It was about ten years from the first flight by the Wright
brothers to the beginning of the First World War in 1914, and
few understood at the time just how important a part aviation
would play in the war.
Balloons and aircraft were used to observe the battlefield
below, and report back to commanders on the ground such vital
strategic information as troop movements and the placements of
artillery. This information was critically important, but as
time passed the aircraft became an important weapon, bombing or
firing at troops or other enemy ground targets below, or
shooting down enemy scout or attack planes in the air.
As aircraft became more important to the conduct of war,
the need for pilots increased. The two British air
services, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying
Corps, looked to their allies—countries such as Canada—to
provide the expertise necessary to train new pilots.
Canadians played a crucial role in these wartime
developments. Many Canadian volunteers obtained their air pilot
training in the United States, or from newly established schools
like Aero Club of British Columbia or the Curtiss Aviation
School in Toronto.
These schools were replaced with larger and more advanced
centres as the demand for trained pilots
rapidly increased. The Royal Flying Corps came to Canada and
established many successful flying schools.
Alberta made an extraordinary contribution of mechanics and
pilots to the war effort. Many of the top Canadian airmen during
the war came from a distinguished list of Alberta volunteers
that included aces like
Captain Wilfrid Reid (Wop) May of
Edmonton, and Roy Brown,
Donald McLaren and
Fred McCall of