Air Vice-Marshal R.E. McBurney, CBE, CD
Ralph Edward McBurney was born in
Montreal, Quebec, on 17 August 1906, and grew up in . As a boy, he was intensely interested in electricity and radio, and later came to consider signals a most important element of flying. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Beginning in 1923, during the winter months, he attended the University of
Saskatchewan and, in later years, the . He graduated in 1930 as an Electrical Engineer, having spent some time as a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps. University of Manitoba
From 1924 to 1935, the main tasks of the RCAF were Civil Government Air Operations (CGAO) including forestry protection, anti-smuggling flights, mercy missions, the air transport of mail, and experimental work. Such work gave young people a lot of useful experience in flying and commanding small units, and gave command of several operational bases to pilots of the First World War.
Over the years a variety of aircraft were used for these purposes including some First World War machines. The RCAF Base at
, for example, was at one time equipped with 22 Vickers Vedettes, a Fairchild, a Vancouver Flying Boat, a DeHavilland and some Varunas. Ladder Lake, Saskatchewan
A second important task was refresher flying training for First World War pilots and flying training for both Provisional Pilot Officers (PPOs) and direct entry officers from the
Royal Military College in . Kingston
In 1924, while some university classmates joined other services such as the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS), Ralph joined the fledgling Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and was assigned RCAF Service Number 96. He was commissioned in 1927.
Ralph's first years as a PPO, Pilot Officer (P/O), Flying Officer (F/O) and Flight Lieutenant (F/L) were spent, in part, on courses in
Borden, Ontario; Jericho Beach, British Columbia; and the Royal Air Force (RAF) School of Army Co-operation, Old Sarum, . At other times he flew out of locations in Salisbury, England Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon and the (NWTs) conducting forest fire patrols, and aerial photography and mapping. Gas caches were strategically placed so pilots could land and refuel. The weather and cloud cover often played havoc with these open-cockpit planes. Northwest Territories
In 1931 Ralph’s summer in the NWTs was a special job to make “strip maps” of aerial routes being more and more used by the RCAF and civilian companies. He and his companions, in a Vickers Vedette and a Bellanca Pacemaker, flew along specified routes taking a series of three overlapping photographs. From these, 15 mile wide strip maps were produced giving good detail of the ground along the central five miles and good enough detail along the sides to help confirm where you were on the central strip.
From 1933 to 1935 Ralph served as an instructor at the RCAF School of Army Co-operation at
, a Camp that was then also the home of the Depot RC Signals. Then, during 1935 and 1936 he became the first RCAF officer to attend the Officer's Long Signals Course at the Camp Borden RAF Wireless School at Cranwell, . Upon graduation he received the specialist symbol "S". Lincolnshire, England
From 1936 to 1942, with the exception of his attendance on the Staff College Course at the RAF Staff College, Andover, Hampshire, England, Ralph served as the Senior Signals Officer and Director of Signals at Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ) in Ottawa, Ontario. There he was involved in a multitude of activities including selecting the first 800 potential radar technicians requested by Britain as "direct entries"; introducing ground and airborne radars to the RCAF; adapting British and American radar research to RCAF needs; arranging the production of Canadian radar equipment; establishing radar defence stations on both Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coast; and arranging signal schools.
In 1943 then Group Captain (G/C) McBurney commanded RCAF Station Trenton, in
. Trenton, Ontario
On posting to
, in late 1943, soon to be Air Commodore (A/Cdr) McBurney commanded conversion and operational training organizations within No 6 (Canadian) Bomber Group. From late 1944 to mid 1945 he served as the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at Group Headquarters. Working for Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) McEwen he was responsible for flying operations of 11 Stations, 14 Squadrons, four Training Units, and over 300 bomber aircraft. During this time he was mentioned in despatches and made a Commander of the Order of the England British Empire.
At war's end he returned to
and formed Air Maintenance Command to supply services previously performed by AFHQ. Canada
Early in 1946, having been promoted AVM in 1945, he became President of the RCAF War Crimes Court and then returned to
Britain as the Senior Canadian Air Force Liaison Officer at the Canadian Joint Liaison Office, . London, England
From 1948 to 1952 he was head of the RCAF Air Materiel Command and was involved with Government purchases of RCAF equipment, storage of closed airbases and the new cross-Canada radar lines.
In 1952 AVM/ McBurney, CBE, CD retired and joined Rogers Majestic, a company that was shortly thereafter purchase by Philips Electronics. Then, beginning in 1959, he joined the National Research Council of Canada until 1972.
On 23 October 1953, he was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal.