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The Air Cadet League of Canada

by Alen T. Hansen

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To Learn. To Serve. To Advance.

Such is the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, 25,000 of whom in 440 squadrons, and close to one million former cadets who have preceded them have celebrated more than seventy years of learning, service and advancement in personal and national terms. In so doing, pride will be evident among today’s 5,000 civilian volunteers who are the Air Cadet League of Canada and their antecedents, as well as partners in the Canadian Forces; a partnership that is the reason for the outstanding success of the Air Cadet movement.

To understand why and how the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being, it is necessary to recall the early days of the Second World War. France had fallen, the Low Countries had been invaded, and Great Britain was under heavy attack from the air. The critical need was for planes and more planes - and for trained young men to fly them in defence of freedom.

As early as 1938, an interest was shown in such a youth program when a member of the Winnipeg Lions Club, Albert Bennett, formed one of the first air cadet squadrons in Canada. The squadron eventually numbered 800 youths in training. In 1941, the squadron became #6 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron with the Winnipeg Lions Club continuing till today, as the sponsor of #6 Squadron and its predecessor. Prior to the formal creation of the Air Cadets, other units in Vancouver, Penhold, Windsor and Montreal, did exist on an ad hoc basis.

In 1940, the then Minister for Air, the Hon. Charls G. Power, gathered together a group of influential civilians and asked them to develop a country-wide organization to sponsor Air Cadet Squadrons. The national response was immediate, and on the 19 November 1940, Order-in-Council PC 6647 was passed, authorizing the formation of the Air Cadet League of Canada, to work on a partnership basis with the Royal Canadian Air Force; terms and objectives being clearly described. Such an act took place about the same time in other countries of the then British Empire. In England, New Zealand and Australia, for example, it was, and is known as the Air Training Corps.

On the 9 April 1941, the Air Cadet League of Canada received its National Charter to operate as a non-profit entity. Air Marshal William (Billy) Bishop, George B. Foster and Hugh P. Illsley were instrumental in obtaining the charter. To meet its mandate, it was structured on a national, provincial and local sponsoring committee level, each with its recognized part to play and each with its corresponding liaison level in the RCAF. A National Board of Directors in Ottawa was chosen and met for the first time on the 2 June 1941. One of its first acts was to appoint a chairman in each of the then nine provinces.

The provincial chairmen then established their committees, and according to the responsibilities transcribed, achieved the vital business of recruiting sponsoring committees for each squadron wishing to be formed. This latter portion has come to be recognized over the years as the most vital segment of the three tier structure for without a sponsoring committee to finance, provide needed accommodations, squadron staff, efficient management and other amenities, a squadron can not come into existence, and emphasizes the valuable contribution to society of its volunteer members. This was most evident when less than six months later at the end of 1941, 79 squadrons were approved.

In May 1942, the movement grew to over 10,000 cadets in 135 squadrons, and 23,000 cadets in 315 squadrons in 1943. By 1944, a peak was reached encompassing 29,000 cadets, 374 squadrons, 1,750 officers, instructors and over 2,000 civilians supplying financial and volunteer support. Accurate records do not exist to compile the contribution made by Air Cadets who joined the wartime forces, however, it is known that over 3,000 graduated and entered the Royal Canadian Air Force in varying capacities.

The primary purpose of the Air Cadet movement during its formative years was a military one, but its founders were also thinking in terms of the long-range benefits of Air Cadet training. Through participation in supervised squadron activities, they would find opportunities to develop those qualities usually associated with good citizenship. It was the character-building aspect of Air Cadet training which appealed most strongly to the youth leaders of the country. Service Clubs, Educators, Boards of Trade and Veterans Groups offered their services to the League, not only as a contribution to the war effort, but also as a means of assisting the youth of the country along the road to good citizenship.

To successfully carry out this peacetime conversion, the League and its partnership had to find and provide incentives that would appeal to the age group of 13 to 19 years that could replace the wartime goals. How best to do this? The answer was found within and by a re-affirmation of the valued partnership. Over a period of time, a system of challenges and rewards in a variety of ways beginning with an annual two-week basic summer camp for deserving cadets, at a number of RCAF stations across Canada. This has come to be greatly sought after by 1st and 2nd year cadets.

