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Canadian Military Aircraft
Serial Numbers
Instructional Airframes
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What is an Instructional Airframe?

From the earliest days of aviation, it became apparent that airplanes and their engines were delicate, finicky devices, and would required lengthy and specialized mechanical attention between flights to keep them operating at their peak, or even to keep them operating at all.  The rapid expansion of military flying in several countries from 1914 created a need for large numbers of mechanics, and these people needed specialized training.  The value of hands-on training on actual aircraft quickly became apparent.  As the early Royal Flying Corps grew in size, mechanics training schools were created, and grew in size.  A number of older and worn out aircraft and engines were assigned to these schools as shop training aids.  These were amongst the first instructional airframes.  The need for hands-on training continued to grow as aircraft increased in complexity, and today almost every military or civil mechanic training organization around the world still uses some actual aircraft or aircraft components for hands-on training.

The first Canadian instructional aids

When the Canadian Air Force was first formed in 1920, the former RAF facilities at Camp Borden, Ontario became a central location for aircrew and ground crew training, and for overhaul and repair of airframes and engines.  The flight training activities at Borden, and the effect of the Canadian climate on the mostly British "rag and stick" airframes in use, provided a steady stream of work for the Borden maintenance shops.  This, in turn, provided a constant supply of hands-on learning experiences for the trickle of new mechanics entering service with the Air Board and the Canadian Air Force.  Within a short time there were a few airframes and engines that were found to be beyond repair, but still had some value as training aids.  They remained on the government's books as operational aircraft, even though their flying days were over and they were only used in mechanic training.  This had the unfortunate result of the early Air Force's inventory on paper appearing to be higher than its actual effective strength.  Funding for the Canadian Air Force and the later RCAF was very tight in those times, and an over inflated inventory probably didn't help in the constant efforts to obtain further money.

Faced with a similar issue in the UK, the Royal Air Force introduced the term Instructional Airframe in 1921.  A new serial number register was created, with training airframes using the suffix "M" and training engines using the suffix "E".  This clearly identified these aircraft as non operational.  It would be several years before the problem became big enough in Canada to require a similar solution.

The first Canadian Instructional Airframe register

The story of the transition of the RCAF from a mixed civil and military agency to a pure military air arm through the 1920s and 1930s has been told briefly on other web pages within this site.  The gathering threat of war in Europe led to a steady increase in all Canadian military funding from the mid 1930s.  The expanding RCAF needed to increase the number of mechanics being trained, and this lead to an increase in the number of "hanger queens" used as training aids at Borden.  In 1935 the RCAF followed the RAF lead by creating a separate serial number register for these non operational aircraft, and the RAF term Instructional Airframe came into use in the RCAF.  The new serial number consisted of the prefix "A", and a sequential number.  The first aircraft registered in 1935 and 1936 were well used de Havilland trainers in the shops at Borden.

Development of the use Instructional Airframes

For the first few years of the new register all the Instructional Airframes could be found at the Technical Training School at Camp Borden.  The rapid expansion of the home RCAF, and in particular the expansion of the BCATP from early 1940, soon changed all this.  The Technical Training School moved to new and larger facilities at St. Thomas, Ontario in 1939 and 1940, leaving Borden free for flying training.  Most of the Instructional Airframes went to St. Thomas at this time.  Other Instructional Airframes began to be used at BCATP training schools and operational units, to meet local training needs.  Later in the war several very old Instructional Airframes would be delivered to civil training schools and Air Cadet Squadrons.

In addition to worn out RCAF aircraft, the Department of National Defence began to procure second hand civil aircraft for use as training aids as early as 1940.  A few of these were actually ex RCAF aircraft that had been sold off in the lean times of the early 1930s.  When the UK began to supply large numbers of aircraft for the BCATP in Canada in 1940, a few of these were diverted straight to use as training aids.  Others would become training aids after crashes in Canada, or after suffering the deteriorating effects of the Canadian climate.  The North American production of BCATP aircraft provided similar sources of Instructional Airframes.  A few patriotic citizens donated their private civil aircraft to the RCAF during the war, and some of these wound up as Instructional Airframes.

