| image = Royal Canadian Air Force Badge.svg
| image_size = 250px
| caption = Badge of the Royal Canadian Air Force
| start_date =
| country =
| allegiance =
| branch =
| type = Air force
| role = Aerial warfare
| size = 391 operational aircraft
Regular Force 14,500 Regular force members
Reserve Force: 2,600 Reserve force members
Civilian members: 2,500 civilian members
["Purpose – General Information."](_blank)
''National Defence'', 23 April 2008. Retrieved: 2 September 2009.
| command_structure = Canadian Armed Forces
| garrison = National Defence Headquarters
, Ottawa, Ontario
| garrison_label = Headquarters
| nickname =
| patron =
| motto = la|Sic Itur ad Astra
"Such is the pathway to the stars"
Latin: Per Ardua ad Astra
"Through Adversity to the Stars" (1924–1968)
| colours =
| colours_label =
| march = RCAF March Past
| mascot =
| anniversaries = Armed Forces Day
(first Sunday of June)
| equipment =
| equipment_label =
| battles = * Second World War Battle of Britain Battle of the Atlantic Battle of the St. Lawrence European Bombing campaign Western Front
* Korean War
* Gulf War Operation Friction
* Operation Deliberate Force
* Cambodian Civil War
* Kosovo War Operation Echo
* War in Afghanistan
* Intervention in Libya Operation Unified Protector Operation Mobile
* Military intervention against ISIL Operation Impact
| decorations =
| battle_honours =
| battle_honours_label =
| flying_hours =
| website =
| commander1 = , of Canada
represented by Richard Wagner
, Administrator of Canada
| commander1_label = Commander-in-Chief
| commander2 = Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger
| commander2_label = Commander of the Air Force
| notable_commanders =
| identification_symbol =
| identification_symbol_label = Roundel
| identification_symbol_2 =
| identification_symbol_2_label = Fin flash
| identification_symbol_3 =
| identification_symbol_3_label = Ensign
| aircraft_attack =
| aircraft_bomber =
| aircraft_electronic =
| aircraft_fighter = CF-18 Hornet
| aircraft_helicopter = CH-139 JetRanger
, CH-146 Griffon
, CH-147 Chinook
, CH-148 Cyclone
, CH-149 Cormorant
| aircraft_helicopter_attack =
| aircraft_helicopter_cargo =
| aircraft_helicopter_multirole =
| aircraft_helicopter_observation =
| aircraft_helicopter_trainer =
| aircraft_helicopter_utility =
| aircraft_interceptor =
| aircraft_patrol = CP-140 Aurora
, CP-140A Arcturus
| aircraft_recon = CU-170 Heron
| aircraft_trainer = CT-114 Tutor
, CT-142 Dash-8
, CT-155 Hawk
, CT-156 Harvard II
| aircraft_transport = CC-115 Buffalo
, CC-130H Hercules
, CC-130J Super Hercules
, CC-138 Twin Otter
, CC-144 Challenger
, CC-150 Polaris
, CC-177 Globemaster III
, CC-295 Kingfisher
| aircraft_tanker =
| aircraft_general =
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF; french: Aviation royale canadienne, ARC) 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 vehicle
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
(NORAD). 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
(ADC; interceptors), Air Transport Command
(ATC; airlift, search and rescue), Mobile Command
(tactical fighters, helicopters), Maritime Command
(anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol), as well as Training Command
In 1975, some commands were dissolved (ADC, ATC, TC), and all air units were placed under a new environmental command called simply Air Command (AIRCOM; ). 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.
The Canadian Air Force
(CAF) 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. Wing Commander John Scott Williams
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
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 (RCAF). 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.
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
(NORAD). Coastal defence and peacekeeping also became priorities during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1968, the Royal Canadian Navy
, Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Army
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 (AIRCOM).
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 patrol
s 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 Hornet
s took part in the Operation Allied Force
, 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 UAV
s 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.
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 (along with the change of name of Maritime Command to Royal Canadian Navy and Land Force Command to Canadian Army). 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 (although placed in the modern frame used for command badges). 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 (before it became the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924) 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 (apart from a rank of "Aviator", which replaced that of "Private" in 2015).
On 17 April 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper
announced that Canada
was dispatching six CF-18
s 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 A310 transports purchased in 1992 for use as strategic transports and air-to-air tankers to replace the Boeing CC-137
. Two have been converted to tankers and are designated the CC-150T. One is permanently configured for VIP transport
; five aircraft are operated by 437 Squadron
based at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario.
;Airbus CC-295 Kingfisher
:Twin-turboprop tactical search and rescue aircraft as replacement for the CC-115 Buffalo
and older-model C-130H
Hercules search and rescue aircraft
;BAE Systems CT-155 Hawk
:Single-engined lead-in fighter trainer leased in 2000. 16 aircraft in service, based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, SK and 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta.
