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Canadian Forces Air Command (AIRCOM), also known as the Canadian Air Force, is the air force element of the Canadian Forces. AIRCOM is the descendant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), which was Canadamarker's air force from its foundation in 1924 until February 1, 1968.

Prior to 1924, Canada's involvement with air defence consisted of Canadian airmen flying with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, with the short-lived Canadian Aviation Corps, and with a small two-squadron Canadian Air Force attached to the Royal Air Force inEngland during the First World War. In 1920 another Canadian Air Force was established in Canada that was concerned mostly with military flight training and civil operations. This Canadian Air Force was renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924.

After 1968, the RCAF was merged with the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy to form the Canadian Forces, and air force functions were divided up and placed into several new command. On September 2, 1975 Canada's military air services was organized into a single command: Canadian Forces Air Command.


AIRCOM is responsible for all aircraft operations in the Canadian Forces, enforcing the security of Canada's airspace and providing aircraft for supporting the missions of Maritime Command and Land Force Command. AIRCOM is a partner with the United States Air Force in protecting continental airspace under the North American Aerospace Defense Commandmarker (NORAD). AIRCOM also provides all primary air resources to the National Search and Rescue Program.


For history before 1968, see Royal Canadian Air Force

CF-18 off Hawaii

CC-115 Buffalo

The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act came into effect on February 1, 1968 and the RCAF ceased to exist. All branches of the Canadian Forces were unified into a single service with the aim of improving Canada's military effectiveness and flexibility.

Aircraft and bases of the RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy (the Royal Canadian Naval Aviation Service), were scattered across several different commands of the newly unified forces. Air Defence Command consisted primarily of former RCAF CF-101 Voodoo fighter-interceptor aircraft, as well as the radar networks of DEW Line, Mid-Canada Line and Pinetree Line early warning stations. Air Transport Command was responsible for strategic airlift and refueling aircraft, namely the CC-137 Husky, with the primary role being to transport ground troops from Mobile Command to and from distant conflict zones in Europe. Mobile Command itself was composed of former Canadian Army ground forces, as well as the army's tactical helicopters (CH-135 Twin Huey, CH-136 Kiowa, CH-147 Chinook, CH-113A Voyageur) and the RCAF's tactical and ground attack aircraft (CF-104 Starfighter). Maritime Command was transferred responsibility for the newly-formed Maritime Air Group, which operated aircraft in support of former RCN vessels, including CH-124 Sea King, CP-107 Argus, and the CP-121 Tracker, some of which operated from HMCS Bonaventure until that vessel's retirement in the early 1970s. Pilot and aircrew training were taken over by Training Command, which was responsible for trades training across all other commands in the armed forces.

On August 9, 1974 a CC-115 Buffalo of No. 116 Transport Unit operating on UN duties was shot down by a Syrianmarker Surface-to-air missile killing all nine CF personnel on board. This represents the largest loss of Canadian Forces personel in a single day since the Korean War as well as the most recent Canadian military aircraft to be shot down. (As of November 22, 2009.)

On September 2, 1975, the Canadian Forces saw a reorganization that merged all aircraft across all commands into a newly formed Air Command (AIRCOM). Air Defence Command and Air Transport Command were eliminated, and Training Command, Maritime Command, and Mobile Command (renamed Force Mobile Command) were realigned to reflect the new structure. AIRCOM was very similar to the old RCAF as the new command would handle all the aviation requirements of Canada's military.

Duplication saw several base closings through the 1970s-1990s, largely as aircraft changes took place. The acquisition of the CF-18A/B Hornet tactical fighter bomber saw CF-104 Starfighter and CF-101 Voodoo fighter aircraft retired in the early-mid 1980s, along with a corresponding downturn in several bases which had been exclusively dedicated to these aircraft. The closures of CFB Chathammarker and CFB Baden Soellingenmarker along with various bombing ranges and the retirement of the CF-116 fighter aircraft and Boeing 707 transport/refuelling aircraft saw AIRCOM retract to its present base and force structure.

