An air observer
is a British
term for an aircrew
member whose duties are predominantly reconnaissance
. The term originates in the first world war in the Royal Flying Corps
and was maintained by its successor the Royal Air Force
. An air observer's brevet
was a single wing with an O at the root.
The term is still used in some contexts now, such as police helicopter units.
The first recorded RAF "kill" of the second World War, On 20th September 1939, was by air observer Sgt. F Letchford, aboard a Fairey Battle flown by Flg. Off LH Baker.
Observers were also issued with weapons, and expected to engage with enemy aircraft in the early days of military flight. Over time the role changed and separate gunnery specialities emerged. By the second World War the RAF commonly used the designation Air Observer / Navigator in bomber crew.
Air observers were trained at the Air Observer Schools.