From inception in 1957 to termination in 1970, the Red Knight aerobatic display was associated with the air force’s Training Command. All Red Knight personnel, (i.e. pilots, crewmen and support personnel), were members of Training Command. In fact, to apply for the role of Red Knight, a candidate pilot required at least one year of experience in Training Command and an 'A' category instructor’s rating. In most cases, the Red Knight pilots had to practice their aerobatic routines outside of regular working hours, so as not to interfere with their duties as instructors. Perhaps surprisingly, the Red Knight aircraft were often utilized for student pilot instruction, outside of the air show season.

In the paragraphs that follow, J.E. 'Jack' Waters, (the 1967 Red Knight), provides a brief history of Training Command, describes the organization’s structure and how it operated during the era of the Red Knight.

“By the year 1955, RCAF pilot training reached a peak of excellence, which was maintained until about 1970, when the combined effects of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) reorganization, personnel and equipment reductions, and the need to respond to new technologies forced changes.

The ascent to the peak of pilot training excellence began during World War I, as young Canadian men enrolled in England’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to learn the new arts of fixed-wing flying and waging war in the air. These young Canadians are epitomized in the names and exploits of William Avery ‘Billy’ Bishop and Roy Brown. Bishop was one of Canada’s first air aces and Brown is reputed to have shot down Germany’s Baron von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron.’ At home in Canada one of the British Empire’s first pilot training schools outside Britain was established in 1917 at Armour Heights, Ont, near Toronto’s present Downsview airport.

After the war, Bishop and his compatriots kept interest in military flying alive. In 1922, the Air Board of the Canadian Air Force (CAF) drafted a proposal of basic standards and training criteria for pilot candidates. To qualify as a pilot candidate, a person had to be male, (although this was taken for granted in those days), unmarried, a science or engineering undergraduate at a Canadian university, a member of a Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) unit at the university, under 21 years of age, and physically fit for service as a pilot. The first course of pilots began their training in May 1923.

On April 1st 1924, the Royal Canadian Air Force was formed with units at Camp Borden near Barrie, Ont, and at Trenton, Ont. Seven candidates, four from the initial course and three cadets from the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ont, graduated as pilot officers in December of that year. They were the first seven pilots to win their wings with the RCAF.

Nine of these courses, officially known as Provisional Pilot Officer (PPO) courses, were held between 1923 and 1933. Back then, not all the graduates were assured of service in the RCAF. Some of the pilots who finished their training, as pilot officers were restricted to only 28 days of active duty every two years. Others were simply placed on a list of reserves, to be called to active duty in a crisis. It was, of course, the depths of the Great Depression and Canada’s air force had more pilots than it could use. This would all change six years later with the commencement of World War II.

By the early 1940s, Trenton had become the home of an RCAF Training Command; one of four such commands created in Canada to support the British Commonwealth war efforts as World War II was spreading over Europe. Under these commands dozens of flying training stations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) mushroomed throughout Canada, principally in Southern Ontario and on the Prairies. Tiny towns such as Dunnville, Ont, and Yorkton, Sask, saw an influx of young pilot trainees from all over the Empire and from the United States (Americans who enlisted in the RCAF).

The BCATP was fundamental to everything that followed regarding pilot training in post-World War II Canada, because it established and entrenched concepts of selection and training for RCAF pilots, for other Commonwealth pilots and for pilots of other nations.

By the early 1950s the ideas, the lessons, the trained pilots, the airfields and many of the training aircraft of the BCATP were available to establish an RCAF pilot training program to meet emerging Cold War requirements. Less than a decade after the end of World War II there was again a need for trained military pilots numbering in the thousands. They were needed for service with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) squadrons in the defence of Europe, with North American Air Defence (NORAD) forces in defence of North America and with United Nations (UN) units employed in worldwide peacekeeping operations.

Thus, by about 1955 the RCAF pilot training program was mature, professional and endowed with superb resources, including modern airfields and state-of-the-art aircraft, such as the T-33 Silver Star advanced jet trainer, a two-seat version of America’s first jet fighter, the F-80 Shooting Star. Significantly, by 1957 every pilot graduate had to master the T-33 (which was affectionately dubbed the ‘T-Bird’) to earn his RCAF Wings.

