Canadian Joint Air Training Centre
A History of Rivers Air Base
From The Rivers Banner
History of Air
Navigation Training in Canada
3. Michael Czuboka
4. Stations of the RCAF:
|A History of Rivers Air
Base - From The Rivers Banner
September 8, 2008
Longtime residents of the Rivers area will probably remember a time
when the air buzzed with the sound of RCAF aircraft from an airfield
south-west of Rivers. Early in the Second World War, the Royal Canadian
Air Force entered into an ambitious project: the British Commonwealth
Air Training Plan, an astounding program that saw 130,000 personnel
from Great Britain and the Commonwealth graduate from 107 training
schools across Canada.
RCAF Station Rivers opened May 1942 when No. 1 Air Navigation School
(No. 1 ANS) re-located to Rivers from RCAF Station Trenton, becoming
No. 1 Central Navigation School (No. 1 CNS). As the war progressed,
Rivers also became a training centre for Army pilots and parachutists,
as well as flying instructors from the Army, RCN and RCAF.
Additionally, the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and the Air Dispatch
School made Rivers their home.
By the time No. 1 CNS disbanded in August 1945, No. 1 ANS and No. 1 CNS
had trained a combined total of 11, 406 Commonwealth navigators.
RCAF Station Rivers would remain open after the war, becoming part of
the post-war RCAF. In 1947, the Canadian Parachute Training Centre,
established at Camp Shilo in 1942, merged with the Airborne School of
the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre and re-located to RCAF Station
Rivers, making the station Canada's main para-training centre.
Also in 1947, the Army Aviation Tactical Training School was
established at Rivers to provide pilot training to Army aviators, as
well as helicopter instructor training for the Army, RCN and RCAF. No.
6 Signal Regiment, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and the Air Support
Signals Unit provided communications duties at Rivers. 444 Air
Observation Post Squadron was formed on 1 October 1947, but had a brief
stay at the station as it disbanded 1 April 1949.
In 1948, the Joint Air Photo Interpretation School opened at RCAF
Station Rivers. The school closed in 1960 and its personnel merged with
the Air Photo Interpretation Centre at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, who
became fully responsible for training photo-interpreters.
The Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU) was established at RCAF
Station Rivers in August 1953, initially to train RCAF pilots, but by
1956, Army helicopter pilots were also training at Rivers at the Army
Air Tactical Training School (AATTS). After the closure of the
helicopter school at RCN Air Station HMCS Shearwater, the Royal
Canadian Navy began sending trainees to Rivers as well, making the BHTU
the first tri-service flying training unit in Canada.
In 1956, with the Royal Canadian Navy having recently aquired its first
fighter jet, the F2H3 Banshee, pilots from VF 870 and VF 871 Squadrons
were also sent to Rivers for training. The RCN training program at
Rivers continued until the disbandment of VF 871 Squadron in 1962.
The first helicopter employed by military forces in Canada was the
RCAF's Sikorsky H-5 (S-51) in 1947. RCAF Station Rivers used the H-5 as
a rotary wing trainer, but it was also used by the Royal Canadian Air
Force in search and rescue roles.
In December 1963, No. 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon (No. 1 THP), a
unit of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, was established at RCAF
Station Rivers, along with their fleet of CH-113A Voyageur transport
helicopters and one CH-112 Nomad. The platoon's function was to support
the Army on field exercises. No. 1 THP moved to RCAF Station St. Hubert
in 1966, but also established a detachment at RCAF Station Namao. In
1968, No. 1 THP was re-designated 450 (Heavy Transport) Helicopter
408 Tactical Fighter Squadron, whose primary functions were
reconnaissance and weapons delivery, moved to Rivers in 1964 from RCAF
Station Rockcliffe, and remained until disbanded on 1 April 1970.
As a result of the Unification, RCAF Station Rivers was re-named CFB
With the coming of the Canadair CF-5 Freedom Fighter into service, the
runways at Rivers proved to be too short to handle the new jet. No. 4
Fighter Training School (formerly the BHTU and the AATTS) re-located to
CFB Portage La Prairie in July 1970 and the Canadian Parachute Training
Centre moved to CFB Edmonton, precipitating the eventual demise of the
CFB Rivers was declared surplus to defence needs and as a result, the
station closed in September 1971.
In September 1972, the land was turned over to the Department of Indian
Affairs and Northern Development for use as an industrial training
centre for Manitoba Indians, the Oo-Za-We-Kwun Centre. The Rivers
Gliding School, a summer Air Cadet glider camp opened at the former
base in 1974, remaining until 1984, when it re-located to CFB Gimli.
The Oo-Za-We-Kwun Centre closed in 1980 and the land was sold by the
Federal Government. Larry and Bonnie Friesen opened Hangar Farms Ltd.
at this site in 1988. The Friesen's continue to operate a hog farm at
this location today.
