Royal Canadian Air Force

Operator Profile

Key Facts

Current Title:
Royal Canadian Air Force
English Title:
Royal Canadian Air Force
First Established:
ICAO Code:


Narrative Summary

A short-lived Canadian Air Force was established in November 1918 in Europe, but disbanded in February 1920. Back at home, a new Canadian Air Force was formed in the same month by the Army as an auxiliary reservist force. On 1 April 1924 the Canadian Air Force was granted the title ‘Royal’ and gained a permanent staff. On 19 November 1938 the RCAF became an independent service, separate from the Army. On 1 February 1968 it amalgamated with the Army and Navy into a single service – the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). In 1975, the various CAF aviation units were reorganised into a single Air Command. On 31 July 1997, the previous organisation of Air Transport Group, Fighter Group, Maritime Air Group and 10 Tactical Air Group was replaced by 1 Canadian Air Division/Canadian NORAD Region (1 CAD/CANR). The word ‘Armed’ was dropped from the force title around the same time, resulting in the air force being known as the Canadian Forces Air Command. On 16 August 2011, the CAF Air Command was restored to its traditional title of Royal Canadian Air force.

Key Dates

18 February 1920 Canadian Air Force established.
1 April 1924 Royal prefix added – Royal Canadian Air Force.
1939-1945 RCAF units serve in Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as the Pacific during WW2.
1949 1st Air Division RCAF established in Europe as part of NATO.
1957 NORAD – North American Air Defence Command – established jointly with USA.
1 February 1968 Canadian Armed Forces formed from amalgamation of Air Force, Army and Navy.
1975 CAF aviation units reorganised into a single Air Command
16 August 2011 CAF renamed Royal Canadian Air Force.

Current Status

All RCAF aircraft and helicopters are currently active.

Future Plans

Take delivery of 65 Lockheed Martin F-35s – subject to final order confirmation.
Buy 18 F/A-18E Super Hornets to supplement the ageing CF-118 fleet – CANCELLED.
Obtain an unspecified number of F-18A/B Hornets from Australia to supplement the CF-118 fleet.
Select a new fighter to supplement or substitute for the F-35 – hopefully the Eurofighter Typhoon
Replace the CH-124 Sea King with 28 Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters.
Replace the CC-115 Buffalo with 16 CASA C-295 SAR aircraft from 2019.


National Insignia

National Insignia

Aircraft Serial Numbers

Aircraft operating with the RCAF carry numerical serial numbers. The numbers have been issued in four different series:

First Series (1922-1928)
RCAF aircraft initially carried civil registrations in the sequence G-CYAA to G-CYZZ, with only the last two letters actually displayed on the aircraft, e.g. Puss Moth UT.
Second Series (1928-1968)
In 1928 the military aircraft registration system was switched to a numerical sequence. This numerical sequence consisted of a three-digit number allocated in blocks by aircraft function: 1-300 for trainers, 301-400 for fighters, 401-600 for General Purpose, 601-700 for Transports, 701-800 for Bombers, 801-1000 for Flying Boats. As example is Douglas Digby 740.
Third Series (1939-1968)
By 1939 the available numbers in some blocks had been used up, and so a new sequence of four-digit serials was adopted. The numbers were allocated in blocks by aircraft type, with spaces left for future procurement, e.g. Cessna Crane 8000. In 1942 the system was extended to five-digit numbers.
Fourth Series (1968-Present)
For the merger of Air Force, Navy and Army into the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Canadian military serial numbering system was changed to a six digit number. The first three numbers replicate the aircraft designation number and identify the aircraft type. The last three numbers are the individual airframe identity, and count from x00 or x01 for each type. An example is CF-101B Voodoo 101033. Newly procured aircraft adopted the revised system immediately, but existing aircraft were only renumbered in the period 1970 to 1973. This system was retained when the CAF reverted to its traditional title of Royal Canadian Air Force,
RAF Aircraft
Aircraft operated by 400-series Squadrons in Europe, North Africa and the Far East often used RAF-supplied aircraft, which retained their RAF serials.
Instructional Airframes
Unflyable aircraft used for ground training purposes were allocated a number in the range 1-1000 with a letter prefix of A, B or C, e.g. Harvard A175. After unification in 1968 the prefix was generally replaced by a suffix, e.g. Canadair CF-116 906B.

Unit/Base Codes

A Royal Air Force-style unit coding system was used 1939-1945. Details to be added.


Aircraft Designations

Canadian Military Aircraft Designations.

Current Aircraft Inventory

Table of Current Service Aircraft

All-Time Aircraft Used List

All-Time Table of Aircraft Used

Aircraft NOT Used

False reports of aircraft on order or in service

Aircraft Losses and Incidents

Aviation Safety Network: RCAF
Aviation Safety Network: Canadian Armed Forces


Main Headquarters

National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, ONT.

Organisational Structure

The RCAF is organised into 1 Canadian Air Division with 10 Wings – one wing for each major air base – and 2 Canadian Air Division with one wing and the Air Force Training Centre. Each wing has up to six Squadrons of aircraft.

Current Order of Battle

Table of Current Order of Battle

Historical Orders of Battle

List of Historical Orders of Battle – to be added.

All-Time Flying Units List

Units Listing

Air Bases

Current Air Bases

See current order of battle.

All-Time Air Bases Used List

To be added.

Aircraft-Carrying Ships

Since 1975 all aircraft supporting the Canadian Armed Forces Maritime Command (Royal Canadian Navy from 2011) have been operated by Air Command (Royal Canadian Air Force from 2011).
A list of ships hosting CAF/RCAF aircraft will be added.

More Information


Canadian Military Aviation Bibliography


World Air Power Journal No.1 p.83
World Air Power Journal No.15 p.134
Air Pictorial February 1998


Official Royal Canadian Air Force webpage

wikipedia: Royal Canadian Air Force

Scramble: Canadian Armed Forces Overview

Air-Britain Photos: Canadian Armed Forces

Air-Britain Photos: Royal Canadian Air Force

Aircraft of the Canadian Armed Forces

Air Force Association of Canada

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Any photographs illustrating this operator would be welcome.


Leave a Comment