RCAF Training Command - Organizational Structure
RCAF Training Command - Organizational Structure

The typical aspiring RCAF pilot in the mid-fifties was male; a high school graduate in his late teens and possessed a high aptitude for mathematics, general reasoning and communication. He also had to be in very good general health, have excellent eyesight, and be well coordinated. After the initial Recruiting Centre screening, applicants underwent a rigorous two to three week period of observation at the Officer and Aircrew Selection Unit at RCAF Stn Crumlin near London, Ont.

They were put through a series of individual and group tests designed to determine leadership aptitude and ability to work well in a group. The purpose was to determine their suitability to become officers, since all RCAF pilots were also required to qualify for an officer’s commission. Furthermore, applicants were subjected to physiological and psychological tests to verify good physical and mental health. As well there were tests of spatial orientation and coordination to determine aptitudes to pilot or navigate an aircraft and to simultaneously operate complex weapons systems.

An idea of the rigor and extreme pressure of the officer and aircrew selection process may be gained by a review of the progress of a ‘typical’ intake of candidates. Of 100 applicants, 50 were selected for RCAF enrollment. Of these 50, 35 were selected as pilot trainees and 15 as navigators or weapons systems trainees. Before leaving RCAF Stn Crumlin, the selectees were enrolled as RCAF flight cadets, issued with uniforms and introduced to RCAF discipline, drill and physical fitness training.

The next step for the new flight cadets was training at Pre-Flight School, located at RCAF Stn Centralia near London, Ont. This was a former BCATP airfield and still operational for flying, but the flight cadets never went near an aircraft. Instead they spent three months in a program of academics, physical fitness training and RCAF drill and discipline. The academics were heavy on mathematics, physics, English, and air force history. The fitness training was intense and difficult, and the drill and discipline were relentless. The routine was, ‘lights out’ at 10:30 p.m. and ‘wake-up’ at 6 a.m. At the end of three months, 45 of the original 50 flight cadets graduated.

These 45 then proceeded west by train to begin the first air phase of their training, the navigator selectees, numbering 14, at Winnipeg and the pilot selectees, numbering 31, at Claresholm, 75 miles south of Calgary, Alta. RCAF Stn Claresholm was one of three flying training schools (FTS) in 1955. The other two were located at Penhold, 75 miles north of Calgary and Moose Jaw, 75 miles west of Regina, Sask. All three schools were located on former BCATP airfields. Every nine weeks each received a trainee intake of about 30 flight cadets who participated in a nine-month course. The combined total RCAF pilot training population of the three flying training schools was constantly over 300. About 100 trainees from other NATO air forces augmented this total. The foreign trainees came from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Norway and Turkey. With them came foreign instructor pilots who assisted the Canadian flying instructor staff. The language of instruction was English. A Canadian instructor might, at any one time, have four students, a Canadian, a Dane, an Italian and an Englishman. Similarly, a Dutch instructor might have a Turk, a Belgian, a Canadian and a German student.

Over nine months at the flying training schools, the RCAF and foreign students underwent flying training as well as hours of classroom instruction in aerodynamics, aircraft engineering, meteorology, flight safety and such officer development subjects as writing, speaking and problem solving. The day usually started with a pre-breakfast five mile run and terminated with ‘lights out’ at 10:30 p.m. At least half of every day was spent on the flight line. The first order of business for the flight cadets in their World War II era flying suits, headsets, boots and gloves was the flight selection phase. This consisted of 15 to 20 hours of instruction in either the De Havilland Chipmunk aircraft or the Harvard. These hours were spent practicing take-offs, landings, basic climbs, descents, turns and stalls. The culmination was the flight cadet’s ‘first solo.’ After that achievement a further 160 hours was devoted to dual and solo flight in the Harvard. The training consisted of clear weather flying (clear hood), instrument flying (IF), aerobatics, formation flying, and high, medium and low altitude navigation.

deHavilland Canada DHC-1 “Chipmunk” (Photo credit: John Corrigan)
deHavilland Canada DHC-1 'Chipmunk' (Photo credit: John Corrigan)

North American “Harvard” Mk. IV (Photo credit: John Corrigan)
North American “Harvard” Mk. IV (Photo credit: John Corrigan)

After nine months and 180 total flight hours, the flight cadets were commissioned as pilot officers (P/O) and sent to the final phase of their pilot training at an advanced flying school (AFS), where if successful they were awarded their RCAF wings.

