The Canadian Aviation Corps was formed in September 1914, immediately after the start of the First World War. The three-person, one-plane unit sailed to Britain with the First Canadian Contingent in early October 1914 but never saw active service. The CAC was disbanded in May 1915. Canada would not have a permanent air force until 1924 (see Royal Canadian Air Force).
In August 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War, Canadian aviation pioneer J.A.D. McCurdy proposed the formation of an air force to Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes. The minister’s response was that the aeroplane would “never play a part in such serious business as the defence of the nation.” In September, though, Hughes changed his mind and authorized the formation of a Canadian air force, without reference to his cabinet colleagues or military officials.
Canadian Aviation Corps
Hughes appointed motor mechanic Ernest Lloyd Janney, who had no flying experience, to head the Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC) with the rank of captain. The corps had two other members: Lieutenant William Frederick Norman Sharpe and Staff Sergeant Harry A. Farr.
Janney convinced Hughes to authorize $5,000 to purchase an airplane and travelled to the Burgess-Dunne aircraft factory in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He bought a used floatplane, which required considerable engine work to make it airworthy. Janney had the biplane delivered to Quebec City in time to join the First Canadian Contingent before it sailed to Britain. (See Canadian Expeditionary Force.)
The CAC’s three members travelled to Britain on the SS Franconia, while the floatplane was lashed to the deck of the Athenia. The Burgess-Dunne was severely damaged during the voyage, however, and never repaired. It was abandoned and eventually disintegrated. Janney returned to Canada in January 1915 and resigned his commission. After a series of unsuccessful ventures in Canada and the US, he was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and attached to the short-lived Royal Canadian Naval Air Service. Sharpe joined the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in a flying accident in Britain in February 1915, becoming the first Canadian military aviator to die during the war. The CAC’s final member, Staff Sergeant Farr, was discharged in May 1915 but joined the RFC in February 1917. Canada’s short-lived, one-aircraft, three-man air force was no more.