The officer ranks of the Royal Air Force, as they are today, were introduced in 1919. Prior to that Army ranks were used.
|NATO code||OF-10||OF-9||OF-8||OF-7||OF-6||OF-5||OF-4||OF-3||OF-2||OF-1||OF(D)||Student officer|
| United Kingdom
|Marshal of the RAF1||Air chief marshal||Air marshal||Air vice-marshal||Air commodore||Group captain||Wing commander||Squadron leader||Flight lieutenant||Flying officer||Pilot officer
/acting pilot officer
|Abbreviation||MRAF||Air Chf Mshl||Air Mshl||AVM||Air Cdre||Gp Capt||Wg Cdr||Sqn Ldr||Flt Lt||Fg Off||Plt Off||Off Cdt||NA |
Lieutenant General David Henderson originally proposed that Royal Air Force officers use a combination of British Army and Royal Navy ranks. However, the War Office argued that the RAF should have its own ranks and the Admiralty opposed any use of their rank titles.
On 1 April 1918, Air Force Memorandum 2 specified rank insignia for the newly established independent force. Rank was to be worn on the jacket cuff and was derived from the Royal Navy's rings, each equivalent rank having the same number of rings. However, second lieutenants (now pilot officers) displayed a crowned eagle only and the Navy's loop was not used for any rank. Depending on the uniform, either gold or pale blue on grey braid was worn.
In August 1918, Air Ministry Weekly Order 617 added a single band of 1⁄4-inch (6 mm) braid below the second lieutenant's eagle and all other officer ranks also received a crowned eagle above their braid on the left arm only.
In 1919 the colour of the rank braid was changed to black with a central pale blue stripe. However, on RAF mess dress rank continued to be displayed in gold.
The ranks worn on the sleeve are common to all RAF uniform variants incorporating the Jacket. The centre of the rank (measured from the bottom of the lowest braid to the top of the highest) should be 3 3⁄4 inches (9.5 cm) from the cuff and each row of braiding should have a space of 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) from other rows. The thinnest braid, as found on the pilot officer's rank (and in the middle of the squadron leader's rank), is 1⁄4 inch (6 mm); the flying officer's braid common to all the ranks except air commodore and pilot officer, is 1⁄2 inch (1.3 cm), and the thickest braid, as found on all air officer ranks, is 2 inches (5.1 cm).
Shoulder boards (as shown) are worn by officers of general rank equivalent (Air Commodore and above). Officers entitled to wear aiguillettes and/or the Royal Cypher, AVMs and above, the Director of Nursing Services, and those officers assigned to certain 1-Star posts, wear plain blue shoulder boards when in No 1 Service Dress. AVMs and above and those officers assigned to the 1-Star posts of Comdt RAFC Cranwell, Air Officer Wales and Air Officer Scotland wear distinctive unranked ceremonial shoulder boards when in No 1A (ceremonial day) dress. If these officers wear a greatcoat, gold ranked shoulder straps in Crombie material are used. Officers of the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force have a distinctive set of shoulder boards with greater decoration.
As mentioned above, it was originally proposed that the RAF ranks were to be derived from existing Royal Navy and Army ranks. Both services were consulted and both reacted unfavourably—the Navy unhappy about the use of its higher ranks and the Army complaining it provided the "junior ranks". This resulted in a compromise whereby the officer ranks were proposed to be: ensign, lieutenant, flight leader, squadron leader, reeve, banneret, fourth ardian, third ardian, second ardian, ardian and air marshal. A further proposal was: ensign, lieutenant, flight-leader, squadron-leader, wing-leader, leader, flight ardian, squadron ardian, wing ardian, ardian, air marshal.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these contrived ranks were rejected and on 1 August 1919, Air Ministry Weekly Order 973 introduced new rank titles for RAF officers. They were based on Royal Navy ranks and their titles were influenced by the usage in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) during World War I. For example, the RAF rank of flight lieutenant was based on the RNAS rank of the same name. The rank of squadron leader derived its name from the RNAS rank of squadron commander. Initially the highest rank was titled marshal of the air. However, only a few days after it was promulgated, this rank title was changed to marshal of the Royal Air Force at the request of King George V, his belief being that the former sounded too much like it encroached on the attributes of God.