Only small parts of the old air station remain today including old
supply buildings, two Second World War era hangars, a 1950s era
arch-style hangar, power plant, fire hall, some two-story H-huts, ruins
of the messes and five permanent married quarters. The entire airfield
remains completely intact and although a reservoir sits across one of
the runways, it is used by crop dusting airplanes and drift racing
In the mid 1990s, the RCAF returned to Rivers with the help of some
movie magic in the film "For The Moment", a film about an Australian
pilot who comes to Manitoba to train under the BCATP, starring Russell
Crowe. While most of the movie was filmed at the Brandon Airport,
scenes of the actors standing outside their barracks were filmed at
Rivers, requiring a fresh coat of green paint to be applied to the old
By SQUADRON LEADER C. L. HEIDE, DFC (Reference: Roundel, October 1961,
Vol. 13, No. 8)
In October 1945 a plan for
Army/ Air activities in Canada resulted in
the formation of No. 1 Airborne Research and Development Centre located
at Camp Shilo. By April 1947 sufficient progress had been made to
permit the unit to be called the Joint Air School and it was moved from
Camp Shilo to Rivers under the command of G/C M. G. Doyle. At this time
No. 417 Fighter Reconnaissance Squadron was operating with Mustang
aircraft, No. 112 Flight was co-operating with gliders, and No. 444
Army Squadron was being formed with light aircraft. The joint school's
function was to meet all
As a practical example of service integration, the Canadian Joint Air
Training Centre at Rivers, Manitoba, is living proof that the colour of
the uniform a man wears is
really immaterial when it comes to getting the job done. Permanent
strength of 800 servicemen at
CJATC is about one-half RCAF and one-half Army. Except for two months
each summer when naval
jet squadrons come to Rivers for tactical exercises, RCN strength is
only a token force
— but "blue jobs" and "brown jobs"
work and live together in complete harmony the year-round. *
* All potential military aircrew today begin their flying careers by
reporting to the Personnel Selection Unit at
RCAF Stn Centralia for screening. The successful candidates then
proceed to Primary Training School, also at
Centralia, where they set out on diverging courses. Formerly army
fliers received a basic course of 60 hours on
the Chipmunk prior to proceeding to advanced flying at CJATC on the
L-19. Last month army trainees began a
new course at Centralia, calling for over 130 flying hours including
L-19 conversion, and will graduate from
there with army wings before going to CJATC. The air force and navy
trainees take the standard six-week
course, then take the regular RCAF course to the end of Harvard
training at Flying Training School and
proceed to Expeditor training at Advanced Flying School in Saskatoon.
Navy fliers receive their wings and
instrument rating at AFS, then go to HMCS Shearwater for operational
During the war years RCAF Station Rivers was the home of No. 1 Air
Navigation School and many fledgling navigators of the RAF and RCAF
were trained here, sometimes
under rather severe conditions. The author vividly remembers taking
astro sights in
mid-winter when one's fingers gradually lost their mobility and the
sextant mechanism slowly froze in
sub-zero temperatures. It was little better when airborne in the Anson
aircraft, which seemed at the
time to have small holes
strategically placed for the bitter winter wind to have maximum effect.
Even in those early days, Rivers had an association with the Army
because of the proximity of the large Camp Shilo training base. In
fact, the first army parachutists to
jump in Canada flew from Rivers in June 1943 in a Lodestar aircraft to
"drop" at Camp Shilo.
They had been trained in England and the United States.
After the Second World War the Air Navigation School was disbanded and
Station Rivers was tempo-
rarily closed. requirements of training and development for the
Canadian forces in
tactical support of land and airborne operations. Royal Canadian Navy
personnel were added to the school in August 1948.
A change in organization in March 1949 created the Joint Air Training
Centre out of the elements of the Joint Air School. This organization
is substantially the same today
with the station being divided into Air Training, Technical,
Administrative and Land/Air Warfare
Wings. The station is under the command of G/C C. M. Black with Lt.
Col. A. B. Stewart as deputy
THE AIRBORNE SCHOOL
The Airborne School trains the "glamour boys" of the Army — the
paratroopers. The training of the
candidates is hard and vigorous and demands a high physical standard;
in fact, a good portion of the
course is devoted to their physical conditioning. After first learning
how to roll on landing from
elevated stands the students jump from the mock tower. From this 32 ft.
high device the students are
carried by sloping cables to the ground some distance away. Following
this the potential paratroopers
jump from the 150 ft. high tower at Camp Shilo which is a very
realistic comparison to an actual
aircraft jump. Ultimately, the paratroopers jump fully equipped from
C-119 aircraft maintained at
CJATC for this purpose.
In spite of somewhat caustic remarks by the "blue jobs" on the sanity
of people who jump out of a
serviceable aircraft, more than 13,000 paratroopers have been qualified
by the airborne school since
1947. Including those made on advanced and instructors' courses, more
than 100,000 jumps have been
made at CJATC. A staff member, L/Sgt H. M. Allan, recently completed
his 300th jump, which is
believed to be a record for the Canadian Army.