Sub categories were created within the Instructional Airframe register around 1945, to reflect the different statuses these airframes could have.  (I'm not sure of the exact date for this, and would love to hear from anyone who does know.)  The original "A" prefix denoted a reasonably complete aircraft, including an operating engine.  (Engine ground running and adjusting is an important lesson for the trainee mechanic.)   The "B" prefix was introduced to indicate a less complete aircraft without a running engine, and the "C" prefix was used for major components or incomplete airframes that still had some instructional value (for example, an aircraft missing a major component, or a fuselage only, or one wing only).  Aircraft could move between these categories, and would retain their numerical register number as the prefix changed. 

Another post war innovation was the use of brand new aircraft briefly as an Instructional Airframes, before being returned to flying status.  This provided initial training of mechanics on a new aircraft type, and also provided a ready supply of factory-fresh spare parts at the first units to operate the new type.  In time, after an initial cadre of mechanics was trained, a carefully maintained Instructional Airframe could be returned to service to replace any aircraft lost in crashes.  They would reuse their original Canadian military serial number when they returned to flight status.  A typical example of this is Vertol Voyageur 10408.  This became Instructional Airframe A697 at Rivers Camp on 4 September 1964, the day after it was delivered there.  It was a long time resident of the back corner in an Army hanger at Rivers, before returning to flying status with No. 450 (HT Hel) Squadron in 1969.

By 1955 the instructional register had been expanded to include purpose built training aides and simulators, that had never existed as an operation airplane.  These types of trainings aide had been in use in Canada since the Second World War, but it appears they were previously only identified by manufacturer's serial numbers.  Some time after Unification in 1968 the B and C prefixes became suffixes (for example, Tracker 1531 became 707 B in 1968).  A new suffix, D, was introduced for display aircraft, but it appears to have only been used once (T-Bird 133038 became 748 D in 1974). 

Battlefield Damage Repair

The technological changes in warfare that resulted from the Second World War, and the Cold War that followed, brought fundamental changes in the way military planners thought about future wars.  They expected wars would be short and intense, with no time for massive BCATP style training programs for aircrew or mechanics, or for lengthy depot or factory level repairs of damaged aircraft.  As a 1950s pundit put it, the next war would be "come as you are".  This was proven out in numerous small scale regional conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.  The most visible effect of this shift in thinking was the creation of large standing forces by organizations like NATO.  The large Canadian military presence in peace time Europe that started in the 1950s would have been completely unthinkable 20 years earlier, or even at the end of the Second World War.

A less obvious effect occurred in repair planning and training, for everything from roads to runways to aircraft.  The emphasis was put on quick, in place repairs.  The goal was to keep resources, including aircraft, in place and operational, at least for the brief duration of the war.  New materials and techniques were developed, and maintainers need to be trained in their use.  These were quick and sometime nasty repairs, that did not need to last for a long time, but needed to be done as in as short a time as possible, at the operating location of the aircraft.  Training aides were again used, in the form of time expired or retired operational aircraft, and some Instructional Airframes.  Since the training process often began with a local Army unit literally shooting holes in the training aid, there was never any intent that these aircraft would ever return to flying status.  It appears that from the 1980s aircraft used for this training were given serial numbers separate from the usual Instructional Airframe register.  A few examples are given below.  I'm still sorting out this numbering system and would love to hear from anyone who can enlighten me.