Of the 31 Canadian trainees of the ‘typical intake’ who had started flying training school, 26 went on to Advanced Flying School at Portage la Prairie, 60 miles west of Winnipeg. Portage was one of three advanced flying schools in the system. Like the others, one at Gimli, 60 miles north of Winnipeg, and another at Macdonald, 16 miles northwest of Portage, it was a former BCATP station. The training aircraft was the T-33 Silver Star and the numbers of trainees at all three schools totaled over 300 Canadian and foreign students at any one time. The training duration was about three months and the manoeuvres were generally similar to the previous training at the flying training schools. There were, however, significant differences. The previous training had been conducted at altitudes below 10,000 ft, where supplemental oxygen was not required, and at speeds below 200 nautical miles per hour, where pilot stresses are generally low and the range of operations was only a few hundred miles. In the T-33 at Advanced Flying School, flights were conducted up to 40,000 ft and supplemental oxygen was required, speeds were up to 500 knots, pilot stresses were high and the range of operations generally matched or exceeded any aircraft flying at the time.

Canadair T-33AN 'Silver Star' Mk. 3
Canadair T-33AN 'Silver Star' Mk. 3

Of the students at Advanced Flying School Portage la Prairie 21 of the ‘typical intake’ of Canadian trainees were awarded RCAF wings and promoted to the rank of flying officer (F/O).

Thus, of the 100 candidates who entered selection at RCAF Stn Crumlin one-and-a-half years previously, these 21 were fortunate enough to become trained RCAF pilots, ready to proceed to post-graduate flying duties.

After receiving their wings, the Canadian pilots and their foreign companions proceeded to operational duties via various operational training units (OTUs). Those Canadians destined for F-86 ‘Sabre’ duties on Canadian squadrons in Europe went to the Day Fighter Operational Training Course in Chatham, NB. Aspiring CF-100 ‘Canuck’ pilots went to Cold Lake, Alta to train for duties with squadrons in Canada and overseas. Pilots destined for twin and multi-engine operations went first to Winnipeg to gain experience on the twin-engined C-45 ‘Expeditor.’ From there, transport selectees went to Trenton, Ont, or Edmonton to fly the DC-3, the ‘North Star’ or the C-119 ‘Flying Boxcar.’ Maritime selectees went to Greenwood, NS, or to Comox, BC to fly the ‘Argus’ or the ‘Neptune’, which was a rather unique airplane possessed of two piston and two jet engines. As for the foreign students, they returned to their own countries for assignment to various OTUs prior to fighter, transport, or maritime duties. Finally, a few Canadian pilots were assigned immediately to Training Command to become ‘pipeline’ instructors on Chipmunk, Harvard or T-33 aircraft. These pipeliners became part of Training Command flying instructional cadre, which by policy contained the broadest possible mix of experience and age.

Beechcraft Model 18, a.k.a C-45 'Expeditor' (Photo credit: John Corrigan)
Beechcraft Model 18, a.k.a C-45 'Expeditor' (Photo credit: John Corrigan)

A typical instructional flight at any one of the flying training schools or advanced flying schools might be staffed by seven former Canadian fighter pilots, by a Dutch air force pilot with experience on reconnaissance operations in the Dutch East Indies, by a World War II Spitfire pilot, by a young Canadian transport pilot fresh from flying the De Havilland Comet and, of course, by one or two pipeliners fresh from T-33 training. The typical commander of such a flight was a 30-year-old who had extensive operational experience.