A somewhat different record was set by a student jumping from the high
tower at Camp Shilo. On his
first descent he landed on top of a lecture room; on his second descent
he became entangled in the
high tower structure; and on his third descent landed in a somewhat
thick bush. However, he was not
easily discouraged and eventually descended in the proper manner and
completed his airborne
THE AIR SUPPLY SCHOOL
This school conducts a variety of courses designed to train army NCOs
to supervise the loading of
transport aircraft efficiently, to train both army and RCAF personnel
in the basic aspects of air supply
duties, and to train NCOs of all three services so that they may be
employed as airportability
instructors. Since the school was formed more than 5,500 students have
and balance problems in such a task are formidable, and a complete
structural mock-up of the Yukon is to be built in the school for test
and training purposes.
The Tactical Air Support School trains officers and NCOs of the three
services in those duties as- sociated with the air support of ground
forces and in particular the role of our forces within the NATO
organization. Courses conducted are for ground liaison officers,
forward air controllers, and specialist tactical air support NCOs.
The schools join together in conducting both junior and senior land/
air warfare courses for officers of the three services. These courses
are broad in scope and consider both tactical and transport
requirements in support of all types of joint operations. In addition,
both schools provide teams of
TECHNICAL AND TACTICAL INVESTIGATION SECTION
In support of the training being conducted by the two schools just
mentioned, the Technical and Tac-
tical Investigation Section are testers and advisors on all matters
concerning airborne techniques and
aerial delivery equipment. Many new pieces of equipment are evaluated
by this section and many of
the techniques now used in the delivery of both supplies and
paratroopers have resulted from their
work. From such small items as a snow shoe strap to prevent a
parachutist losing his snow shoes
when jumping, to a method of delivering a RAT (rig articulated
tractor), the projects vary in both size
Some of the trials are conducted with startling realism. One item
developed was a "hang-up" release
kit designed to rescue a paratrooper "hung-up" behind an aircraft.
After a 200-lb dummy was hurled
from the door and towed behind a C-119 aircraft, it began to rotate in
large circles, striking the tail
boom a series of thunderous blows. The dispatcher was ordered to cut
the anchor line cable and
release the dummy, but since his assistant was attempting to connect
the hang-up kit at this time, there
was some doubt for a moment whether the dummy or the assistant
dispatcher would be released from
the aircraft. This item of safety equipment has since been approved for
Canadian use and is being
studied with interest by other NATO countries.
In their trials and testing program the TTIS personnel fly many hours
in C-119 aircraft, having
completed more than 1,000 para jumps and many light and heavy equipment
THE LAND/AIR WARFARE COMPONENT
Two separate but closely related schools form the Land/Air Warfare
component, providing training in
matters relating to the joint employment of naval, ground and air
forces and to evolve techniques for
the employment of such forces. In this task the schools are guided by
the Land/Air Warfare
Committee at AFHQ.
The Transport Air Support School trains officers and NCOs of the three
services in duties associated
with the air transport and aerial delivery of personnel, equipment and
stores. Specifically they are
concerned with the Canadian commitments in supplying, re-enforcing and
moving our forces
overseas. Six different types and levels of courses are conducted to
accomplish this end.
lecturers to travel across the country, lecturing to both army and air
force units and commands. Also, when large army concentrations are
formed each summer for training purposes, officers from the Land/Air
Warfare School will usually be found in some of the key positions with
the Joint Operation Centres.
There are at the moment some 140 Canadian Army officers qualified as
pilots. The majority of these are members of the Royal Regiment of
Canadian Artillery and of the Army Service Corps. Of this number, 115
have received their wings at CJATC. Units of the Canadian Army
currently flying aircraft are three AOP Flights at Petawawa, Camp Shilo
and one in Europe, with a fourth shortly to be added at Gagetown. They
are all Royal Canadian Artillery Units.
The fully integrated Helicopter School has both RCAF and army
instructors and students from all three services. The naval students
have been few in the past but it is anticipated that their numbers will
increase in the future. The primary task of the Helicopter School is
the conversion of fixed-wing pilots to rotary-wing aircraft using the
Sikorsky H-5 and Bell H-13. Courses of eight weeks duration are
conducted primarily to teach the fundamental skills of helicopter
flying, the specialist training for operational roles being left to the
OTUs. Army pilots are predominantly newly-qualified, whereas the RCAF
pilots have normally had a broader background of fixed wing experience.
It is probably true to say that, over a period of the last ten years,
this school has produced more helicopter pilots than any other
organization in Canada, either service or civilian. Qualified army and
air force helicopter pilots come to the Helicopter School for
continuation training. These pilots are kept current using the Bell
H-13 aircraft. Also, an instructor training course is conducted for
helicopter flying instructors.
This fall the school is being re-equipped with Hiller CH-112
helicopters. This new and increased capability will add to the amount
of helicopter training at CJATC, particularly for the Army. In addition
to the conversion of students to rotary-wing aircraft, a Light
Helicopter OTU will be formed to train army pilots, many of whom will
proceed as a complete unit to be attached to the ground forces
operating in Europe under NATO control.
