadian Air Force was a branch of the Air Board and was chiefly a training militia that provided refresher training to veteran pilots. Many CAF members also worked with the Air Board's Civil Operations Branch on operations that included forestry, surveying and anti-smuggling patrols. In 1923, the CAF became responsible for all flying operations in Canada, including civil aviation. In 1924, the Canadian Air Force, was granted the royal title, becoming the Royal Canadian Air Force. Most of its work was civil in nature; however, in the late 1920s the RCAF evolved into more of a military organization. After budget cuts in the early 1930s, the air force began to rebuild.
in the Netherlands, 1944

World War II

During the Second World War, the RCAF was a major contributor to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and was involved in operations in Great Britain, Europe, the north Atlantic, North Africa, southern Asia, and with home defence. By the end of the war, the RCAF had become the fourth largest allied air force.
During WWII the Royal Canadian Air Force was headquartered in 20-23 Lincolns Inn Fields, London. A commemorative plaque can be found on the outside of the building.


After the war, the RCAF reduced its strength. Because of the rising Soviet threat to the security of Europe, Canada joined NATO in 1949, and the RCAF established No. 1 Air Division RCAF consisting of four wings with three fighter squadrons each, based in France and West Germany. In 1950, the RCAF became involved with the transport of troops and supplies to the Korean War; however, it did not provide RCAF combat units. Members of the RCAF served in USAF units as exchange officers and several flew in combat. Both auxiliary and regular air defence squadrons were run by Air Defence Command. At the same time, the Pinetree Line, the Mid-Canada Line and the DEW Line radar stations, largely operated by the RCAF, were built across Canada because of the growing Soviet nuclear threat. In 1957, Canada and the United States created the joint North American Air Defense Command. Coastal defence and peacekeeping also became priorities during the 1950s and 1960s.

1968–present: Unification

In 1968, the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Army were amalgamated to form the unified Canadian Forces. This initiative was overseen by then Liberal Defence Minister, Paul Hellyer. The controversial merger maintained several existing organizations and created some new ones: In Europe, No. 1 Air Division, operated Canadair CF-104 Starfighter nuclear strike/attack and reconnaissance under NATO's 4 ATAF; Air Defence Command: operated McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo interceptors, CIM-10 Bomarc missiles and the SAGE radar system within NORAD; Air Transport Command: provided strategic airlift for the NATO and UN Peacekeeping missions; and Training Command. Aviation assets of the Royal Canadian Navy were combined with the RCAF Canadair CP-107 Argus long-range patrol aircraft under Maritime Command. In 1975, the different commands, and the scattered aviation assets, were consolidated under Air Command.
missile on a launch erecter in North Bay. Viewed as an alternative to the scrapped Avro Arrow, the Bomarc's adoption was controversial given its nuclear payload.
On 9 November 1984, Canada Post issued "Air Force" as part of the Canadian Forces series. The stamps were designed by Ralph Tibbles, based on an illustration by William Southern. The 32¢ stamps are perforated 12 x 12.5 and were printed by Ashton-Potter Limited. In the early 1990s, Canada provided a detachment of CF-18 Hornets for the air defence mission in Operation Desert Shield. The force performed combat air patrols over operations in Kuwait and Iraq, undertook a number of air-to-ground bombing missions, and, on one occasion, attacked an Iraqi patrol boat in the Persian Gulf.
In the late 1990s, Air Command's CF-18 Hornets took part in the Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia, and in the 2000s, AIRCOM was heavily involved in the Afghanistan War, transporting troops and assets to Kandahar. Later in the decade-long war, AIRCOM set up a purpose-specific air wing, Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing, equipped with several CH-146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters, CC-130 Hercules, CU-161 Sperwer and leased CU-170 Heron UAVs in support of the Canadian Forces and ISAF mission. The wing stood down on 18 August 2011.
From 18 March to 1 November 2011, the RCAF was engaged in Operation Mobile, Canada's contribution to Operation Unified Protector in Libya. Seven CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft and several other aircraft served under Task Force Libeccio as part of the military intervention.
, 2015. CF-18s have been used by the RCAF since 1983.
On 16 August 2011, the Government of Canada announced that the name "Air Command" was being changed to the air force's original historic name: Royal Canadian Air Force. The change was made to better reflect Canada's military heritage and align Canada with other key Commonwealth countries whose military units use the royal designation.
The RCAF adopted a new badge in 2013, which is similar to the pre-unification RCAF badge. The Latin motto of Air Command – Sic itur ad astra – which was the motto of the Canadian Air Force when first formed after the First World War was retained. Though traditional insignia for the RCAF was restored in 2015, there has been no restoration of the traditional uniforms or rank structure of the historical service.
On 17 April 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada was dispatching six CF-18s and military personnel to assist NATO in operations in Eastern Europe.