AIRCOM also underwent significant changes in the late 1970s when the CP-107 Argus and CP-121 Tracker were replaced with the CP-140 Aurora/CP-140A Arcturus maritime patrol aircraft. The shift of east coast maritime patrol aircraft at the time of the Argus retirement to CFB Greenwoodmarker eventually saw CFB Summersidemarker closed in the late 1980s.

After unification, all personnel in the Canadian Forces wore a dark-green uniform with only cap and collar badges (a modified version of the former RCAF crest) as distinguishing marks for pilots and aircrew. This uniform continued under the newly-formed AIRCOM from 1975 until the mid-1980s, when AIRCOM returned to blue-grey uniforms broadly similar to those of the former to the RCAF, though the army-derived ranks adopted upon unification were retained.

In the early 1990s, AIRCOM transport and utility helicopters in support of army operations were cut back and consolidated with the purchase of the CH-146 Griffon, replacing the CH-135 Twin Huey, CH-136 Kiowa, and CH-147 Chinook. The army continues to consider this a loss of capability, particularly with the loss of the heavy lift Chinooks.

Search and rescue squadrons have also seen new aircraft when the CH-149 Cormorant replaced the CH-113 Labrador beginning in 2002. The CC-115 Buffalo short takeoff and landing fixed wing aircraft are also being replaced in the 2000s with a dedicated STOL search and rescue aircraft.

Ship-borne anti-submarine helicopter squadrons are currently operating the 40-year old CH-124 Sea King. The new Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone will begin service in 2008.

In 2007 and 2008, 4 C-17 Globemaster III were added. They are based at CFB Trenton.


The Canadian Forces Air Command has approximatley 391 aircraft in the fleet.

A Hornet in 2009
McDonnell Douglas CF-188 Hornet
Fighter entered service in 1982 when 98 single-seat CF-18As and 40 two-seat CF-18Bs were ordered. Sixteen have been lost since 1984. Stationed at 3 Wing Bagotville, QC and 4 Wing Cold Lake, AB. Approximately 78 CF-18 remain in active service.

Airbus CC-150 Polaris
Second-hand Airbus A310 transports purchased in 1992 for use as a strategic transports and air-to-air tankers to replace the Boeing CC-137. Two being converted to tankers and will be re-designated the CC-150T. Based at 8 Wing Trenton, ON

Raytheon CT-156 Harvard II
Single-engined trainer leased from 2000 to replace the Canadair CL-41 Tutor. Based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, SK

Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III
Four strategic airlifters delivered between 2007 and 2008 and based at 8 Wing Trenton, ON

Bombardier CC-144 Challenger
Canadian business jet first delivered in 1982 as utility and VIP transport. Early Challenger 600 and 601 models were supplemented by 604 models in 2002. Six based 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. Twenty-four remain in service 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 used by 442 Transport and Rescue Sqn. at 19 Wing Comox, BC.

DHC CC-138 Twin Otter
A twin-engined utility transport operated since the 1970s, Four remain based at Yellowknife, NT.

DHC CT-142 Dash 8
Twin-engined 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, MB

Lockheed CC-130 Hercules
Four-engined tactical transport, the Hercules has been used in a number of different variants since 1960. Five are operated as air-to-air tankers. Based with 14 Wing Greenwood, NS, 8 Wing Trenton, ON and 17 Wing, Winnipeg, MB. Early CC-130Es due to be replaced with the C-130J Super Hercules starting in winter 2010.
Lockheed CP-140A Arcturus
Four-engined search and rescue and fisheries & arctic patrol aircraft based on the CP-140 Aurora. Three delivered in 1991.