In 1946, the RCAF introduced Flying Scholarship Awards for competition among Senior Cadets. In 1947, with the co-operation of the Air Training Corps of the United Kingdom, the first Overseas Exchange Awards were introduced and since expanded to over 12 countries in Europe and Scandinavia, United States, Eastern Middle East and the Pacific Rim.

An example of the acceptance of the Air Cadet movement occurred in 1949. Within six weeks of Newfoundland entering Canadian Confederation, the provincial and sponsoring structures were in place and six squadrons were approved. 1952 saw the first Leadership Training Course of seven weeks duration, and in 1953 a course for Drill Instructors. In 1958, the establishment, (maximum number allowed) of cadets was 25,000. In order for the League to operate within this number, it was necessary to introduce quotas. The result was a waiting list for boys wishing to join, and new units to be formed. In 1962, in view of the growing demand, the League was granted authority to increase, by stages, Air Cadet establishments to 30,000 cadets. In terms of numbers, peaks and valleys have alternated over the years, but the cadets and the League continued to flourish.

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In 1968, the three elements of the Canadian Forces were unified. At this time, the Air Cadet League lost its original partner, the RCAF, and started a new partnership with the Canadian Forces. In 1969, a Directorate of Cadets was formed at National Defence Headquarters to create policies and coordinate the activities of the three different cadet movements- Air, Sea and Army Cadet units.

In the early seventies, a pleasant challenge presented itself. For some time girls had shown interest and willingness to be part of the cadet programme. Recognizing the valuable factor of family participation, the League authorized the formation of girl cadet “flights” attached to established squadrons, and by 1974, this had grown to 115 flights and 2,500 girl cadets across the country. While the girls participated in the formal squadron training, certain activities were denied them by virtue of wording in the original Charter. One of the purposes stated in the original Charter being: “… to establish Air Cadet units for boys under 18 years of age.” A whole chapter of chagrin and laughter can be written on alternative subjects and activities suggested by the girls themselves. Something had to be done.

The League made it clear that all activities and opportunities would be available to girl cadets. In 1975, the National Defence Act was minutely amended to read “persons” in lieu of boys. This made provision for females to participate fully in all segments of the cadet programme. (Perhaps it can be said, as a result, elsewhere in the Canadian Forces.) Today, girls represent a large percentage of the cadet establishment.

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Air Cadet Wings Parade (power flying scholarship graduation), St Andrews, Manitoba, 2008

The cadet training year coincides with the school year. From September to the following August, during 50 periods of approximately one-hour duration at the squadron, the syllabus covers a number of mandatory subjects which the Junior Cadets are required to pass, usually in their second year, before graduating to Senior Level and advanced aviation subjects, practical leadership exercises and special activities. In unison is assembly and parade training.

Leadership and citizenship is paramount in Air Cadet training. So, is it any wonder that today, tonight, tomorrow, Air Cadets stand possessed of immaculate appearance, impressive bearing, and a future that is not a rudderless future, by accepting the knowledge that before you can lead you must be led. As their experience advances, cadets may qualify for higher rank, added responsibilities and compete for special summer activities and training awards.

The principle being with increased knowledge comes increased responsibility, and added opportunity. Apart from absorbing the attributes of good citizenship, standards of mental alertness, physical fitness and qualifying for rank structure up to Warrant Officer First Class, what are some of the opportunities earned by this personal discipline? Space and time does not allow for a full description of each. All are summer courses, and while locations may change from time to time, the majority are conducted at Canadian Forces bases.

The DND provides the control, graduate and Senior Cadets form the staff. Several objectives are attained, among which being the valuable advancing experience gained by all and the opportunity to utilize such, usually during July and August of each year, when the DND conducts what is possibly the largest Glider Pilot Training programme in the world. To conduct and sustain such an all- encompassing programme requires the continuous development of skilled personnel.

