May 26th, 2024

City honours RCAF with Centennial Day; Medicine Hat rich with aviation history

By BRENDAN MILLER on April 12, 2024.

Joining Mayor Linnsie Clark for the signing of a Proclamation declaring April 11th, 2024 as Royal Canadian Air Force Centennial Day, from left, Wes Krause, president of the Medicine Hat Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society; Arnie Macauley, CWO (Ret.) RCAF SAR Tech; Cpt. Timothy Munsie, commanding officer, Royal Canadian Air Cadets No. 15 Squadron Medicine Hat; and Matt Klimaszewski, president Royal United Services Institute Medicine Hat. The RCAF Ensign and RCAF 10th Commemorative flag this week at city hall.--SUBMITTED PHOTO

Mayor Linnsie Clark signed a proclamation declaring April 11 as RCAF Centennial Day in Medicine Hat as the air force celebrated its 100th anniversary of service as a distinct military element on April 1.

It grew from the Canadian Air Corps – established with one aircraft and a crew in 1914 – to the fourth most powerful air force involved in the Second World War.

In 1918 the Canadian Air Corps changed to the Canadian Air Force and was still largely manned with British Royal pilots.

In 1924 the Air Corps officially became the Royal Canadian Air Force after receiving Royal Assent from King George V and has since defended and protected North American airspace and contributed to several international peace and security missions.

“It was 1943, the Royal Canadian Air Force was the fourth largest Air Force in World War Two and that included Allies and Axis forces,” explains Wes Krause, president of the Medicine Hat Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society.

At that time the air force consisted of more than 215,000 airmen and 17,000 airwomen.

Only two years before receiving Royal assent in April 1941, No. 34 Service Flying Training School was opened in Medicine Hat and would go on to train more than 22,000 men and women who served overseas.

“At that time I think there’s four massive hangers out there (location of current airport) and dozens of outbuilding,” says Krause. “The interesting thing, they’re all cookie-cutter design, meaning that every single base across Canada used exactly the same design.”

Service men and women from Canada as well as several Commonwealth nations and allies including Argentina, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Poland and South Africa, would gather in Medicine Hat to start learning how to fly an aircraft.

“It’s just mind blowing how they brought this amalgam of nations together to train under the auspices of the British Commonwealth for service during wartime.” says Krause.

At this stage in training, airmen and airwomen would have already completed elementary flight training and would learn how to actually get airborne and land an aircraft.

“And take off from the ground and fly around in a pattern following your compass readings and then come back and land.” explains Krause.

Krause says southern Alberta’s flat geography is ideal for training new pilots how to operate an aircraft.

“If you’re flying, the ground is not your friend,” says Krause. “You want to stay flying until you carefully land the airplane. If the airplane and the ground come together too fast, that’s not a good plan.”

Not everyone was qualified to become a pilot and it was during flight training at bases including Medicine Hat that service men and women would be given support roles in the air force that included gunner, navigation, bomb, aimer, mechanic or radio operator.

Airmen and airwomen would then be sent to other service flying training schools around the Country to further develop their skillsets.

On April 8 the Medicine Hat Chapter of the Aviation Historical Society held an event at the Monarch Theatre to honour the centennial anniversary. The event featured a series of film clips relating to this history of the air force.

The event highlighted the Golden Hawks, an RCAF aerobatic team that flew in the 1950s and 60s, the British Commonwealth training plan, the Avro Arrow interceptor aircraft that was designed and built in Canada in the late 50s, as well as the RCAF’s search and rescue teams.

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