LIGHT AIRCRAFT AND HELICOPTER TRAINING
Until quite recently, army pilots were trained to wings standard at the
Light Aircraft School. Now
they come here from Centralia to take operational training on the L-19
before returning to their Corps
to fly light aircraft or converting to helicopters at CJATC.
A variety of other tasks fall to the Helicopter School. Search and
rescue missions have been
conducted in the aid of civil authorities with some outstanding
results. Each summer as the Army
concentrates for field exercises, CJATC helicopters leave to provide
the necessary aerial support.
The yearly, or semi-yearly, arrival of a navy jet squadron is a welcome
onslaught. In May 1961 VF-
870 Squadron arrived from Shearwater, Nova Scotia, with six Banshee
aircraft and one T-33 for a
month of joint tactical training exercises.
In support of these aircraft, and of the 10 officers and 90 men
concerned, a mass of material was air-
lifted into CJATC by the RCAF. The Banshee aircraft carried out live
bombing and strafing exercises
with guns and rockets, often under Army control in simulated ground
It is at these times that CJATC becomes fully a tri-service unit. The
harmony and co-operation reflected at these times gives a feeling of
satisfaction to all concerned and leaves no doubt that the colour of
uniform makes no difference in the successful conduct of combined
In support of the ground liaison officers' course the aircraft use a
weapons firing range at Camp Shilo
The aircrew, therefore, must be fully conversant not only with the
techniques involved in dropping paratroopers and heavy supply equipment
but with the standard procedures required by all Air Transport Command
crews who may be called upon to fly into the far northern areas of
Canada, and indeed to anywhere in the world.
The Technical Wing is predominantly RCAF-manned. It provides
maintenance for the aircraft, con- struction engineering, supply,
telecommunications and armament and is analogous to similar
organizations on most other RCAF stations. However, one exception is in
the assistance being provided to army technicians in training them to
maintain their own light aircraft and helicopters. At the moment army
technicians are carrying out this maintenance with the assistance and
guidance of RCAF technicians and with the use of associated RCAF
facilities such as workshops.
Czuboka Remembers (Excerpt)
A PERSONAL MEMOIR by Michael Czuboka
Originally published in the 2008 edition of The Patricia magazine
THE RIVERS CONNECTION
My father, who, along with thousands of other Ukrainians, was unjustly
interred by Canadian authorities during WWI, managed to secure
employment as a section labourer with the Canadian National Railways
during the 1930s. We moved to Rivers in 1937 and I entered Grade 1 at
the Rivers Consolitated School that same year. Rivers was an important
divisional point on the CNR and most of its residents were railway
employees and their families. WWII broke out in 1939 and construction
on an air base at Rivers began shortly afterwards.
During the war years the airport at Rivers was a part of the
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and its facilities were used
primarily by Avro Ansons for the purpose of training navigators. I
remember the drone of airplane engines almost every evening during the
early 1940s. It was an exciting time. Crashes were frequent. Airman
from Britain, Australia and New Zealand who were killed in these
crashes were buried in the Rivers cemetery.
fter the war ended Rivers continued as a military base and was
eventually called the "Canadian Joint Air Training Centre" or "CJATC"
because all three services trained there. All military parachute
training in Canada at that time took place in Rivers and Shilo. The
base's recreational facilities, with a large gymnasium, bowling alley
and swimming pool were superior to those we had in the town of Rivers.
Brooke School at the base, beginning in the early 1950's, enrolled
students from the town, including brother Bill, as well as from CJATC.
I was impressed and envious of these facilities. As a young boy, I
greatly admired all of the soldiers, sailors and airmen that I saw, and
I seriously considered a military career. An opportunity opened when
the Korean War broke out in 1950. I quickly enlisted.
After I returned from serving with 2 PPCLI in the
Korean War, I completed a parachute course at Rivers and Shilo. I was
then stationed at Calgary. During the last year of my army service,
during 1953-54, I was posted to the Airborne School at Rivers. One of
my jobs at the Airborne School was working with the Personnel Officer.
The Chief of the Defence Staff was concerned because of the high
failure rate of people taking parachute training, also called "the jump
course". I gave a modified version of the Minnesota Multiphasic
Personality test to incoming parachute trainees to see if it could
identify potential failures. Eureka! After administering the test to a
large number of parachute trainees, I discovered that one item was
significant: "I am afraid of heights". People who failed the jump
course were afraid of heights! I don't know how, or if, this discovery
was ever used, because in the fall of 1954 I left the army and enrolled
at Brandon College.
PART I: JOINING THE SPECIAL FORCE FOR KOREA:
I was born in Brandon, Manitoba to Ukrainian
immigrant parents in 1931. My father, a CN section labourer, like
thousands of other Ukrainians, was unjustly interned by Canadian
authorities during WWI simply because he was classified as a citizen of
the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, an enemy of Britain and Canada during
that world war. The Ukrainians, ironically, had come to Canada to gain
freedom from an oppressive and foreign regime. I believe that my
father wanted his three sons to be good Canadians, but that he was
probably never able to overcome his belief that he was an unwanted
foreigner in Canada. If he had lived long enough, he would certainly
have been proud of the fact that all three of his sons, Walter, Bill
and Mike, would eventually became commissioned officers in the Canadian
Forces. It is certainly true that I, as a young man, needed to prove
that I was a good Canadian and that this was one of the reasons I
joined the Canadian Army in 1950.