Lockheed CP-140 Aurora
Four-engined maritime patrol aircraft based on the Americanmarker Lockheed P-3 Orion. Entererd service in 1980 and now based at 19 Wing Comox, BC and 14 Wing Greenwood, NS

Boeing ScanEagle
A miniature UAV, one leased for 9 months in 2008 pending a replacement of the CU-161.

Lockheed CC-130J Super Hercules
Four-engined tactical airlifter on order to replace earlier Hercules variants. 17 to be delivered starting in 2010

BAe CT-155 Hawk
Single-engined lead-in fighter trainer introduced in 2000.

AgustaWestland CH-149 Comorant
Three-engined search and rescue helicopter that replaced the CH-113 Labrador. Fourteen delivered between 2000 and 2002. Based at 9 Wing Gander, NL, 14 Wing Greenwood, NS and 19 Wing Comox, BC

Boeing CH-147 Chinook
Twin-rotor medium/heavy lift helicopter. Six entered service in 2008 and a further 15 to be delivered starting in 2013-2015.

Bell CH-139 JetRanger
Single-engined utility and training helicopter. Ordered for 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School at CFB Portage la Prairie, MB; used by Regular Forces in CFB Lahr in Germany and in Canada during the 1980s; now back at 3 CFFTS; replaced by CH-146 Griffons

Bell CH-146 Griffon
A utility transport tactical helicopter (UTTH) that entered service between 1995 and 1997. Based at Bagotville, QC, St. Hubert, QC, Cold Lake, AB, Gagetown, NB, Valcartier, QC, Goose Bay, NL, Edmonton, AB, Petawawa, ON and Borden, ON; also perform search and rescue duties at 8 Wing Trenton; replaced Bell 206 JetRangers. Deployed to Afghanistan to provide escorts for the Chinooks,armed with 7.62mm Dillon Aero M134D Gatling gun on the both doors.
CH-124 Sea King
Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King
A ship-based transport/anti-submarine helicopter that entered service between 1963 and 1969. Based at 12 Wing Shearwater, NS and Patricia Bay, BC and due to be replaced by the CH-148 Cyclone.

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

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.

Dornier Alpha Jet Type A

Hawker Hunter F.58

Mil Mi-17
  • Medium lift helicopters are leased from Skylink Aviation for transporting equipment and troops in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Mil Mi-8
  • Medium lift transport helicopters leased from SkyLink Aviation for use in Afghanistan.

IAI Heron
  • Five Heron unmanned aerial reconnaissance aircraft are leased for use in Afghanistan.

Weapons and other equipment

Weapons systems are used by the CF-18 Hornet, CP-140 Aurora and the CH-124 Sea King helicopters (to be replaced by the Cyclone), the only armed aircraft in the Canadian Forces today.

Manufacturer Country of Origin Weapon Type In Service Notes
Lockheed Martin GBU-10 Paveway II (12, 16 and 24) laser-guided bomb 1980s used by CF-18
General Dynamics Mark 82 bomb low drag General-purpose bomb (500 lbs) 1990s used by CF-18
General Dynamics Mark 83 bomb low drag General-purpose bomb (1000 lbs) 1980s used by CF-18
General Dynamics Mark 84 bomb low drag General-purpose bomb (2000 lbs) 1980s used by CF-18
Raytheon/Hughes Aircraft AGM-65G Maverick Missile Air-to-surface missile 1980s used by CF-18
Bristol Aerospace CRV 7 Rocket folding-fin ground attack rocket 1980s used by CF-18
Douglas Aircraft Company AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range semi-active radar homing air-to-air missile 1980s used by CF-18
Raytheon/Hughes Aircraft AIM-120 AMRAAM Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missile 2000s used by CF-18
Raytheon/Ford Aerospace/Loral Corp. AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking, short-range, air-to-air missile 1980s used by CF-18
General Dynamics/General Electric M61 20mm vulcan cannon air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style cannon 1980s used by CF-18
Alliant Techsystems Mark 46 torpedo Air and ship-launched lightweight torpedo 1980s used by CP-140 Aurora and CH-124 Sea King
FN Herstal FN MAG 7.62 mm self-defence machine gun 1980s used by CH-124 Sea King