RAF officers typically wear composite braid rank slides with their working and operational uniforms. Composite braid consists of a single piece of fabric, where the "background" between the rank rings is made from blue-grey or olive green material. Composite braid rank slides are often referred to as "bar-code" in RAF slang.
Air Chf Mshl
Many RAF ranks do not imply the appointment or duties of an officer. For example, a Pilot Officer may well not be trained to pilot an aircraft. In fact, pilots skip the rank of Pilot Officer and go from Officer Cadet to Flying Officer on graduation from officer training school at RAF Cranwell. A Squadron Leader does not necessarily command a squadron, nor a Wing Commander necessarily command a wing, nor a Group Captain command a group.
The majority of officers in the Air Cadet Organisation (ATC and CCF(RAF)) are volunteers commissioned into RAF Air Cadets and then appointed to service with the Air Training Corps or Combined Cadet Force (RAF). They are no longer Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Training) (RAFVRT) commissioned officers. They are identified by the gold badge stating: "RAFAC" on the lapels of the No. 1 uniform, and in others forms of dress "RAF AIR CADETS" embroidered underneath the rank insignia, in a manner similar to RAF Regiment rank slides. Volunteer officers who are members of an Air Experience Flight (AEF) and who are pilots of aircraft providing air experience flying to Air Cadets and University Air Squadrons (UAS) continue to hold the VR(T) commission.
RAF Air Cadets Officers use the rank system identical to the regular RAF, but the highest substantive rank is Flying Officer. Higher ranks within the Air Cadet organisation are acting appointments, up to Wing Commander. Other senior ranked appointments are generally full-time staff positions (such as Regional Commandants and Commandant Air Cadets) held by regular and reserve (RAFR/FTRS) RAF officers. In certain circumstances, Honorary Appointments within the RAF Air Cadets may be made, however the rank may vary.
The following air forces use a similar or identical officer rank structure and rank insignia to the RAF:
The following air forces use a similar or identical officer rank structure to the RAF, but use army-style rank insignia:
The following air forces use rank insignia for their officers which are similar or identical to that of the RAF, but employ army rank titles:
The following air forces formerly used a similar or identical officer rank structure to the RAF:
The following air forces formerly used similar rank insignia to the RAF:
Acting pilot officer (A/Plt Off) is the lowest commissioned grade in the Royal Air Force, being immediately junior to pilot officer. Unlike other RAF ranks which officers may hold in an acting capacity, acting pilot officer is maintained as a separate grade. It normally denotes an officer who has recently been commissioned and joined as a non-graduate direct entrant. Acting pilot officer is not an actual rank, and A/Plt Off's are later regraded to pilot officer, not promoted.
Although acting pilot officer has a NATO ranking code of OF(D), neither the British Army, Royal Marines nor Royal Navy has an exactly equivalent rank. As acting pilot officers are junior to second lieutenants in the British Army or the Royal Marines and to Royal Navy midshipmen, the rank is the most junior commissioned rank in the British Armed Forces.
On a University Air Squadron, students can apply for the position of acting pilot officer in order to undertake a Senior Student or Flight Commander role, usually four per each UAS. In order to be awarded a Volunteer Reserve commission they have to complete an intensive course run by the Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit at RAFC Cranwell. On graduation, RAFVR Acting Pilot Officers hold a full commission for one year. This can be extended if serving for more than one year in a senior position on squadron or retained if serving the RAF reserves.
Up to 2012, 3 Flying Training School (3FTS) were responsible for the training of UAS APOs. However starting in 2013 OACTU took over the duties of training APOs with a course aligned with the commissioning course of the RAF reserves.
