|| Air Chf Mshl or ACM
|| Air Mshl or AM
|| Air Cdre
|| Gp Capt
|| Wg Cdr
|| Sqn Ldr
|| Flt Lt
|| Fg Off
|| Plt Off
|| OCdt |
- 1 Currently honorary/wartime rank only.
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.
Badges of Rank
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 braid below the Second Lieutenant's eagle and all other officer ranks also received a crowned eagle above their braid.
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.
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
, Flight Leader
, Squadron Leader
, Fourth Ardian
, Third Ardian
, Second Ardian
and Air Marshal
. A further proposal was Ensign
, Flight Ardian
, Squadron Ardian
, Wing 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 and at the request of King George V, this rank title was changed to Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
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 material. Composite braid rank slides are often referred to as 'bar-code' in RAF slang.
Distinction between ranks and appointments
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 and a Squadron Leader does not necessarily command a squadron.
Other air forces
The following air forces use a similar or identical officer rank structure to the RAF:
The following air forces use rank insignia for their officers which are similar to 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 insigia to the RAF:
External links and references