;Beechcraft CT-156 Harvard II
:Single-engined trainer leased from CAE Inc.
to replace the Canadair CT-114 Tutor
. 24 aircraft based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
;Beechcraft King Air C-90B
:Multi-engine training aircraft. Leased to RCAF by Allied Wings
, 7 aircraft are based at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
;Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III
:Five strategic airlifters operated by 429 (T) Squadron
based at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario
. Four were delivered from 2007 to 2008, a fifth was delivered in 2015.
;Bombardier CC-144 Challenger
:Utility and VIP transport aircraft first delivered in 1982. Early Challenger 600 and 601 models were supplemented by 604 models in 2002. Four aircraft are operated by 412(T) Sqn
and based in Ottawa, but belong to 8 Wing Trenton.
;Canadair CT-114 Tutor
:Entered service in 1962 as a basic and advanced jet trainer with 190 originally ordered, replaced by the CT-156 Harvard II
and CT-155 Hawk
in 2000. A total of 26 aircraft remain in service, 24 of which are used by 431 Air Demonstration Squadron
, "The Snowbirds
;DHC CC-115 Buffalo
:A Twin-engined utility/cargo transport now used for search and rescue. Six are operated by 442 Transport and Rescue Sqn. at 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia.
;DHC CC-138 Twin Otter
:A twin-engined utility transport operated since the 1970s, four remain based at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, operated by 440 Transport Squadron.
;DHC CT-142 Dash 8
:Twin-engined converted regional airliner entered service in 1987 as an aerial navigation and tactics trainer, Four are operated by 402 "City of Winnipeg" Sqn and stationed at 17 Wing
, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
;Grob G 120
:Single engine primary trainer used to train pilot candidates before they move onto the Harvard II
. Leased to RCAF by KF Defence Programs
, 14 aircraft are based at 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School
in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
;Lockheed CC-130H Hercules
:Four-engined tactical transport. Several versions have been operated since 1960. Remaining CC-130Hs used for search and rescue and air-to-air refuelling. 8 aircraft remain in service,
five of which have been converted to air-to-air tankers. Based at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, and 17 Wing, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
;Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
:Four-engined maritime patrol aircraft based on the American Lockheed P-3 Orion
; entered service in 1980, 18 aircraft now based at 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, and 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
;Lockheed Martin CC-130J Super Hercules
:Four-engined tactical airlifter replacing earlier Hercules variants in that role. A total of 17 are in service operated by 436 (T) Squadron based at 8 Wing Trenton.
;McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet
:Fighter entered service in 1982 when 98 single-seat CF-18As and 40 two-seat CF-18Bs were ordered. Seventeen have been lost since 1984.
["CF-18 Hornet in Canadian Service."](_blank)
''ejection-history.org.uk.'' Retrieved: 26 September 2011.
Stationed at 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec and 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta; 60 CF-18As and 25 CF-18Bs remain in active service.
;McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
: 15 of the 18 have been delivered. Three are now flying with the Air Force while the remainder are still going through upgrades and changes to make them compatible with Canada’s needs.
;AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant
:Triple-engined search and rescue helicopter that replaced the CH-113 Labrador
. Fourteen delivered between 2000 and 2002. Based at (103 Squadron) 9 Wing Gander, Newfoundland; (413 Squadron) 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia; and (442 Squadron) 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia. One aircraft has been lost in a training accident.
;Bell CH-139 JetRanger
(Model C or III)
:Single-engined utility and training helicopter. Ordered for 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School at CFB Portage la Prairie, MB; an older variant (CH-136 - Jetranger A model), was used by Regular Forces in CFB Lahr in Germany and in Canada from 1972 - 1995 which were replaced by CH-146 Griffon
s. 12 aircraft remain, leased from Allied Wings
, used for flight training in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
;Bell CH-146 Griffon
:A utility transport tactical helicopter (UTTH) that entered service between 1995 and 1997. Original purchase of 100 aircraft to replace the CH-136 Kiowa (Bell 206), CH-135 Twin Huey (Bell 212), CH-118 Iroquois (Bell 205), and Boeing C-Model Chinooks CH-47C. Based at Bagotville, Quebec (439 Squadron), St. Hubert, Quebec (438 Squadron), Cold Lake, Alberta (417 Squadron), Gagetown, New Brunswick (403 Squadron), Valcartier, Quebec (430 Squadron), Goose Bay, Newfoundland (444 Squadron), Edmonton, Alberta (408 Squadron), and Borden, Ontario (400 Squadron); also perform search and rescue duties at 8 Wing Trenton (424 Squadron). Deployed to Afghanistan to provide escorts for the Chinooks, armed with a combination of 7.62mm C-6 machine gun, 7.62mm Dillon Aero M134D
Gatling gun, and GAU-21 .50 caliber machine gun on one or both doors.