The rank insignia is identical to that of a pilot officer, consisting of a thin blue band on slightly wider black band. This is worn on both the lower sleeves of the tunic or on the shoulders of the flying suit or the casual uniform. RAFVR APOs have a VR marking on their rank slides, either a small brass VR pin mounted on the stipe or embroidered underneath.Air chief marshal
Air chief marshal (Air Chf Mshl or ACM) is a four-star air officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force, where it is the most senior peacetime air force rank. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries that have historical British influence and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-British air force-specific rank structure.
Air chief marshal is a four-star air officer rank and has a NATO ranking code of OF-9. An air chief marshal is equivalent to an admiral in the Royal Navy or a general in the British Army or the Royal Marines. In other forces, such as the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces, the equivalent four-star rank is general.
The rank of air chief marshal is immediately senior to the rank of air marshal but subordinate to marshal of the Royal Air Force. Air chief marshals are sometimes generically considered to be air marshals.Air commodore
Air commodore (abbreviated as Air Cdre in the RAF, IAF and PAF; AIRCDRE in the RNZAF and RAAF) is a one-star rank and the most junior general rank of the air-officer which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence such as Zimbabwe, and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. The name of the rank is always the full phrase and is never shortened to Commodore, which is a rank in various naval forces.
Air commodore is a one-star rank and the most junior air officer rank, being immediately senior to group captain and immediately subordinate to air vice-marshal. It has a NATO ranking code of OF-6 and is equivalent to a commodore in the Royal Navy or a brigadier in the British Army or the Royal Marines. Unlike these two ranks, however, it has always been a substantive rank. Additionally, air commodores have always been considered to be air officers whilst Royal Navy commodores have not since the Napoleonic Wars been classified as officers of flag rank, and British Army brigadiers have not been considered to be general officers since 1922 when they ceased to be titled as brigadier-generals. In other NATO forces, such as the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces, the equivalent one-star rank is brigadier general.
The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was "air commandant".Air force officer ranks
Many Air forces of use a rank system similar to Armies, however, the RAF and the air forces of many Commonwealth countries, or those formerly under a British influence, use a different set of ranks loosely based on naval equivalents; Lieutenant, Commander, Captain and Commodore are prefixed for air force use with Flight, Wing, Group and Air, respectively (the first three being the units that they used to command).Air marshal
Air Marshal (Air Mshl or AM) is a three-star air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence, including the Commonwealth, and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure.
Air marshal is a three-star rank and has a NATO ranking code of OF-8, equivalent to a vice-admiral in the Royal Navy or a lieutenant-general in the British Army or the Royal Marines. In other NATO forces, such as the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces, the equivalent three-star rank is lieutenant general.
The rank of air marshal is immediately senior to the rank of air vice-marshal and immediately subordinate to the rank of air chief marshal.
Officers in the rank of air marshal typically hold very senior appointments such as commander-in-chief of an air force or a large air force formation. Officers in the ranks of air chief marshal and air vice-marshal are also referred to generically as air marshals. Occasionally, air force officers of marshal rank are considered to be air marshals.Air vice-marshal
Air vice-marshal (AVM) is a two-star air officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. Air vice-marshals may be addressed generically as "air marshal".Air vice-marshal is a two-star rank and has a NATO ranking code of OF-7. It is equivalent to a rear-admiral in the Royal Navy or a major-general in the British Army or the Royal Marines. In other NATO forces, such as the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces, the equivalent two-star rank is major general.
The rank of air vice-marshal is immediately senior to the rank air commodore and immediately subordinate to the rank of air marshal. Since before the Second World War it has been common for air officers commanding RAF groups to hold the rank of air vice-marshal. In small air forces such as the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Ghana Air Force, the head of the air force holds the rank of air vice-marshal.