In the summer of 1950 I was an 18 year old
construction labourer living in Rivers, Manitoba, a CN Railway town,
and working on renovation projects at the nearby Canadian Joint Air
Training Centre. I had earlier graduated with a Grade 12 "senior
matriculation" standing, but jobs were scarce and I considered myself
fortunate to have employment of any kind. I wanted to further my
studies with a university degree in either arts or science, but neither
my parents nor I had any money for that purpose.
I had grown up in Rivers and I was impressed by the
young soldiers, sailors and airmen who served at CJATC, and especially
those who wore wings. While attending high school in Rivers I became an
air cadet, gained military experience by attending summer camps at air
force bases, and was promoted to sergeant, the highest cadet rank in
#320 Rivers Squadron. My older brother Walter, as a Flying Officer with
the Royal Canadian Air Force, had completed 52 air missions over the
Atlantic Ocean and Europe during WWII and I admired him greatly. I had
been too young to serve in the war and I felt that I had been left out
of a great and exciting historical event. A military career greatly
appealed to me and the Korean War would eventually give me a chance for
the kind of an adventure that I had missed during WWII because of my
The Korean War broke out in June, 1950, and later in
that summer the Canadian Government announced that it would recruit a
"Special Force" for the purpose of serving in the war. What was
especially appealing to many recruits about this force was its limited
18 month period of service. In those days, those who enlisted in the
Canadian Forces were usually required to enlist for at least three
years. Moreover, it was practically impossible to get out earlier than
three years. It was almost like being in the French Foreign Legion. You
signed your life and freedom away. The Canadian Army, in those days,
was lacking in sensitivity and human relations skills. Soldiers did not
have any "rights" as we know them today. You were required to obey all
orders without questions of any kind. It was a joke but also a reality
when lieutenants, or sergeants, or even corporals said: "I need three
volunteers to go on a dangerous patrol and I have decided that the
volunteers will be you, you and you".
In early August, 1950, shortly after the Special
Force enlistments began at recruiting depots across Canada, I decided
to travel from Rivers to Fort Osborne in Winnipeg, a distance of about
125 miles, in order to join up. But how would I get there? My funds
were limited. Fortunately, I knew a CN Railway fireman and he smuggled
me into a caboose at the end of a freight train going to Winnipeg. I
arrived full of enthusiasm but was initially rejected because of my age.
"How old are you?" the recruiting officer asked
skeptically. "You look like you are about 15!"
" I know that I look younger, but I am 18
years old" I truthfully replied.
"That's too young to be in the Special Force" he
said. "You have to be at least 19. Go home and come again when you are
I did go back to Rivers but I returned to Fort
Osborne about two weeks later and hesitatingly, and with considerable
trepidation, told another recruiting officer that I was 19 years old.
He did not look at me too closely and did not seem to care. I was a
warm body and the army was not too particular. I was never asked for a
birth certificate or documentation of any kind, either then or ever. I
aged by one year instantaneously and was immediately enrolled, at my
request, into the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. I wanted
adventure, and the infantry was the place to get it.
On August 22, 1950, at about the time I was
scheduled to travel by train to the PPCLI in Calgary, Canada's railway
workers went on strike. The problem was solved by the Royal Canadian
Air Force. I, along with other recruits from Winnipeg's Osborne
Barracks, were loaded onto C-47 Dakota aircraft and flown to Calgary.
We arrived, a lot of us sick and vomiting because of a bumpy ride on a
hot August day, and were immediately housed at Currie Barracks.
Unfortunately, the Army was not ready to receive us and we languished
for many days in our civilian clothing. Finally, in about
mid-September, we were equipped with WWII vintage uniforms, webbing,
kit bags, boots, mess tins, and .303 Lee Enfield rifles. Shortly
afterwards we were shipped to Wainwright, Alberta, to undergo basic
training. Our training was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel "Big
Jim" Stone, the CO of 2 PPCLI and Brigadier John Rockingham, commander
of the 25th Infantry Brigade. Both officers had had served with
distinction in WWII. In fact, most of our senior non-commissioned and
commissioned officers were veterans of the war that had ended only
about five years earlier.
My brother, Bill Czuboka,
was born in Winnipeg in 1935. He grew up and went to elementary school
at Rivers. He attended Brooke High School at CJATC and has many photos
of this period in his life.
He served in the Canadian
Army for 35 years. During most of his career he was a map-maker. He
also worked on decorations for the Canadian Forces during the last part
of his career. He retired as a captain.
He has done a lot of work
for the Canadian Legion in Rivers. This work included retrieving and
storing the photos of all Rivers residents who served in the wars of
the last century.
He also photographed the
graves of all Commonweath airmen who accidentally died and were buried
at Rivers and Brandon during their training at Rivers and Brandon
Bill now lives in Ottawa.