["Canada Increases Air Capabilities in Afghanistan."](_blank)
''DND/CF News,'' November 2008. Retrieved: 13 March 2009
9 ex-RCAF Griffons, designated CT-146, are leased from Allied Wings
for pilot training at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
;Boeing CH-147F Chinook
:The CH-147F Chinook is an advanced, multi-mission, medium to heavy-lift helicopter. Its primary mission is the tactical transport of equipment and personnel during domestic or deployed operations. 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron
, under the command of 1 Wing Kingston
, Ontario, and based in CFB Petawawa
, Ontario, was re-established as the home of Canadaʼs fleet of 15 CH-147F Chinooks. The first two airframes underwent intensive operational test and evaluation in the United States for several months before Canada received the first airframe 147303 at an official acceptance ceremony at the Ottawa International Airport
on 27 June 2013. 15 aircraft are in service as of 2017.
;Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone
:Ship-based transport/anti-submarine helicopter based on the Sikorsky H-92 Superhawk
. Twenty-eight ordered to replace the Sea King from 2009. Delays pushed first delivery to 2015.
One aircraft was lost in an accident in April 2020.
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
* Two aircraft leased from Transwest Air Limited. Used by the Multi-Engine Utility Flight (MEUF) in CFB Trenton
. Flown by RCAF pilots, they are used for light transport of personnel and equipment within North America.
;Dornier Alpha Jet Type A
* Twelve civil aircraft are operated by Discovery Air Defence Services
for CATS (Contracted Airborne Training Services) and are based at CFB Cold Lake
and CFB Bagotville
;Hawker Hunter F.58
* Twelve civil aircraft are operated by Lortie Aviation, formerly Northern Lights International Airlines Ltd.. Based in CFB Cold Lake
["Tactical combat training provided to the armed forces of Canada, France and the United States."](_blank)
''Lortie Aviation.'' Retrieved: 26 September 2011.
ex-Swiss Air Force
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
:Designated CU-161; entered service in 2003, retired
:3 leased in 2009 for use in Afghanistan; turned over to the RAAF
Canadian Army/Navy UAS
;BAE Systems Silver Fox
:Acquired in 2004 by the Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre
;Boeing Insitu ScanEagle
:Designated CU-165; operated by the Canadian Army
:Designated CU-168; operated by the Canadian Army
;AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
:Operated by the Canadian Army
;AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma
:Acquired in 2018; operated by the Royal Canadian Navy
;Prioria Robotics Maveric
:Operated by the Canadian Army
:Acquired in 2019; operated by the Royal Canadian Navy
;Boeing Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack
:Designated CU-172; 5 acquired in 2016, operated by the Canadian Army
Weapons and other equipment
Weapons systems are used by the CF-18 Hornet, CP-140 Aurora, CH-146 Griffon and the CH-148 Cyclone.
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 Royal Canadian 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 wing
s across Canada, 11 operational and 2 used for training. Wings represent the grouping of various squadron
s, 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.
On 1 April 2015, the rank structure and insignia changed.
["New Royal Canadian Air Force uniform unveiled."](_blank)
''CTV Ottawa''1 April 2015.
The rank of private was replaced with that of aviator. The previously used term "leading aircraftman
" was considered not to be gender neutral.
''news.gc.ca'', April 2015.
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 (with the exception of aviator). The Royal Flying Corps
, considered to be a predecessor of the RCAF, used rank titles similar to the existing rank titles of the RCAF.
of the Royal Canadian Air Force consists of:
* St. Edward's Crown
* An eagle superimposed on a circlet
* A compartment
of maple leaves
* Motto: ''Sic Itur Ad Astra'' (Latin for "Such is the pathway to the stars")
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.
File:RCAF Type1 Roundel.png|1945–1946
File:Roundel of the Royal Canadian Air Force (1946-1965).svg|1946–1965
File:RCAF Centennial Roundel.svg|Canadian Centennial
File:Roundel of Canada.svg|1965–current
File:Roundel of Canada - Low Visibility.svg|Current
* Planned Canadian Forces projects
* Royal Canadian Air Force VIP aircraft
* Douglas, W. A. B.
''The Creation of a National Air Force: Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, v. 2.'' Toronto: University of Toronto Press (in co-operation with the Department of National Defence), 1986. .
* Milberry, Larry
, ed. ''Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984''. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. .
* Piggott, Peter. ''Flying Canucks: Famous Canadian Aviators.'' Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1996. .
* Piggott, Peter. ''Flying Canucks II: Pioneers of Canadian Aviation.'' Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1997. .
Canadian Air Force aircraft and equipment of Canada(Air recognition)"Roundel Round-Up" – Vintage Wings of Canada's history of British and Canadian roundel styles from 1914 through and into the 21st century''The Royal Canadian Air Force in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic'' Manuscript
at Dartmouth College Library
Category:Federal departments and agencies of Canada
Category:1924 establishments in Canada
Category:Military units and formations established in 1924
Category:Organizations based in Canada with royal patronage
Category:1968 disestablishments in Canada
Category:Military units and formations disestablished in 1968