The NATO Air Training Plan was the natural extension of Canada’s World War II air training experience, where 131,553 Allied airmen graduated from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). In response to the Soviet Union’s creation of Communist satellite states, Western nations formed their own alliance: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO signatories desired a build-up of air power, and as early as the spring of 1949 Canada was approached to provide training of aircrews for other treaty members. Canada was seen as a suitable place in which to carry out air training since it was far from any potential European battlefront. On December 17, 1950, Brooke Claxton, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, announced that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) would initially train aircrew from the air forces of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands. The NATO Air Training Plan was to be extended numerous times throughout the 1950s. As in World War II, much of the flying training for NATO was located in the prairie provinces: the topography is flat, and flying could be conducted away from the congested population centres of Ontario. Two pre-existing BCATP bases were used in Saskatchewan for NATO air training: Moose Jaw became No. 2 Flying Training School, while Saskatoon hosted No. 1 Advanced Flying School.
The program began with a five-week Pre-Flight Orientation Course at RCAF Station London, Ontario for foreign students, in which they became familiar with RCAF aircraft and flight terminology. Pilot recruits then proceeded to a Flying Training School (FTS) for thirty weeks of instruction on North American Harvard aircraft. Advanced Flying School (AFS) followed, where four to five months were spent on single-engine T-33 Silver Star jets, multi-engine Beechcraft Expeditors, or North American Mitchells. The curriculum at FTS changed somewhat in 1956 when the Primary Flying Training School was opened at Centralia, Ontario. After being given twenty-five hours’ practice on the DeHavilland Chipmunk at Centralia, students proceeded to one of the three Flying Training Schools for 155 hours of instruction on Harvards. Pilots selected for multi-engine training continued their AFS training on Expeditors or Mitchells at Saskatoon. Single-engine pilot trainees flew 125 hours on T-33 Silver Stars at one of the other two Advanced Flying Schools. After 75 weeks of training, in which they had completed 305 flying hours, RCAF graduates were posted to an Operational Training Unit; NATO recruits returned to their home country.
Between 1950 and 1958, eleven NATO nations participated in the NATO Air Training Plan. The first class of trainees arrived in Canada in July 1950 and graduated in May 1951; the final class to graduate in the summer of 1958 had commenced training in July 1957. By the end of the NATO Air Training Plan in the 1950s, 3,218 Canadian aircrew had been trained, as well as 5,299 from other NATO signatory countries. Despite the formal termination of the plan in 1957, Canada continued to sign bilateral agreements with countries, both NATO and non-NATO, which were unable to train their own aircrew recruits. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Turkey, West Germany, Malaysia, Jamaica, and Tanzania were some of the countries involved. The NATO Air Training Plan of the 1950s, built on the experience Canada had garnered in air training during World War II, laid the foundation for the air training program Canada currently provides to NATO nations.
Rachel Lea Heide