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It would not be proper for me to end without emphasizing the Air in Air Cadets. The Air Cadet League Of Canada has quite an “Air Force” of its own, consisting of over 50 gliders and 30 tow aircraft, winches, trailers etc; owned by individual Provincial Committees. Each is civilian-licenced. Each year across the nation, thousands of Senior Cadets will have earned the opportunity to compete through squadron and Provincial Selection Boards for the coveted Private Pilot and Glider Pilot Scholarship Awards. All are
worthy candidates. Up to 300 are selected and trained, mainly at Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association locations, to Transport Canada Private Pilot Licence Standards. Over 300 are selected and trained to Transport Canada Glider Pilot Standards at DND designated Glider Pilot Training Schools. In time the product of the two meld and become what may be termed a “Cadet Air Operation.”

Throughout the spring and fall, a Glider Familiarization programme is conducted in each Province. This provides for an added squadron activity when, subject to the vagaries of weather, an attempt is made to expose each cadet in each squadron to an air experience at least twice per year.

Thus, the spring and fall gliding operation and the Regional Training Schools supplement each other. This is paramount. It includes the participation of our Private Pilot graduates as they qualify as Tow Pilots, our Glider Pilot graduates as Fam pilots, and as they too qualify as Instructors, plus other cadets in logistic support.

Many volunteers in this youth movement must have been asked the same question. Why? Whatever the myriad of volunteer time, whatever the funds invested personally, privately or otherwise throughout half a century, a true added value is on record. While there is always the odd exception to the rule, and weed themselves out very quickly, our cadets do not squander time, pr, the time of the courts. What price factor may be attached to this? What price to parental peace of mind as a result? Volunteer time is well spent. The system achieves much via the required activities. The paramilitary discipline is not overly strict. No reward or award comes automatic or exactly easy. As a result each cadet experiences pride in achievement and thus self-esteem.

How do we know these things? When the Charter was born many like myself were among the first Air Cadets in the country of our birth, served in wartime with former Air cadets; and thankfully, when accompanied by the joys of peace, watched our children and succeeding generations benefit and graduate from what we feel is the finest youth movement in Canada.

In the staff of every squadron, on each Sponsoring Committee, Provincial Committee, and at the National level of the Air Cadet League of Canada are a preponderance of former Air Cadets, giving back' something of which they received and perpetuating the movement. There for with pride in our past let us celebrate proudly. With faith in our future let us bow to that past and roll up our / sleeves to a challenging future, for in this day and age of questionable standards of conduct, rapidly expanding technology, man
having been and returned from the moon and continues to explore outer space, advance the science of extended life, we can not expect this age group of our nation to accept a programme that does not contain a challenge. A programme chosen by them because it contains a challenge not found elsewhere.

Contrary to some opinions, cadets are not committed to any military service. Some, utilizing their options in life do join, and are eagerly accepted; promotion to the rank of General being on record. Among many law enforcement officers of the land are former Air Cadets. In my capacity as an Airline Transport Licenced pilot over 40 years crossed trails with many Captains and First officers of today’s major and regional carriers, and how nice it was to recognize and be recognized by former Air Cadets; but most are and will be good and leading citizens in all walks of life.

Alen T. Hansen

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Alen T. Hansen, born in New Zealand, trained in Canada as a Wireless Air Gunner in 1943 before going overseas, completing an OTU on Wellingtons just prior to war’s end. Returning to New Zealand, he emigrated to Canada, attending the University of Manitoba, and gaining a Business Management certificate. He later became a bush pilot and worked for Trans Canada Pipelines, inspecting thousands of miles of pipelines and logging over 20,000 hours of flying time.

Mr. Hansen dedicated a significant portion of his life to the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program and aviation in Manitoba. He was President of the Wartime Pilots' and Observers' Association in 2006-2007, also serving as the Chairman of the Flying Committee with the Winnipeg Flying Club for eight years, as well as a founding member of the Western Canada Aviation Museum.

Mr. Hansen served on Manitoba Provincial Committee of the Air Cadet League for 24 years, active in the Gliding Program. He was awarded a Certificate of Honour in recognition of outstanding service in 1981, the Douglas Inglis Award for exceptional long-term service in 2011 and also awarded the distinction of Life Member of the Air Cadet League of Canada (Manitoba) Inc. Mr. Hansen has sponsored the Alen T. Hansen Trophy since 1973. This trophy is awarded annually to the top Manitoba Glider Pilot Scholarship graduate. Alen T. Hansen passed away on Friday, May 23, 2014.