Central Flying School

The Central Flying School CrestSince the pilot training system was large and geographically dispersed it required a focal point, which was not just an administrative headquarters. That focal point was Central Flying School (CFS) at Trenton, Ont. This unit was staffed by pilots of proven high qualities and abilities who possessed the top instructional qualification (A1 Category). Their role was to constantly oversee the operations of all flying training units to ensure strict adherence to established standards and to flight safety and professionalism.

On a typical randomly selected two week visit to a training unit the Central Flying School ‘Trappers’ or ‘Black Hatters’ as they were affectionately dubbed, would fly with instructors to verify or upgrade (and sometimes downgrade) their instructional categories, which ranged from the lowest C to B to A2 and, finally to A1. Also, the ‘Trappers’ flew with selected students, both Canadian and foreign to verify training practices and standards.

Finally, they delved into every aspect of support services, from air traffic control to maintenance in order to verify professional standards and practices. The existence of Central Flying School ensured that the pilot graduates of Training Command consistently met the requirements of the RCAF and its NATO air forces allies for capable and professional pilots.

While it is true that a much-formalized approach to RCAF pilot training existed under the aegis of Training Command, it is very important to record that the system was capable of great flexibility. There were many variations of the path to earn RCAF wings. The RCAF Reserve, formerly called the Auxiliary, channeled trainees into the system on the basis of one or two per intake. Upon graduation, most reservists returned to weekend flying duties with Reserve squadrons and simultaneously took up employment with airlines, which were just on the threshold of all-jet worldwide operations.

Another example of flexibility was a program whereby RCAF military college and university students gained their wings over a four to five year period of pilot training during summers and academic breaks. In the same spirit of flexibility the pilot training system channeled previously trained military pilots into various mid-stream points of the system with a view to renewing their wings on the T-33 Silver Star. Interesting examples of such wings’ renewals were the former World War II Luftwaffe pilots who updated their skills on the T-33. More than one of these German pilots had first flown jet aircraft in World War II.

As the decade of the 1960s progressed, even greater demands for Training Command flexibility emerged. The challenge lay in the need to respond to a new generation of aircraft. The Canadian-built Tutor replaced the Harvard trainer and it became possible to introduce students to the full range of flying operations (altitudes to 40,000 ft and speeds of 400 knots in one training aircraft. Also, the helicopter and high performance multi-engine aircraft entered the scene. The single wing’s standard on the T-33, while ideal in the 1950s for aspiring fighter pilots, became less and less defensible, fiscally and operationally.

Training Command, with the assistance of Central Flying School, managed to make the needed transition to multiple wings standards, and by the late 1960s students were also graduating with multi-engine wings after a core introduction of Tutor flying training. Similarly, by the mid-seventies, students were graduating with helicopter wings after a core introduction of Tutor flying training. The era of the peak of excellence that was so much characterized by the single wings standard on T-33s gradually closed as the air force sought to refashion the pilot training system to meet the needs of the future. A future that promised continuous reductions in equipment, facilities, funding, and personnel while technological requirements became increasingly more sophisticated.

Flying Instructors’ School

The RCAF’s Flying Instructors' School (FIS) was formed in Trenton on Jan 18th 1940. During the next three decades, the FIS went through many changes in its organization, location and type of aircraft flown.

On Apr 17th 1940, FIS was re-designated Central Flying School (CFS). On Aug 3rd, it was divided into three separate flying instructor schools. The No. 1 FIS remained at Trenton, while No. 2 formed at Vulcan, Alta and No. 3 FIS was established at Arnprior, Ont. In March of 1943, No. 2 FIS was ordered to move to Pearce, Alta, where it remained until it was disbanded on Jan 20th 1945. The need for trained instructors had been declining for some time and by then No. 3 FIS had been closed for almost a year.

That left only No. 1 FIS operational. Still based at Trenton, it combined with Central Flying School on Jan 24th 1945. With hostilities continuing in Korea, it was re-formed as an independent unit on Apr 1st 1951. The school remained at Trenton until Apr 8th 1959, when it was relocated to RCAF Stn Moose Jaw, with a detachment for advance flying training at RCAF Stn Portage la Prairie. The detachment at Portage provided advanced instructor training on the T-33 and the C-45 Expeditors. During this period, basic instructor training was conducted at RCAF Stn Moose Jaw, using Harvard aircraft.

