mounted Harvard trainer at airport
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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

British Commonwealth Air Training PlanIn December 1939, Canada signed an agreement with Britain to provide training facilities for airmen from all parts of the Commonwealth, primarily Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Canada. A few even came from Hong Kong, India and the Bahamas. Canada had already declared war in September but the planning for this agreement had developed over the previous couple of years. In fact, several British Air Training Bases were already under construction across Western Canada.
R.A.F. Penhold (later RCAF Penhold, then CFB Penhold, and now the Harvard Park area of Springbrook) and R.A.F. Bowden (now the location of a federal prison) were two in Central Alberta of 27 RAF bases across Canada. Construction of R.A.F. Penhold started in the summer of 1939 and opened as No. 36 Service Flying Training School in September 1941 after a brief period as a RCAF Manning depot.
Airspeed Oxford trainerThe Penhold facility started with 31 buildings and 5 large double hangers (two more hangars were soon added). Training began with 20 Airspeed Oxfords but the fleet grew to almost 200. There is indication that there may have been a few DeHaviland Tiger Moths and Fleet Finches in reserve.
This program came at a good time -- Canada was still suffering the economic consequences of the Depression. The bases helped provide an economic shot in the arm for communities nearby. Furthermore, Canada proved to be a perfect location for the program -- far away from the actual fighting with very little risk of being bombed by the enemy, excellent flying conditions, a great deal of expertise available and good locations to construct facilities in proximity to the railway. There were already a number of flying schools operating and experienced airmen who had helped open up the North or had been involved in the First War.
Assembling these experts, developing airfields, procuring equipment including aircraft, was a major undertaking. Training actually began at some facilities in the spring of 1940 and lasted 12 weeks, 60 pilots training at a time.
By the end of 1943, more than 3,000 students were graduating each month across Canada. By the end of the war the BCATP had produced 131,553 aircrew including pilots, wireless operators, air gunners and navigators. More than 55 per cent were Canadians.
The program started winding down in February 1944 as there was getting to be a surplus of trained personnel and the program ended March 31, 1945. The Penhold base was closed in the fall of 1944 having officially trained 1,555 students although there are conflicting reports on the exact number. Most of the electronic equipment was destroyed in 1945 and most buildings were demolished except for the hangars and a few other structures.
The base re-opened in 1951 as R.C.A.F. Penhold to support No. 4 Flying Training School for NATO using the North American Harvard aircraft.

For more on the Penhold base, visit

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Diverse, Interactive, Educational - Plane History

A commemoration and celebration of the history of
the Penhold military base

Harvard Historical Aviation Society


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Paul at Red Deer Tourism

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