Brother Walter Czuboka was a
product of the British Air Commonwealth Air Training Plan, although he
did not train at Rivers. He was a wireless airgunner. He was near the
top of his class and was promoted to a commission as soon as he
graduated. Walter completed 52 air missions over the Atlantic Ocean and
Europe during WWII.
Education Years in Rivers
I took Grade 12 at Brandon
College in 1949-50 because Rivers did not have a Grade 12. I returned
to Brandon College in 1954 after four years in the army and
graduated with a B.A. in 1957. I taught history courses at Brandon
College on a part-time basis from 1960 to 1965. I had to discontinue
teaching at Brandon College because I was appointed principal of Neelin
High School and no longer had enough time to do both.I organized a
Brandon College 1950s reunion which took place in Brandon in October.
We had a great time. I consider Rivers and Brandon to be my home towns.
I was the principal of Neelin High School from 1965 to 1969, after
which I became a superintendent of schools for 21 years.
|The History of Air
Navigation Training in Canada
Air navigator training
began in Canada in 1936 at RCAF Station
Trenton.1 Very few navigators were trained prior to the Second World
War, however the creation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
(BCATP) on 17 December 1939 had a dramatic impact on this situation.
Specialist training expanded at a tremendous rate, resulting in the
graduation of over thirty thousand Navigators from the BCATP,2 over
twelve thousand of them Canadian.3 From that humble beginning, the
navigator classification in Canada has grown tremendously, in terms of
technology, aircraft, roles, and especially training.
The Canadian Forces Air Navigation School (CFANS) is the basic aircrew
training facility for all Canadian navigators, as well as navigators
from seven other NATO and non- NATO countries.4 CFANS has existed in
its current form in Winnipeg since 1968, but air navigator training in
Canada has been anything but constant. The wheel has been re-invented
many times over the last 65 years, with name, location, syllabus, and
aircraft changes. Navigator training in Canada has just taken a major
leap forward with the introduction of a desktop- computer based
simulator, called the Tactical Mission Trainer (TMT), which will allow
navigator students to use the same computer software in the simulator
that they will use in the aircraft. This has never been done training
anywhere in the world, largely because aircraft and simulators have not
been software-driven until very recently. This simulator will vastly
improve navigator training, and will help students develop the skills
needed to perform today’s navigator role. The roles of the
navigator have also changed significantly in the last 65 years.
Navigation using a watch and a map has been replaced with advanced
navigation computers like the Global Positioning System (GPS)5 and
Inertial Navigation Systems (INS).6 GPS and INS
have taken the guesswork out of navigating, and allowed the navigator
to focus on mission and crew management.
The school in Trenton, Ontario where navigators were trained prior to
the Second World War was called the Air Navigation and Seaplane School.
The name of the school was changed to the Air Navigation and
Reconnaissance School, and was changed again to No. 1 Air Navigation
School (1 ANS) on 2 September 1940.7 The purpose
of 1 ANS was to teach advanced navigation to air observers who had
graduated from bombing and gunnery schools. The school had been
originally intended to open at Rivers, Manitoba; however, construction
delays there forced it to remain at Trenton. The school consisted of
227 military and 95 civilian personnel, and flew Avro Anson aircraft.
The commanding officer of 1 ANS was Flight Lieutenant F.R. Miller. The
completion of construction at Rivers allowed 1 ANS to move west in
November 1940. By February of 1941, the staff had grown to 56 officers
and 424 airmen. A month later, the first of the Commonwealth trainees
arrived in Rivers from Australia and New Zealand.
The increase in bombing missions in Europe caused the demand for air
observers to grow in 1941, and 2 ANS was formed at Pennfield Ridge, New
Brunswick in July of that year. The two schools operated separately for
a year before their amalgamation into the Central Navigation School
(CNS). The decision to merge the schools was made for economic reasons,
as well as the belief that meteorological conditions in Manitoba were
preferable for celestial navigation training. No. 2 ANS moved to Rivers
in May 1942, and 1 CNS was created under the command of Group Captain
A. Lewis. In July of 1942, the staff at 1 CNS consisted of 103
officers, 1932 airmen, and 248 civilians, with an additional 90
officers and 595 airmen as students. They operated 118 Avro Ansons
(Figure 1) and one Stinson HW-75 (Figure 2) aircraft.8
Figure 1 – Avro Anson
Figure 2 – Stinson HW-75
Operations at Rivers concluded in August
of 1945 with the end of the war. No. 1 CNS disbanded on 15 September
1945. These two schools, 1 ANS and 1 CNS, trained 11,406 navigators on
behalf of the BCATP.9
In addition to the military navigation schools, there were ten civilian
operated observer/navigator schools in Canada during the war - suitably
designated No.1 through No. 10.10 These schools opened between May
1940 and September 1941, and the majority closed in April 1945. All
used Avro Anson aircraft and civilian pilots. The busiest of these
civilian training facilities was No. 7 Air Observer School (7 AOS) in
Portage-la-Prairie, Manitoba. It graduated over 5000 navigators11.
