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Royal Thai Air Force

The Royal Thai Air Force or RTAF (Thai: กองทัพอากาศไทย, Kong Thab Akat Thai) is the air force of the Kingdom of Thailand. As of 2006, the Commander of the Air Force was Chalit Pookpasuk, who was also a Deputy of the Council for National Security that seized power during the 2006 Thailand coup.


In February 1911 the Belgian pilot Charles Van Den Born displayed the first aircraft in Thailand at the Sa Pathum Horse Racing Course. The Thai authorities were impressed enough by the display that on 28 February 1913 they dispatched three officers to learn to fly in France, a leading aviation country.

The three officers (Major Luang Sakdi Sanlayawut (Sunee Suwanprateep), Captain Luang Arwut Sikikorn (Long Sinsuk) and First Lieutenant Tip Ketuthat) learned to fly and on 2 November 1913 returned to Thailand with eight aircraft (four Breguets and four Nieuports). They are today regarded as the forefathers of the Royal Thai Air Force. In March of the next year they moved from Sa Pathum airfield to Don Muang.

The Ministry of Defense put the early air force under the control of the Army Engineer Inspector General Department. Prince Purachatra, Commander of the Army Engineers, and his brother Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath were instrumental in the development of the army's Royal Aeronautical Service, a forerunner to the Air Force.

During the French-Thai War, the Thai Air Force scored several air-to-air-victories against the Vichy France Armée de l'Air. After World War II, the Thai Air Force sent three C-47s to support the United Nations in Korean War. The victorious Wings Unit, operating C-47, also joined the US Force in Vietnam War. Along the border, Thai Air Force launched many campaign against the communists, such as Ban Nam Ta Airfield Raid in Laos, and clashes between Thai and Vietnamese troops along the Thai-Cambodian border. When the cold war ended, the Thai Air Force participated in Operation Border Post 9631 along the Thai-Burmese border in 1999, and launched the evacuation of Thais and foreigners during the 2003 Phnom Penh riots in Cambodia.

Command and Control

The Commander of Royal Thai Air Force is Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pookpasuk, who is headquartered in Bangkok.


The RTAF command structure consists of five groups: headquarters, logistics support, education, special services, and combat forces.

The headquarters group in Bangkok performs the usual general staff functions, including planning and directing operations of the combat elements.

The logistics support group provides engineering, communications, ordnance, transportation, quartermaster, and medical services support.

The education group coordinates and supervises all air force training programmes.

The special service group is responsible for the welfare of air force personnel and coordinates the activities of Thai civil aviation with those of the air force.

The operational units of the air force are organised into two functional elements: a tactical air command structured and equipped for conventional warfare and an aerial security force trained and geared for counterinsurgency and other internal security missions.

In 1987 the tactical air command had a combat force of one squadron committed to forward ground attack, two squadrons of fighter-interceptors also used for armed reconnaissance, a separate reconnaissance squadron that also served in a training role, three transport squadrons, one utility squadron, two helicopter squadrons, and one training squadron.

By the late 1990s the RTAF Air Power was composed of four regional Air Divisions and a Flying Training School.

  • The First Air Division (AD) has its air bases in Bangkok area,
  • The Second Air Division is located in the eastern part of Thailand
  • The Third Air Division is in the central and northern-provinces
  • The Fourth Air Division has its bases in the long stretch of the southern provinces.
  • The security force consists of seven counterinsurgency squadrons, equipped with helicopter gunships, and other light aircraft suitable for counterinsurgency operations. Airfield security is provided by four battalions of troops trained in perimeter defence tactics.


The Royal Thai Air Force is divided into 4 divisions plus a training school, plus a few direct-reporting units. Each division is then subdivided into wings, with a total 2-3 wings each division.

  • 1st Air Division

* The 1st Air Division composes of two wings, the 2nd Wing and the 6th Wing.
* The 2nd Wing is a rotary aviation wing that is used for basic utility needs and transport as well as search and rescue (SAR) operations. This wing is normally based at RTAFB Lop Buri in Lop Buri Province
* The 6th Wing is a non-combat wing used for a variety of functions including transport, mapping, communications and surveying. This wing is based at RTAFB Don Muang / Bangkok.