The Royal Canadian Air Force has about 391 aircraft in service, making it the sixth-largest air force in the Americas, after the United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and Brazilian Air Force.


;Airbus CC-150 Polaris
;Airbus CC-295
;BAe CT-155 Hawk
;Beechcraft King Air C-90B
;Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III
;Bombardier CC-144 Challenger
;Canadair CT-114 Tutor
;DHC CC-115 Buffalo
;DHC CC-138 Twin Otter
;DHC CT-142 Dash 8
;Grob 120A
;Lockheed CC-130H Hercules
;Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
;Lockheed Martin CC-130J Super Hercules
;McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet
; Ex-RAAF McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets
;Raytheon CT-156 Harvard II

Rotary wing

;Bell CH-139 JetRanger
;Bell CH-146 Griffon
, and ISAF
;AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant
;Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone
in flight
;Boeing CH-147F Chinook

Leased and contractor aircraft

The Canadian Forces have leased aircraft from vendors to help transport troops and equipment from Canada and other locations in the past decade. Transport aircraft have been leased as required.
;Beechcraft B300 Super King Air
;Dornier Alpha Jet Type A
;Hawker Hunter F.58
;IAI Heron
;SAGEM Sperwer
;BAE Systems Silver Fox
;Boeing Insitu ScanEagle
;EADS Harfang
;Elbit Skylark
;AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
;General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
;AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma
;Prioria Robotics Maveric
;Saab Skeldar

Weapons and other equipment

Weapons systems are used by the CF-18 Hornet, CP-140 Aurora, CH-146 Griffon and the CH-148 Cyclone.
ManufacturerOriginWeaponTypeIn ServiceNotes
Lockheed MartinGBU-10 Paveway II Laser-guided bomb1980sUsed by CF-18
Mark 82 bombLow drag general-purpose bomb 1970sUsed by CF-18
General DynamicsMark 83 bombLow drag general-purpose bomb 1980sUsed by CF-18
General DynamicsMark 84 bombLow drag general-purpose bomb 1980sUsed by CF-18
BoeingJoint Direct Attack MunitionA kit to convert a regular bomb into precision-guided munition2011Used by CF-18
Raytheon/HughesAGM-65G Maverick MissileAir-to-surface missile1990sUsed by CF-18
BristolCRV 7 RocketFolding-fin ground attack rocket1970sUsed by CF-18
DouglasAIM-7 SparrowMedium-range semi-active radar homing air-to-air missile1980sUsed by CF-18
Raytheon/HughesAIM-120 AMRAAMBeyond Visual Range air-to-air missile2000sUsed by CF-18
Loral Corp.
AIM-9 SidewinderHeat-seeking, short-range, air-to-air missile1980sUsed by CF-18

General Electric
M61 20mm Vulcan cannonAir-cooled gatling-style cannon1980sUsed by CF-18
AlliantMark 46 torpedoAir and ship-launched lightweight torpedo1970sUsed by CP-140 Aurora and CH-148 Cyclone
FN HerstalFN MAG C67.62 mm self-defence machine gun1980sUsed by CH-146 Griffon, CH-147F Chinook and CH-148 Cyclone
Dillon AeroM1347.62 mm self-defence machine gun2011Used by CH-146 Griffon
Browning Arms CompanyM3M0.50 cal machine gun2013Used by CH-146 Griffon

ManufacturerOriginNameTypeIn ServiceNotes
Systems & Electronics, Inc.60K TunnerMaterial handling equipment2008Used with CC-177 transport
JBT AeroTechHalvorsen 44K LoadersTruck Aircraft Side Load Unload Loader20084 for use with CC-177; licensed from Static Engineering of Australia
Mobile Arrestor Gear
FMC Corp.B-1200Aircraft towing tractor2008Used to tow CC-177 and CC-130

Retired weapons

Current structure

The Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, located at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, commands and provides strategic direction to the Air Force.
The commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and Canadian NORAD Region, based in Winnipeg, is responsible for the operational command and control of Air Force activities throughout Canada and worldwide. The RCAF's other Air Division, 2 Canadian Air Division, was established in June 2009, and consists of training establishments.
There are 13 wings across Canada, 11 operational and 2 used for training. Wings represent the grouping of various squadrons, both operational and support, under a single tactical commander reporting to the operational commander. Ten wings also include a Canadian Forces base along with other operational and support units.
The rank of general is held when an air officer is serving as Chief of the Defence Staff. The Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force holds the rank of lieutenant-general. Divisions are commanded by major-generals. Brigadier-generals are typically second-in-command of a division. Wings are commanded by colonels. Squadrons are commanded by lieutenant-colonels. Majors are typically second-in-command of squadrons, or flight commanders. Captains, lieutenants and second lieutenants are the junior level leaders in RCAF squadrons and headquarters.