Following the war, No. 3 Air Navigation School opened at Portage. This
number of graduates in a five-year period is extraordinary given the
weather conditions endured year-round. Winters were harsh, and the
aircraft did not have the advanced anti-icing equipment of modern
aircraft. Spring and autumn were no easier, with heavy rainfall leading
to mud-caked runways. In comparison, CFANS will graduate approximately
40 students this year12, using four advanced navigation training
aircraft with full de-icing and anti-icing capabilities, plus an
air-search radar to avoid weather. No. 7 AOS used 25 Anson aircraft
with no de-icing or anti-icing capability and no radar. Staff still
graduated over four times the number of students CFANS could with the
same number of planes. These numbers are difficult to compare, however,
as the role of the navigator was much different. There was no data
available on the syllabus of these schools, however looking back it
would seem to be much more basic than navigator training
today. The output of navigators was still impressive
given the conditions. This is only one example of the ten civilian-run
observer schools in Canada during the Second World War. The conditions
experienced at each one would be comparable, as would be the efforts of
the civilian pilots and military instructors.
With ten civilian and five military-run navigator/observer schools, the
biggest challenge would have been to maintain an acceptable standard of
instruction. CFANS has difficulty maintaining standardization of
training and evaluation today, with only thirty instructors and forty
to fifty students per year. The difficulty of maintaining
standardization among fifteen schools and thousands of students must
have been very difficult. There was no statistical data available to
properly analyze student performance against the set standard of the
time. Most likely the students would have had to demonstrate an ability
to adapt to the air and provide suitable navigation. With the demand
for navigators being so high, the standards required may have slipped
at the schools, with the instructors expecting further training to be
provided in theatre. In addition to student standards, instructor
standards would have been difficult to maintain, as instructors are
usually chosen by seniority or personality rather than instructional
ability.13 Instructors today are chosen in the
same manner, based on experience in the field of navigation. This does
not always translate to good instructional ability; however, there have
been huge advances in the study of human behaviour and how people
learn. New instructors at CFANS are given a dedicated three-month
course of instructional styles and learning types.14 It is doubtful
whether there would have been time to run such a course during the war.
The wartime syllabus of navigator training was composed of deduced
reckoning, map reading, graphical air plot, and celestial navigation.
Given the nature of the missions flown during the war, i.e. bombing and
reconnaissance missions, the navigator would need all of these skills
to get to and from the target. Various methods of expressing position
were taught, for example latitude and longitude, and the grid system.
The grid system, still used today, consisted of dividing a map into
equal sized squares and labeling them. This system allowed navigators
to express position easily between aircraft, without relying on complex
names or directions.15 The missions flown in the Second World War
were almost exclusively large-scale bombing raids, where geographical
features were used for navigation. The navigator in the lead aircraft
was responsible for guiding the entire squadron. The use of a grid
system to express position rather than explaining terrain features
would have greatly reduced confusion among the aircraft. If weather did
not permit visual navigation, deduced reckoning and air plot were used.
Night missions relied on celestial navigation; therefore cloud cover
would have made finding the target nearly impossible.
Training over the prairies for bombing and reconnaissance missions over
the English Channel and Europe was good from a weather standpoint, but
not from an operational standpoint. Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Vice
Marshall D.C.T. Bennett, who founded the Pathfinder Group of Bomber
Command, and helped establish the trans-Atlantic ferry organization
during the war, was asked about navigation training in the BCATP. His
reply was “it was very sound but it was training and you cannot
duplicate real experience in training.”16 Air Vice Marshall
Bennett felt that newly graduated navigators who flew over to Europe
rather than sailing on a ship gained valuable experience and were
therefore more valuable assets. His opinion of the BCATP-trained
navigators was that they “...were basically sound...”17
That may sound like faint praise, however it is one of the warmer
sentiments ever uttered by an RAF senior officer.
After the Second World War ended, all observer and navigator schools
were disbanded, as there was no longer a need for new navigator
trainees. The specialist wing of 1 CNS was the only section that
survived the post-war disbandment. This group was moved to Summerside,
PEI, to form the basis of a new Air Navigation School (1 ANS). This new
school graduated two courses of navigator instructors during 1945-1946.
Training then ceased at 1 ANS for 18 months pending research on the
best direction to take navigation training in Canada. Royal Canadian
Air Force (RCAF) training in the specialty recommenced in 1948 with the
first Staff Navigator Instructor Course (SNIC) followed by the first
specialist navigator course.18 The Korean War and
Canada’s increased commitment to NATO created a demand for more
navigators. A second Air Navigation School (2 ANS) opened in Winnipeg
in 1951. In January 1952, 2 ANS had 600 students and over 100
Beechcraft Expeditor aircraft. The majority of the students at the time
were RCAF and Royal Air Force (RAF). However, students from France,
Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Portugal, Norway, Italy and Turkey also
trained in Winnipeg.19 The Central Navigation
School (CNS) was reborn in Summerside, with the added roles of
standards, test, and evaluation in addition to instruction. Canada now
had three navigation schools, two in Summerside and one in Winnipeg.