  • 2nd Air Division

* The 2nd Air Division composes of three wings, the 1st Wing, the 21th Wing, and the 23rd Wing.
* The 1st Wing is an attack wing based at RTAFB Korat in Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
* The 21st Wing is an attack wing based at RTAFB Ubon Ratchathani in Ubon Ratchathani Province.
* The 23rd Wing is a light attack wing based at RTAFB Ubon in Udon Thani Province.

  • 3rd Air Division

* The 3rd Air Division composes of three wings, the 4th Wing, the 41st Wing, and the 46th Wing. Another wing, the 42nd Wing, is reported to exist.
* The 4th Wing is a light attack / fighter wing based at RTAFB Takhli in Nakhon Sawan Province.
* The 41st Wing is a light attack wing based at RTAFB Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai Province.
* The 46st Wing is a transport / rainmaking wing based at RTAFB Phitsanulok in Phitsanulok Province.

  • 4th Air Division

* The 4th Air Division composes of three wings, the 7th Wing, the 53rd Wing, and the 56th Wing.
* The 7th Wing is an interceptor and attack wing based at RTAFB Surat Thani in Surat Thani Province.
* The 5th Wing is a transport / observation wing based at RTAFB Prachuap Khiri Khan in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
* The 56th Wing is a currently forming wing based at RTAFB Hatyai in Songkhla Province.

  • Flying Training School

* The Flying Training School composes of three squadrons, the 1st Flying Training Squadron, 2nd Flying Training Squadron, and the 3rd Flying Training Squadron. The school is based at RTAFB Kamphang Saen in Nakhon Pathom Province

Royal Thai Air Force Bases

The Royal Thai Air Force maintains a number of modern bases from which it conducts its administrative, transport, and training operations. The bases, which were constructed between 1954 and 1968, have permanent buildings, sophisticated ground support equipment, and some of the best runways in Asia.

All but one were part of the network of airfields built and used by United States forces until their withdrawal from Thailand in 1976. Consolidating the equipment left by the departing units in accordance with government-to-government agreements, the Thai air force assumed use of the installations at Takhli and Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat).

In the late 1980s, these bases and Don Muang Air Base outside Bangkok, which the air force shares with civil aviation, remains the primary operational holdings.

Maintenance of the facilities at other bases abandoned by the United States proved too costly and exceeded Thai needs. Nonetheless, all runways were still available for training and emergency use.

By 2004 the Royal Thai Air Force had its main base at Don Muang airport, adjacent to Bangkok's International Airport. The RTAF also had large air fields and facilities at Nakon Ratchasima Ubon Ratchathani, and Takhli.


The following squadrons are currently active with the Royal Thai Air Force and their assigned Wing and equipment.
Squadron Wing Equipment Location Notes
201 Helicopter Squadron (Royal Guard) 2nd Wing Bell 412 RTAFB Khok ka thiem
203 Helicopter Squadron 2nd Wing Bell UH-1H RTAFB Khok ka thiem SAR detachments at RTAFB Chiang Mai, RTAFB Korat/Nakhon Ratchasima, RTAFB Bangkok, RTAFB udon ,RTAFB ubon, RTAFB surat and RTAFB hat yai
102 Fighter Squadron 1st Wing Lockheed Martin F-16ADF RTAFB Korat
103 Fighter Squadron 1st Wing Lockheed Martin F-16A/B RTAFB Korat
601 Transport Squadron 6th Wing Lockheed Martin C-130H/H-30 RTAFB Bangkok
602 Royal Flight Squadron (Royal Guard) 6th Wing Airbus A310, Boeing 737 RTAFB Bangkok
603 Transport Squadron 6th Wing Alenia G.222, BAe 748 RTAFB Bangkok
604 Civil Pilot Training Squadron 6th Wing CT-4A, T-41D RTAFB Bangkok
211 Fighter Squadron 21st Wing Northrop F-5T Tigres RTAFB Ubon Ratchathani
231 Attack Squadron 23rd Wing Dornier/Dassault Alpha Jet A RTAFB Ubon Ratchathani
401 Light Attack Squadron 4th Wing Aero L-39ZA/ART Albatros RTAFB Takhli
402 Elint Squadron 4th Wing Learjet 35, IAI Arava RTAFB Takhli
403 Fighter Squadron 4th Wing Lockheed Martin F-16A/B RTAFB Takhli
411 Fighter Squadron 41th Wing Aero L-39ZA/ART Albatros RTAFB Chiang Mai
461 Transport/Rainmaking Squadron 46th Wing GAF Nomad, Basler BT-67 RTAFB Phitsanulok
701 Fighter Squadron 7th Wing Northrop F-5B/E/F RTAFB Surat Thani
501 Attack Squadron 5th Wing AU-23A Peacemaker RTAFB Prachuap Khiri Khan The former 531 Sqn was redesignated 501 Sqn on 1st of April 2007
904 Aggessor Squadron - Northrop F-5E RTAFB Bangkok Former unit of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn Mahidon, now an aggressor unit.
Tango Squadron - - RTAFB Chiang Mai Historical aircraft unit, not controlled by the Royal Thai Air Force
1st Flying Training Squadron Flying Training School Pacific Aerospace PAC CT/4E RTAFB Kamphang Saen Primary flight training squadron
2nd Flying Training Squadron Flying Training School Pilatus PC-9M RTAFB Kamphang Saen Basic flight training squadron
3rd Flying Training Squadron Flying Training School Bell 206B RTAFB Kamphang Saen Rotary aviation training squadron

Aircraft inventory

Combat aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Variant Details
Saab JAS 39 Gripen air superiority fighter/strike fighter/maritime attacker JAS 39C/D 12 (on order. delivery in 2011)
Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon air superiority/strike fighter F-16A 29 (plus an additional 2 as spare parts)
Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon air superiority/strike fighter F-16ADF 15 (with AIM-120)
Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon air superiority/strike fighter/trainer F-16B 15 (dual-seat trainers)
Northrop F-5T Tigris fighter-bomber F-5T ~15 (upgraded by Israel, armed with Python 4 missile)
Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighter-bomber F-5E ~15 (due for replacement)
Northrop F-5B Freedom Fighter fighter-bomber/trainer F-5B 2 (early model F-5B's used for training purposes)
F-5F Tiger II fighter-bomber/trainer F-5F ~5 (two-seat training version of Northrop F-5)
Aero L-39 Albatros light attack aircraft / trainer L-39ZA/ART 36 (Westernized version of the Aero L-39 Albatros, equipped with Israeli avionics)
Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet
light attack aircraft/trainer Dornier Alpha Jet 19 (ex-Luftwaffe)
Pilatus AU-23A Peacemaker
light attack aircraft/utility aircraft AU-23A ~20 (armed version of the Pilatus PC-6)

Transport aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Variant Details
Lockheed C-130 Hercules tactical transport C-130H 12 (12 model H/H-30's in service of 601 Sqn)
Basler BT-67 tactical transport BT-67 8 (re-manufactured Douglas DC-3 Dakota's. used for aerial firefighting and cloud seeding. one written in a crash in August 2006. used by the 461 Sqn)
GAF Nomad surveillance and patrol aircraft Nomad 19 (6 left in service with 461 Sqn)
Alenia G.222 tactical transport G.222 3 (3 additional airframes stored at Don Mueang RTAFB, used by 603 Sqn. Alenia has demonstrated it's latest version of the G.222, the Alenia C-27J recently to the Thai military)
Avro 748 short range transport 748 4 (one airframe stricken from fleet after a wheels up landing in 2005, used by 603 Sqn)
Boeing 737 narrowbody airliner B737-2Z6 (B737-200) 1 (for royal flight. stricken from active fleet effective October 1st 2006 and stored at Don Mueang RTAFB)
Boeing 737 narrowbody airliner B737-4Z6 (B737-400) 1 (for royal flight)
Boeing 737 narrowbody airliner B737-8Z6 (B737-800) 1 (for royal flight. delivered on April 19th 2007)
Airbus A310

long range transport A310-300 1 (for royal flight)
Airbus A320

narrowbody transport A-319-115X CJ 1 (for government business. mired in controversy as aircraft was procured for the exclusive use of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. now used as a spare airplane for the Royal Flight)
Saab 340 transport/training 340 1 (on order. delivery in 2010)