The table below will connect you to my lists of instructional airframes.  When these aircraft also had another Canadian military serial, that serial is listed.  You should refer to the main page to find the detailed listing under that serial number, for a more detailed history of the aircraft.  For those few instructional airframes that did not have another Canadian military serial, the lists below will provide as much information as I can find.
The Original Instructional Airframe Register
Numbers Approximate dates Typical Aircraft
1 to 99
99 records
updated 31 December 2011

February 1935 to September 1940
various Moths, Fawn, Courier, various Fairchilds, Pacemaker, Vedette, Siskin, Avro 621, Wapiti, Avro 626, Battle, Oxford, Atlas, Rambler, Hind, Audax, Harvard, Anson, Hart
100 to 199
100 records
updated 29 January 2012

September 1940 to December 1942 Harvard, Oxford, Anson, Moth, Battle, Yale, Finch, Avian, Tomtit, various Fairchilds, Delta, Spitfire, Hudson, Hampden, Fort, Bolingbroke, Fawn
200 to 299
100 records
updated 3 March 2012

December 1942 to June 1943
Fawn, Finch, Harvard, Crane, Hudson, Battle, Hurricane, Ventura, Anson, Kittyhawk, Bolingbroke, Blenheim
300 to 399
100 records
updated 28 April 2012

June 1943 to April 1944
Harvard, Finch, Tomahawk, Battle, Hampden, Mosquito, Ventura, Anson, Menasco Moth, Tiger Moth, Hudson, Bolingbroke, Hurricane, Beaufort, Bermuda, Expeditor, Fawn
400 to 499
100 records
updated 15 January 2013

May 1944 to May 1946
Anson, Mitchell, Crane, Bolingbroke, Harvard, Tiger Moth, Oxford, Hurricane, Mosquito, Hudson, Halifax, Liberator, Kittyhawk, Avro 621, Finch, Moth, Fairchild 51 and 71, Ventura, Lancaster, Cornell
500 to 599
100 records
updated 24 August 2013

May 1946 to September 1953
Harvard, Mosquito, Canso, Dakota, Expeditor, Lancaster, Spitfire, Anson, Norseman, Mitchell, Cornell, Menasco Moth, Ventura, Mustang, Vampire, Sabre, Silver Star
600 to 699
100 records
updated 27 December 2013

April 1954 to September 1964
Harvard, Dakota, Sabre, Lancaster, Sabre simulators, Canuck, Mustang, Silver Star, Expeditor, CH-112, CF-104, L-19, Voyageur
700 to 799
100 records
updated 20 August 2014

October 1964 to February 1982
CH-112, Otter, Tracker, Chipmunk, Sabre, CF-5, Tutor, HO4S-3, Twin Huey, Iroquois, Kiowa, L-19, Dakota, Argus, Canuck, Musketeer, CF-104
800 to 899
100 records
updated 8 Aporil 2015

February 1982 to January 1991
Musketeer, Voodoo, CF-5, Canuck, CF-104, Tutor, Twin Huey, CF-18, CT-133
900 to 999
37 records
updated 8 April 2015

July 1991 and on
CT-133, Tutor, CF-5, Sea King, Kiowa, Iroquois, CF-18

The Battlefield Damage Repair registers

Information still being collected.  Your input is always welcome.

RAC71 - tail boom from CH-118, formerly 118105, at Borden

010AC - CF-104D, formerly 823C, 104652, Trenton?
011AC - CF-104D, formerly 852C, 104644, Trenton?
012AC - CT-133, formerly 782C, 113404, at Trenton
210AC - CF-104D, formerly 104641, Tenton?
211AC - CF-104D, formerly 104643, Trenton?
212AC, CF-104D, formerly 878C, 104645, Trenton?

8RAAC - F/A-18, ex USN 161721

This data has come from a variety of sources, and may contain all sorts of errors. In the future, I will add a complete list of references. For now, some recent Internet references can be found at the links below.  I would welcome any corrections or additions you may have. Contact me using the link below.

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2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 by R. W. R. Walker      All rights reserved under the copyright laws.
This is an amateur site - please don't rely on any of this data for anything important!
Created 31 December 2011. Updated 8 April 2015.