Change and consolidation came with the closure of 1 ANS, Summerside, in
1953 and its incorporation into 2 ANS, Winnipeg. CNS remained at the
Prince Edward Island station until 1954, when it too moved to Winnipeg.
In the early 1950’s, the basic navigation course lasted 22 weeks,
comprising 781 hours of ground instruction and 150 hours of airborne
instruction.20 The syllabus remained the same as
the one used during the Second World War – with the aim of
training prospective navigators to fly with confidence under any
circumstances. Graphical air plot, where the aircraft’s position
and heading are determined using mathematical vectors, was combined
with celestial fixing to navigate the aircraft. Using an
aircraft’s estimated position, the students would use celestial
sight reduction tables21 to determine where to look for a
particular star or celestial body. A sextant was used to look for the
star, and the actual position of the celestial body in relation to the
aircraft would determine the position of the aircraft over the earth.
This type of navigation, which seems archaic by today’s
standards, is quite accurate, and is still in limited use. In addition
to navigation training, the students were being prepared to hold the
Queen’s Commission. Officer professional training played a large
role in the training of navigators, and still does today. There is a
military adage that says “You are an Officer first, and a
The arrival of the CF-100 all-weather fighter caused a radical shift in
navigator training. The course was split into a basic and advanced
course. The basic course, discussed earlier, increased to 39 weeks to
cover basic theoretical and practical navigation principles. The
advanced course was further split into long-range (LR) navigation and
airborne interception (AI) navigation. Basic navigator training was
conducted in Winnipeg on the C-45 Expeditor (Figure 3) aircraft. All
navigator students took the basic course, and then continued on to the
advanced course in either AI or LR navigation. The basic course
consisted of deduced reckoning (DR) navigation theory, where aircraft
heading and ground speed were used to determine position, compass and
instrument theory, electronics theory, meteorology, and celestial
1 Canadian Forces Sentinel, Volume 5, 1975, p. 14.
2 Larry Milberry and Hugh Halliday, The Royal Canadian Air Force at
War 1939-1945. (Toronto: CANAV Books, 1990) p. 28. The figure taken
from the table is 29,963 including Navigators, Navigator (bomber) and
Navigator (wireless) students.
3 W.A.B. Douglas, The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official
History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume II. (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 1986) p. 293. These figures were taken from the
official report to the Chief of the Air Staff at the end of the War.
These figures are also available from Milberry and Halliday, p. 28.
Douglas’ figures are for RCAF graduates only; Milberry and
Halliday’s cover all BCATP graduates.
4 CFANS currently has students from Singapore, Korea, and New
Zealand, and is expecting to train students from Germany, Norway,
Denmark and the Netherlands by the end of 2001.before in navigator
5 GPS is a navigation computer that uses the signals sent out by an
American satellite constellation. The satellites send signals to
aircraft GPS receivers, and the computer provides three-dimensional
position information anywhere on the globe.
6 INS is a computer that can provide navigational information when
initialized with a correct latitude and longitude. The system uses
aircraft pitch, roll, and acceleration to calculate speed and direction
to update the aircraft’s position.
7 Canadian Forces Sentinel, Volume 5, 1975, p. 14.
8 Information taken from CFANS historical files.
9 Canadian Forces Sentinel, Vol 5, 1975 p. 14. 10 Milberry, RCAF
at War 1939-1945, p. 456 11 Ibid, p. 71
12 CFANS has a maximum capacity of 64 students per year, running 8
serials of 8 students. With an historical failure rate of 25%, that
equals 48 graduates. Recent years have seen a decline in the number of
students to 6 serials of 6 to 8 students, with approximately 40
graduates per year.
13 Earl L. Wiener and David C. Nagel, (editors). Human Factors in
Aviation. (London: Academic Press Inc, 1988), p. 252.
14 The Flight Instructors Course (FIC) is detailed later in the
paper 15 Canadian Air Publication 12, Part One, 2nd edition.
Navigation chapter, p. 14.
16 F.J. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British
Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of
History, 1983, p. 172.
17 Ibid, p. 172 & 173.
18 RCAF Navigation Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 1949, p. 4.
19 RCAF Navigation Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 2, April 1955, p. 64.
20Canadian Forces Polaris Vol. 4, No.2, 1975 p. 7. Article written
by Capt J.G. Parent.
21 Sight Reduction Tables are used to determine to position of a
celestial body, using an aircraft’s estimated position as a
starting point. The SRT will then tell the navigator where in the sky
to look with his sextant, a type of telescope. The actual position of
the celestial body in relation to the aircraft is used to calculate
22 A saying heard by every new navigator student at CFANS in the
Officer Development syllabus. 23 Milberry, Sixty Years, p. 287
Canadian Joint Air Training Centre - CJATC
Tragedy and hauntings at ghost base CFB Rivers
CFB Rivers – A Collection of Anecdotes
CFB Rivers Manitoba - Little Base on the Prairies