The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was "air chief commandant".British Army officer rank insignia
Listed in the table below are the insignia—emblems of authority—of the British Army. Badges for field officers were first introduced in 1810 and the insignia was moved to the epaulettes in 1880. On ceremonial or parade uniforms these ranks continue to be worn on the epaulettes, either as cloth slides or as metal clips, although on the modern 'working dress' (daily uniform) they are usually worn as a cloth slide on the chest. Although these insignia apply across the British Army there is variation in the precise design and colours used and it can take some time to become familiar with them all.
Officers in the ranks of lieutenant and second lieutenant are often referred to as subalterns and these and captains are also referred to as company officers. Brigadiers, colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors are field officers. All above these are considered to be of general officer rank.
For a short period, the British Army used the rank of sub-lieutenant, before that was changed to second lieutenant.Flight lieutenant
Flight Lieutenant is a junior commissioned rank in air forces that use the Royal Air Force (RAF) system of ranks, especially in Commonwealth countries. It has a NATO rank code of OF-2. Flight lieutenant is abbreviated as Flt Lt in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and RAF, and as FLTLT in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and has sometimes also been abbreviated as F/L in many services; however, it has never been correctly abbreviated as "lieutenant". A flight lieutenant ranks above flying officer and below a squadron leader and is sometimes used as an English language translation of a similar rank in non-English-speaking countries.
The rank originated in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and was retained by the RAF when the RNAS merged with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.A RAF flight lieutant is the equivalent of a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and a captain in the British Army and Royal Marines. The equivalent rank in the former Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS) (until 1980) was flight officer.Flying officer
Flying officer (Fg Off in the RAF and IAF; FLGOFF in the RAAF; FGOFF in the RNZAF; formerly F/O in all services and still frequently in the RAF) is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these cases a flying officer usually ranks above pilot officer and immediately below flight lieutenant.
It has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and is equivalent to a lieutenant in the British Army or the Royal Marines. However, it is superior to the nearest equivalent rank of sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy.The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force was "section officer".Marshal of the Royal Air Force
Marshal of the Royal Air Force (MRAF) is the highest rank in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). In peacetime it was granted to RAF officers in the appointment of Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), and to retired Chiefs of the Air Staff (CAS), who were promoted to it on their last day of service. While surviving marshals of the RAF retain the rank for life, the highest rank to which officers on active service are promoted is now air chief marshal. Although general promotions to Marshal of the Royal Air Force have been discontinued since the British defence cuts of the 1990s, further promotions to the rank may still be made in wartime, for members of the Royal Family and certain very senior RAF air officers in peacetime at the discretion of the monarch; all such promotions in peacetime are only honorary, however. In 2012, Charles, Prince of Wales was promoted to the rank while in 2014 Lord Stirrup, who had served as Chief of the Air Staff and Chief of the Defence Staff for over seven years, was also promoted.
Marshal of the Royal Air Force is a five-star rank and unlike the air marshal ranks, can properly be considered a marshal rank. MRAF has a NATO ranking code of OF-10, equivalent to an admiral of the fleet in the Royal Navy or a field marshal in the British Army.The rank was instituted in 1919 and the first officer to be promoted to MRAF was Sir Hugh Trenchard in 1927. Since that time, including Trenchard, there have been 27 men who have held the rank. Of those, 22 have been professional RAF officers and five have been senior members of the British Royal Family. King George V did not formally hold the rank of marshal of the RAF; rather he assumed the title of Chief of the Royal Air Force. In this capacity from time to time he wore RAF uniform with the rank insignia of a marshal of the RAF. He first publicly wore such uniform in 1935, the year before his death.Excluding monarchs and other members of the Royal Family, the only two RAF officers ever to have held the rank without serving as Chief of the Air Staff were Lord Douglas of Kirtleside and Sir Arthur Harris. Both held high command during the Second World War. Harris was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Bomber Command and Douglas was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Fighter Command, Middle East Command and Coastal Command.Pilot officer
Pilot officer (Plt Off officially in the RAF; PLTOFF in the RAAF and RNZAF; formerly P/O in all services, and still often used in the RAF) is the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks immediately below flying officer.