Manufacturer Origins Name Type In Service Notes
Systems & Electronics, Incorporated (West Plains, Mo) 60K Tunner Material handling equipment 2008 used for C-17 transport; used by US Air Force for C-5, C-17 and C-141
JBT AeroTech Halvorsen 44K Loaders TASLU (Truck Aircraft Side Load/Unload Loader) 2008 4 delivered for use with CC-177; licensed from Static Engineering of Elizabeth, SA
GM/Chevrolet Chevrolet Silverado airfield ground service vehicle, aircraft passenger stairs 1990s?
Mobile Arrestor Gear
FMC Corp. B-1200 aircraft towing tractor 2008 used to tow large aircraft like CC-177, CC-133 and C-130

Retired weapons

Weapon Country of manufacture Type In service #
CIM-10 Bomarc-B supersonic missile equipped with a 10kT W40 1962 to 1972 N/A
AIR-2 Genie air-to-air rocket with a 1.5kT W25 . 1965 to 1984 N/A
MK-20 "Rockeye" cluster bomb 1980s to 1997 ~1000



There are 13 air force wings across Canada. Wings represent the grouping of various squadrons, 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.

1 Wing Kingstonmarker
The home of the CH-146 Griffon helicopter, 1 Wing provides airlift support of troops and equipment anywhere in the world. Its six tactical helicopter and training squadrons are spread out all across Canada.

3 Wing Bagotvillemarker
Located in Quebec's Saguenay region, 3 Wing provides general purpose, multi-role, combat-capable forces in support of domestic and international roles of Canada's air force. It also provides search and rescue missions.

4 Wing Cold Lakemarker
The busiest fighter base in Canada, 4 Wing provides general purpose, multi-role, combat-capable forces in support of domestic and international roles of Canada's air force. Home of fighter pilot training for the Canadian Forces, 4 Wing attracts top gun crews from all over the world to its annual air combat exercise, Maple Flag. It is also home to the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range, used to test the U.S. cruise missile in the 1980s.

5 Wing Goose Baymarker
5 Wing Goose Bay
The site of NATOmarker tactical low-level flight training in Canada, 5 Wing, located in Labrador, is home to permanent detachments from the German Luftwaffe, the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare and temporary training deployments from the Royal Air Force (United Kingdom). 5 Wing is the home of 444 Combat Support Squadron and also serves as a NORADmarker CF-18 Hornet deployed operating base and airfield supporting a mix of aviation activities, military and civilian, in eastern Canada.

8 Wing Trentonmarker
The heart of Canada's air mobility forces, from delivering supplies to the high Arctic (CFS Alert) to airlifting troops and equipment worldwide. It is also responsible for search and rescue in central Canada and home to the Skyhawks Parachute Team with the Canadian Forces Land Advanced Warfare Centre.

9 Wing Gandermarker
Providing search and rescue (SAR) services to eastern Canada and the western Atlantic Ocean. SAR crews at 9 Wing Gander fly the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter and are responsible for a massive area, covering the lower Arctic, Labrador, Newfoundlandmarker, the Maritimes and the North Atlantic from the shores of Newfoundland to 30° west.

12 Wing Shearwatermarker
The centre of naval aviation in Canada, 12 Wing is home of the CH-124 Sea King helicopter, and supports Maritime Command with helicopter air detachments for surface warships in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.

14 Wing Greenwoodmarker
Located in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valleymarker, 14 Wing's CP-140 Aurora crews conduct sovereignty and surveillance missions over the Atlantic Ocean routinely, while SAR capabilities for the Maritimes, eastern Quebec and the eastern Arctic are provided by CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and CC-130 Hercules fixed wing aircraft.

15 Wing Moose Jawmarker
The site of the NATO Flying Training Program in Canada, 15 Wing is also home to the Snowbirds, the air force's aerobatic team.