Aircraft Origin Type Variant Details
Learjet 35 patrol aircraft 35A 2 (1 remaining, used by 402 Sqn)
Israel Aircraft Industries Arava patrol aircraft Arava 3 (at least one airframe stored, used by 402 Sqn)
Saab 340 AEW&C 340 2 (on order. delivery in 2010. with Erieye)

Trainer aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Variant Details
Pacific Aerospace CT/4 trainer CT/4 ~20 (24 were purchased, at least 3 are known to have crashed)
Pilatus PC-9 trainer PC-9/A 23


Aircraft Origin Type Variant Details
Bell UH-1 Iroquois utility helicopter/CSAR UH-1H 20 (soon to be replaced)
Sikorsky S-92 Superhawk utility helicopter S-92 3 (on order. delivery in 2010. for royal flight)
Bell 412
utility helicopter 412SP 6 (for royal flight and VIP transport)

Photo gallery


News about Royal Thai Air Force procurement program.

New fighter procurement program

As it is known in Thailand as RTAF 20th fighter program, RTAF studied three models of the new fighter to replace its aging Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighters. Requirements were for twelve aircraft with an expected delivery date in 2011. Fighters being examined for the purchase were the American Lockheed Martin F-16C/D block 50/52, the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKIT, and the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen.

On 16 October 2007, leaked information indicated that a decision had been reached to acquire twelve Gripens. A source said to Reuters that the F16 had been preferred, but American legislation prevents sales to countries whose governments are overthrown. However, this is incorrect as there is no U.S. arms embargo on Thailand, showed by the fact that Thailand has recently awarded a US company a large contract for modernizing its fleet of military transport aircraft.

On a press conference on 17 October, the decision to buy six JAS 39 Gripen (version C/D), with an option for six more, was presented by Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pookpasuk. Twelve JAS 39 Gripen, two Saab 340 Erieye AEW&C, and one Saab 340, training, technology transfer, and a number of RBS-15 anti-ship missiles will be delivered to RTAF in two phases:

  • first phase: consists of six JAS 39 Gripen and one Saab 340 Erieye from 2008 to 2012.
  • second phase: consists of six JAS 39 Gripen, one Saab 340 Erieye, and one Saab 340 from 2013 to 2017.

On 8 Jan 2008, cabinet approved the budget for the first phase. The deal, worth 19 billion Baht, consists of six JAS 39 Gripen: two single-seat C models and four dual-seat D model along with support, training, and spare parts. The offset includes one Saab 340 Erieye, one Saab 340, Datalink system, and 92 Master-degrees scholarships for Thai students to study in Sweden. The first three aircraft will be delivered in January 2011 and another three in March 2011. Saab 340 and Saab 340 Erieye will be delivered in 2010.

On 11 February 2008, the Gripen agreement was signed at FMV in Sweden, mark the start of the first batch.

New helicopter for Royal Flight

The Royal Thai Air Force has become the latest head-of-state customer to fly a Sikorsky S-92 VIP helicopter, as Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. On 17 October 2007, RTAF announced purchasing three of the VIP aircraft to transport the Thai Royal Family.

Indigenously developed trainer

On 5 Nov 2007, the new trainer prototype developed by Royal Thai Air Force was officially commissioned in the ceremony led by Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pookpasuk. The 30-million-Baht project was started two years ago, B.ThO.2 is the licensed reengineering of Aermacchi SF.260MT that once service in Thai Air Force. This prototype will be used for testing and researching for the next model RTAF-6 that aims to be a primary trainer for Thai Air Force Flying School, Kamphang Saen and 604 sqn. for civilian training.

C-130 upgrade

Rockwell Collins has received a second-phase contract from Thai Aviation Industries to provide a communications, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management upgrade for six Royal Thai Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 transports. The companies are upgrading a further six C-130s for Thailand under an earlier award.

F-16s MLU upgrade

Thailand is planning a structural upgrade for 16 Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs with kits provided by the manufacturer and installed by a new local company. Government-owned Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) has been selected to lead the service life extension project and has contracted Lockheed Martin to supply the components. The government formed TAI at Korat air base, using resources and personnel previously allocated to the air force's in-house depot maintenance organisation. Thai air force sources say TAI has alerady taken

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