1 Canadian Air Division

The 1 Canadian Air Division serves as the operational command and control of Air Force activities and is commanded by Major-General J.P.A. Pelletier. The commander of 1 Canadian Air Division also serves as the commander of the Canadian NORAD Region, and as the Joint Force Air Component Commander for the Canadian Joint Operations Command.
FormationCurrent commanderLocationSquadronsNotes
1 Wing KingstonColonel Travis A. MorehenCFB Kingston
Headquartered at CFB Kingston, 1 Wing provides airlift support of troops and equipment anywhere in the world. Its tactical helicopter squadrons are spread out across Canada; six operate the CH-146 Griffon helicopter and one operates the CH-147F Chinook helicopter.
3 Wing BagotvilleColonel Normand GagnéCFB Bagotville
  • 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron
  • 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron
  • 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron
  • 439 Combat Support Squadron
  • 3 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • 12 Radar Squadron
  • 3 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Forward Operating Location Iqaluit
  • Located in Quebec's Saguenay region, 3 Wing provides general purpose, multi-role, combat-capable forces in support of domestic and international roles of Canada's air force.
    4 Wing Cold LakeColonel Paul DoyleCFB Cold Lake
  • 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron
  • 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron
  • 410 Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron
  • 417 Combat Support Squadron
  • 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron
  • 1 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • 42 Radar Squadron
  • 10 Field Technician Squadron
  • 4 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Forward Operating Location Inuvik
  • Forward Operating Location Yellowknife
  • The busiest fighter base in Canada, 4 Wing provides general purpose, multi-role, combat-capable forces in support of domestic and international roles of Canada's air force. Home of fighter pilot training for the Canadian Forces, 4 Wing attracts top gun crews from all over the world to its annual air combat exercise, Maple Flag. Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, north of the base, is the only tactical bombing range in western Canada. The one million hectare range includes the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, 4 Wing's primary test range.
    5 Wing Goose BayLieutenant-Colonel Stéphane RacleCFB Goose Bay
  • 444 Combat Support Squadron
  • 5 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Forward Operating Location Goose Bay
  • The site of NATO tactical ultra-low-level flight training in Canada, 5 Wing, located in Labrador, hosts temporary detachments from several NATO nations. Goose Bay Weapons Range is the only tactical bombing range in eastern Canada. The thirteen million hectare range includes ultra-low-level flying training to 100 feet above ground level, supersonic flight areas, and an inert conventional and precision guided munitions bombing range. 5 Wing is the home of 444 Combat Support Squadron and serves as a NORAD CF-18 Hornet deployed operating base and airfield supporting a mix of aviation activities, military and civilian, in eastern Canada.
    8 Wing TrentonColonel Mark GouldenCFB Trenton
  • Canadian Forces Station Alert, Nunavut
  • 412 Transport Squadron
  • 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron
  • 426 Transport Training Squadron
  • 429 Transport Squadron
  • 436 Transport Squadron
  • 437 Transport Squadron
  • 440 Transport Squadron
  • Multi-Engine Utility Flight
  • 2 Air Movements Squadron
  • 8 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • 8 Air Wing Reserve Flight
  • 8 Wing is the heart of Canada's air mobility forces, from delivering supplies to the high Arctic to airlifting troops and equipment worldwide. It is also responsible for search and rescue in central Canada and home to the Skyhawks Parachute Team with the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre. It is also the largest Air Force base in Canada.
    9 Wing GanderLieutenant-Colonel Jenn WeissenbornCFB Gander
  • 103 Search and Rescue Squadron
  • 9 Wing Reserve Flight
  • Air Reserve Flight Detachment Torbay
  • Providing search and rescue services to eastern Canada and the western Atlantic Ocean. SAR crews at 9 Wing Gander fly the AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant helicopter and are responsible for a huge area, covering the lower Arctic, Labrador, Newfoundland, the Maritimes and the North Atlantic from the shores of Newfoundland to 30° west.
    12 Wing ShearwaterColonel Sid ConnorCFB Halifax
  • 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron
  • 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron
  • 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron.
  • 12 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • 12 Wing Operational Support Squadron
  • 12 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • The centre of naval aviation in Canada, 12 Wing operates CH-148 Cyclone helicopters, and supports the Royal Canadian Navy with helicopter air detachments for surface warships in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.
    14 Wing GreenwoodColonel G. Michael AdamsonCFB Greenwood
  • 404 Maritime Patrol and Training Squadron
  • 405 Maritime Patrol Squadron
  • 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron
  • 415 Long Range Patrol Force Development Squadron
  • 14 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • 14 Construction Engineering Squadron
  • 91 Construction Engineering Flight
  • 143 Construction Engineering Flight
  • 144 Construction Engineering Flight
  • 14 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Located in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, 14 Wing's CP-140 Aurora crews conduct sovereignty and surveillance missions over the Atlantic Ocean routinely, while SAR capabilities for the Maritimes, eastern Quebec and the eastern Arctic are provided by CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and CC-130H Hercules fixed-wing aircraft.
    17 Wing WinnipegColonel Eric CharronCFB Winnipeg
  • 402 City of Winnipeg Squadron
  • 17 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Comprising two squadrons and six schools, 17 Wing also provides support to the Central Flying School, as well as headquarters and administration support for NORAD operations.
    19 Wing ComoxColonel Mike AtkinsCFB Comox
  • 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron
  • 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron
  • 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron
  • 19 Air Maintenance Squadron
  • Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue, Comox
  • 192 Construction Engineering Squadron
  • 19 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • Located on Vancouver Island, its Aurora crews provide surveillance of the Pacific Ocean and western and Arctic regions. The Buffalo and Cormorant crews are responsible for search and rescue in British Columbia, Yukon and the North Pacific Ocean. The base is also used for training fighter pilots in tactical procedures on nearby ranges.
    22 Wing North BayColonel Mark LachapelleCFB North Bay
  • 21 Aerospace Control and Warning Squadron
  • 51 Aerospace Control and Warning Operational Training Squadron
  • 22 Wing Air Reserve Flight
  • 22 Wing represents one of Canada's major contributions to the North American Aerospace Defence agreement. Personnel watch over Canada's airspace 24 hours a day, using state-of-the-art sensors, computer and communications equipment.

