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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.

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.[2]

This new CAF began as a small non-permanent air militia managed by the Air Board. Its purpose was to give refresher flying courses to veterans and operated at Camp Borden.[1] The training scheme was short-lived, however, and training was stopped in 1922. When the Air Board was absorbed into 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]

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.[4] 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.[2]

Heads of the Canadian Air Force

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roberts 1959, p. 33.
  2. 2.0 2.1 p.10 Shaw, S. Bernard Photographing Canada from Flying Canoes General Store Publishing House, 2001
  3. Milberry 1984, p. 21
  4. Roberts 1959, p. 54.
  6. 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.

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