Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette – 139 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan School

No. 7 Air Observer School - Portage Manitoba

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No. 7 Air Observer School opened on April 28, 1941, across a country road from No. 14 Elementary Flying Training School which opened on October 28, 1940 in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. No. 7 was open for 1,433 days while No. 14 was open  at this location for 613 days. While the two were co-located south of the City or Portage, they shared a 15 bed hospital. The cost to build both schools was $450,000 ($7,266,666 in 2017 dollars) by Claydon and Company.

The elementary school opened with eight large buildings including an airman’s mess and quarters, an officers’ mess and quarters, an Non-Commissioned officers’ mess and quarters, a hangar, ground-instruction school, plus a stores building and garage. When this school was transferred to Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, the air navigation school took over these assets for its own training needs.

The larger air navigation school opened with 12 large buildings including a double-hangar, a single hangar, an individual mess and quarters for officers and a combined mess and quarters for NCOs and airmen, wireless building, direction finding equipment building, motor-transport building, stores building  workshop and headquarters building.  No. 7 AOS was one of three Air Navigation School s operated privately by Canadian Pacific Airlines with the Royal Canadian Air Force providing the training.

Initially, the Commonwealth Air Forces operated with Air Observers trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Air Observers Schools. Streamlining of Bomber Command crews led to the deletion of the Air Observers positions in favour of Navigators whose job descriptions were re-written to better meet the needs of the air crews. Thus was born the Navigator B (Bomber) who were deployed to large  bombers with large crews (e.g. Lancasters and Halifaxes) and the Navigator W (Wireless) who were 
No. 7 Air Observers School - 1944
Class 81N (2) -- New Zealancers 
 ​assigned to smaller combat aircraft such as the Mosquito which flew with a pilot and navigator.

In all cases the Observers or the Navigators would first complete training at an Initial Training School and then were transferred to the air observer school for more advanced of training. This was followed by Bombing & Gunnery School for Observers and Navigator B air crew , or Wireless School for Navigator W air crew.  The Observers and Navigators would complete their training at an Air Navigation School.


The curriculum at No. 7 Air Observers School included training in air navigation, air photography, reconnaissance, observation and mapping.


The elementary school utilized the de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft for training while the air observer school used the Avro Anson.


After World War II, the aerodrome was used by a number of RCAF units until 1949 when it was closed. It was re-opened in the 1950s as a training school for the RCAF and NATO (North American Treaty Organization) air forces.

Today it is the site of the privately owned Southport Aerospace Centre catering to commercial and industrial customers. A good portion of the World War II buildings still remain at Southport along with a new control tower and barracks, located away from the original buildings. Southport is home to No. 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School, associated with 17 Wing based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It provides Primary Flight Training and Helicopter Training.

Here are some interesting statistics gleaned from a book named ``The Record’’ which was produced as a souvenir when No. 7 Air Observer School closed in 1945.


                                                                                         No. 7 AOS – The Numbers


Period of Operation – three years, 11 months
Airmen Graduated – 5,176
Hours flown (1/3 night flying) – 201,536
Miles flown – 24,184,320
Average training flight hours – 3:15
Average training flight miles – 350
Fatal Crashes – five
Maximum number of aircraft on charge – 95
Buildings maintained – 45
              Gasoline, gallons, aviation – 5,494,800
              Gasoline, gallons, motor transport – 105,065
              Oil, gallons, aviation – 161,382 
Oil, gallons, motor transport - 2410
              Electricity, kilowatts – 4,380,900
              Water, gallons – 73,079,150
 
Meals served to Air Force personnel – 2,514,186
Civilian Employees – maximum, including messing staff – 904
Operating budget, 1944 - $2,220,000
Savings on operations, 1941-1945,  returned to Dominion treasury - $644,306.89
​Sources

Manitoba Historical Society - http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/portageairport.shtml
Photo credit for No. 7 AOS New Zealanders class picture -  http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/record/C36703
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