    2 Canadian Air Division

    2 Canadian Air Division is primarily responsible for training and education throughout the RCAF. It is currently commanded by Brigadier-General Mario Leblanc. From 2011 to 2013 the commanding officer was Brigadier-General Martin Galvin. The initial announcement of the Division, published after it was created on June 25, 2009, said:
    Brigadier-General Rick Pitre assumed command of the Canadian Force’s most recent formation, the newly established 2 Canadian Air Division/Air Force Doctrine and Training Division in a formal ceremony at 17 Wing, Winnipeg on Thursday, June 25. The Air Force has embarked on what Brig. Gen. Pitre calls “a new and exciting chapter in our rich air force history.” Commander 2 Canadian Air Division is now responsible for all Air Force doctrine, individual training and education. In addition to the Canadian Aerospace Warfare Centre located at 8 Wing Trenton, Brigadier General Pitre will oversee the conduct and management of training establishments at: 15 Wing Moose Jaw, 16 Wing Borden, and a new Air Force Training Centre comprising several Air Force schools and training institutions. In addition, he will have oversight of training conducted by the Prairie Cadet Region.

    FormationCurrent commanderLocationSquadronsNotes
    15 Wing Moose JawColonel Denis O’ReillyCFB Moose Jaw
    The site of the NATO Flying Training Program in Canada which is supported by 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School, 15 Wing is also home to the Snowbirds, the air force's aerobatic team and the 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School. 2 CFFTS produces Jet and Instructor pilots and 3 CFFTS produces Rotary and Multi-Engine pilots.
    16 Wing BordenCFB Borden
  • Royal Canadian Air Force Academy
  • Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering
  • Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations
  • This base is the location of the largest training facility in the Canadian Forces. 16 Wing's schools provide air force technical training and professional development and is the historic birthplace of the RCAF. 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron is a lodger unit based at Borden's airfield.The Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering, located in Borden, Ontario, delivers Aerospace Engineering Officers and conducts apprentice level training for various trades, including Avionics, Aviation, Aircraft Structures and Imagery technicians. The role of CFSATE is to provide the Air Force with qualified personnel to ensure Aircraft serviceability. CFSATE develops and carries out individual aerospace engineering training in accordance with approved doctrine and standards.

    Other units

    Former units

    As the tasking authority responsible for the Canadian Contracted Air Transport Unit, the wing commander provided advice, co-ordination and supervision over its six leased Mi-8 medium lift helicopters. The air wing had about 450 personnel, serving with the Theatre Support Element in the Persian Gulf region and the Tactical UAV Flight at Kandahar Airfield. The wing officially stood down on 18 August 2011.

    Rank structure



    Non-commissioned members

    On 1 April 2015, the rank structure and insignia changed. The rank of private was replaced with that of aviator. The previously used term "leading aircraftman" was considered not to be gender neutral. Insignia were also changed from golden yellow to a pearl-grey colour similar to that worn before unification of Canada's Armed Forces in 1968. A revival of the former rank titles of the RCAF did not occur, however, as such an extensive change was considered "too complicated and confusing". Instead, the current rank titles were retained. The Royal Flying Corps, considered to be a predecessor of the RCAF, used rank titles similar to the existing rank titles of the RCAF.



    The badge of the Royal Canadian Air Force consists of:
    Roundels used from 1920 until 1945 were usually the same as Royal Air Force roundels although not all variations were used and colours were matched to locally available paints.