On Jun 18th 1964, all instructor training was consolidated at Portage la Prairie. Basically, the No. 1 FIS detachment in Portage was amalgamated with No. 1 FIS in Moose Jaw, which was simultaneously transferred to RCAF Stn Portage la Prairie. This coincided with the introduction of the CT-114 Tutor, the RCAF’s new basic jet trainer.

On Oct 13th 1966, No. 1 FIS became a detachment of Central Flying School, while remaining at Portage. Less than a year later, on Aug 31st 1967, the name of the school was changed to the Central Flying and Navigation School (CFNS). Surviving the integration of the Canadian Armed Forces in the late 1960s, No. 1 FIS continued to provide Tutor instructor training until it was disbanded as an independent unit in 1970.

The FIS function has been the focal point of pilot training system professionalism. All system pilots have been and continue to be FIS graduates. As such they are unique in the air force by virtue of the combined circumstances of their selection, their immersion in the theory of instruction through courses of instructional technique, and by their formal FIS ‘rite-of-passage’ in the practical ‘hands-on,’ ‘one-on-one’ business of learning how to guide a pilot trainee through all aspects of a pilot training course, from ‘first family’ to ‘wings.’

The selection of pilots to be instructors is critical to system success. What is needed and constantly sought is a mix of pilots from the full spectrum of operational theatres, i.e. from maritime patrol squadrons, fighter squadrons, transport, and search and rescue squadrons and specialized units, such as test organizations. Interestingly the mix of aspiring instructors almost invariably includes recent pilot training graduates, so called ‘pipeliners.’

As well as an experienced mix there has to be a broad mix of ages and linguistic skills to cater to the needs of a diverse student body, the latter because, even though the ‘Lingua Franca’ of aviation is English, the reality is that some students will inevitably require ‘tutorial assistance’ in their mother tongue from time to time.

On a final note regarding selection of pilots to become instructors the system has to be very, very careful to select even tempered individuals possessed of self-discipline and very good ‘air sense,’ and above all, a keen sensitivity to the human condition (military pilot trainees are invariably beset by extreme psychological stresses and fears.)

A snapshot of the FIS follows, (the time frame is 1957.) The FIS selectees all commenced the course by an intensive period of academic training in the theory of instruction conducted by School of Instructional Technique (SIT) staff, many of who were teaching professionals. The academic course ranged from lectures to tutorials regarding the preparation of lesson plans to practical teaching sessions, both in the classroom setting and one-on-one. At the end of two weeks of classes and hours of homework prospective instructors had acquired the ‘tools’ to proceed to the aircraft, be it a Harvard, T-33 or Chipmunk, to practice instructing ‘students’ who were in reality FIS staff pilots, well versed in acting as ‘typical’ students.

For some reason these ‘actors’ were all named ‘Smedley.’ ‘Now, Smedley, I want you to perform a power-on stall. Smoothly now Smedley, raise the nose and pull back the throttle. Okay now Smedley, keep raising the nose and slowly advance the throttle. Fine, fine Smedley, do you feel the burble? You do? Okay that’s the stall. Now Smedley, recover from the stall. No! No! Smedley not that way! Okay Smedley let’s see whether you remember how to recover from a spin! You don’t Smedley! Okay Smedley, I have control!’ (The foregoing dialogue was always conducted in a calm voice - so as not to distress ‘Smedley,’ theoretically!)

Thus went the aspiring flying instructor through all phases of the flying course (aerobatics, instrument flying, formation flying, etc.) until he convinced the FIS staff that he was in full control of ‘Smedley’ - namely that he could effectively brief Smedley on the ground, instruct and test him in the air and return ‘Smedley’ safely to the ground.

After about three months of FIS training the successful graduates where awarded a provisional instructor category qualification, ‘C’ category, and posted to a flying school to hone their skills on ‘real’ students - many of whom often out performed FIS’s ‘Smedley’ in pure ineptness and selective hearing.”

J.E. 'Jack' Waters, LCol (Ret’d)