It has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the British Army or the Royal Marines. The Royal Navy has no exact equivalent rank, and a pilot officer is senior to a Royal Navy midshipman and junior to a Royal Navy sub-lieutenant. In the Australian Armed Forces, the rank of pilot officer is equivalent to acting sub lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy.
The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was "assistant section officer".RAF rank system
RAF rank system refers to military ranks of the Royal Air Force and the air forces of other countries, especially in the Commonwealth of Nations, which use similar systems.
For details of this system, see:
RAF officer ranks
RAF other ranksRanks of the RAF
Ranks of the RAF may refer to:
RAF officer ranks, for commissioned officers
RAF other ranks, for other (i.e. enlisted) ranksSquadron leader
Squadron leader (Sqn Ldr in the RAF ; SQNLDR in the RAAF and RNZAF; formerly sometimes S/L in all services) is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure.
An air force squadron leader ranks above flight lieutenant and immediately below wing commander and it is the most junior of the senior officer ranks. The air force rank of squadron leader has a NATO ranking code of OF-3, equivalent to a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy or a major in the British Army or the Royal Marines. The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was "squadron officer".
Squadron leader has also been used as a cavalry command appointment (UK) and rank (France) since at least the nineteenth century. In Argentina it is used as a command appointment by both the army's cavalry and by the air force's flying units. The cavalry rank of squadron leader in France is also an OF-4 equivalent to a major, and the cavalry appointment of squadron leader in the UK generally corresponds to this rank as well.Uniforms of the Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force uniform is the standardised military dress worn by members of the Royal Air Force. The predominant colours of Royal Air Force uniforms are blue-grey and Wedgwood blue. Many Commonwealth air forces' uniforms are also based on the RAF pattern, but with nationality shoulder flashes. Cadets of the RAFAC which includes the ATC and CCF (RAF) Sections wear similar uniforms.Wing commander (rank)
Wing commander (Wg Cdr in the RAF, the IAF, and the PAF, WGCDR in the RNZAF and RAAF, formerly sometimes W/C in all services) is a senior commissioned rank in the British Royal Air Force and air forces of many countries which have historical British influence, including many Commonwealth countries but not including Canada (since Unification) and South Africa. It is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. It ranks immediately above squadron leader and immediately below group captain.
It has a NATO ranking code of OF-4, and is equivalent to commander in the Royal Navy and to lieutenant colonel in the British Army, the Royal Marines, and the US Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968), and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was wing officer. The equivalent rank in the Royal Observer Corps (until 1995) was observer commander which had a similar rank insignia.Women's Royal Air Force
The Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) was the women's branch of the Royal Air Force. It existed in two separate incarnations, from 1918 to 1920 and from 1949 to 1994.
On 1 February 1949, the name of the First World War organisation was revived when the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, which had been founded in 1939, was re-established on a regular footing as the Women's Royal Air Force. The WRAF and the RAF grew closer over the following decades, with increasing numbers of trades opened to women, and the two services formally merged in 1994, marking the full assimilation of women into the British forces and the end of the Women's Royal Air Force.
The Central Band of the WRAF, one of only two all-female bands in the British Armed Forces, was disbanded in 1972. Some of its musicians transferred to the Band of the Women's Royal Army Corps.
|Field marshal or
General of the army
the air force
|Admiral||General||Air chief marshal|
|Vice admiral||Lieutenant general||Air marshal|
|Rear admiral||Major general||Air vice-marshal|
|Commander||Lieutenant colonel||Wing commander|
junior grade or
|Second lieutenant||Pilot officer|
|Officer cadet||Officer cadet||Flight cadet|
|Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
|Warrant officer or
|Petty officer||Sergeant||Flight sergeant|
|Leading seaman||Corporal or
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Military ranks and insignia by country
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