16 Wing Bordenmarker
This base has an airfield that is most notably used for the bi-annual airshow, and it is the largest training facility in the Canadian Forces. No. 16 Wing's schools offer air force technical training and professional development and is the historic birthplace of the RCAF.

17 Wing Winnipeg
Comprising three squadrons and six schools, 17 Wing also provides support to the Central Flying School, as well as headquarters and administration support for NORAD operations.

19 Wing Comoxmarker
Located on Vancouver Islandmarker, its Aurora crews provide surveillance of the Pacific Ocean and western and Arctic regions. The Buffalo and Cormorant crews are responsible for search and rescue in British Columbia, Yukon and the North Pacific Ocean. The base is also used for training fighter pilots in tactical procedures on nearby ranges.

22 Wing North Baymarker
Represents one of Canada's major contributions to the North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) agreement. From its underground complex at the Sector Air Operations Centre, technicians watch over Canada's airspace 24 hours a day, using state-of-the-art sensors, computer and communications equipment.

Other units

Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing
  • Air Wing Kandahar, Afghanistan (stood up 6 December 2008, flew first mission 6 January 2009). The organization is composed of four units:
    • Canadian Helicopter Force (Afghanistan):
      • 6 - CH-147 ChinookD heavy lift helicopters
      • 8 - CH-146 Griffon tactical support helicopters - armed
      • (6 - Mi-8 medium lift helicopters - see below)
    • Theatre Support Element
      • CC-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft;
    • Canadian Heron UAV Detachment
      • Heron unmanned aerial vehicle
    • Tactical UAV Flight
      • Sperwer tactical unmanned aerial vehicle.

As the tasking authority responsible for the Canadian Contracted Air Transport Unit, the Wing Commander provides advice, co-ordination and supervision over its six leased Mi-8 medium lift helicopters. The Air Wing has about 450 personnel, serving with the Theatre Support Element in the Persian Gulf region and the Tactical UAV Flight at Kandahar Airfield.

Former units

  • 2 Wing Torontomarker - closed 1996; part of the based is now Land Force Central Area HQ
  • 7 Wing Ottawa - closed 1995
  • 18 Wing Edmonton: Located in Edmonton, Albertamarker it was home to the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, 418 "City of Edmonton" Air Reserve Squadron, 435 Transport Squadron, 440 Transport and Rescue Squadron and 447 Transport Helicopter Squadron. It closed in 1994 and transferred to Land Force Command as army base CFB Edmontonmarker

Senior leadership

Canadian Forces pilot adjusts a CH-47 helicopter
The Chief of the Air Staff, 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 Air Force activities throughout Canada and worldwide.


  • Lieutenant-General Bill Carr 1975-1978
  • Lieutenant-General George Allan MacKenzie 1978-1980
  • Lieutenant-General Paul David Manson 1983-1985
  • Lieutenant-General Donald Malcolm McNaughton 1985-1986
  • Lieutenant-General G. Scott Clements 1993-1995
  • Lieutenant-General Allan Marvin DeQuetteville 1995-1997

Chiefs of the Air Staff

  • Lieutenant-General David Kinsman 1997-2000
  • Lieutenant-General Lloyd Campbell 2000-2003
  • Lieutenant-General Ken Pennie 2003-2005
  • Lieutenant-General Steve Lucas 2005-2007
  • Lieutenant-General Angus Watt 2007-2009
  • Lieutenant-General André Deschamps 2009-

Rank structure

See also


  1. Canadian military acquiring new helicopters, drones
  2. Dillon Aero 7.62 mm M134 Minigun during exercise near Kandahar
  3. Griffon at Kandahar
  4. Disposal of Rockeye Cluster Bombs at CFAD Dundurn


  • Milberry, Larry, ed. Sixty Years – The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. ISBN 0-9690703-4-9.

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