World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

RAF officer ranks


  • Ranks 1
  • Origins 2
    • Badges of rank 2.1
    • Sleeve ranks 2.2
    • Shoulder boards 2.3
    • Rank titles 2.4
  • Composite braid 3
  • Command flags 4
  • Distinction between ranks and appointments 5
  • Air Cadet Organisation (Air Training Corps and Combined Cadet Force) 6
  • Other air forces 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


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 Royal Air Force1 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 Officer Cadet

Abbreviation MRAF Air Chf Mshl Air Mshl AVM Air Cdre Gp Capt Wg Cdr Sqn Ldr Flt Lt Fg Off Plt Off APO Off Cdt
  • 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.

RAF Mess Dress cuff insignia for a flight lieutenant

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.

Sleeve ranks

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" (9.5 cm) from the cuff and each row of braiding should have a space of 1/8" (3mm) 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" (6mm); the Flying Officer's braid common to all the ranks except air commodore and pilot officer, is 1/2" (14mm), and the thickest braid, as found on all air officer ranks, is 2" (51mm).

Shoulder boards

Air officers' ceremonial shoulder board
Shoulder board of marshal of the RAF

Distinctive shoulder boards (as shown) are worn by Marshals of the Royal Air Force.

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.[1]

Rank titles

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, King George V, his belief being that the former sounded too much like it encroached on the attributes of God.

Composite braid

Composite braid as worn by a squadron leader

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.

Command flags


Air Chf Mshl

Air Mshl


Air Cdre

Gp Capt

Wg Cdr

Sqn Ldr

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 in fact pilots skip the rank of Pilot Officer and go from Cadet Officer to Flying Officer on graduation from officer training school at RAF Cranwell, Squadron Leader does not necessarily command a squadron, nor a Wing Commander necessarily command a wing, nor a Group Captain command a group.

Air Cadet Organisation (Air Training Corps and Combined Cadet Force)

The majority of officers in the ACO are unpaid volunteers commissioned into the 'Training Branch' of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, RAFVR(T). They are identified as such by wearing of small gold-coloured insignia shaped as the letters VRT on the lapel or centrally on shoulder rank slides. In the RAFVR(T), the rank system for officers is identical to the regular RAF, but the highest substantive rank is Flying Officer. Higher ranks within the RAFVR(T) 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 rare and special circumstances, Honorary Appointments within the RAFVR(T) may be made, however the rank may vary.

Other air forces

Navies Armies Air forces
Commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier or
Brigadier general
Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant or
First lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign Second
Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
Chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
Sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

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:

USAF general Charles Horner wearing the short-lived USAF silver rings rank insignia

See also


  1. ^ "RAF AP 1358, CHAP 7 - DISTINGUISHING INSIGNIA" (PDF). MOD. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2015-01-24. 
  2. ^ "Royal Australian Air Force / Royal Australian Air Force". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  3. ^ "Royal New Zealand Air Force /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  4. ^ "Hellenic Air Force / Πολεμική Αεροπορία - Polemikí Aeroporía". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  5. ^ "The Nigerian Air Force Service, Colours, Wings and Rank Structure". Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  6. ^ "Indian Air Force / भारतीय वायु सेना / Bhartiya Vāyu Senā". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  7. ^ "Bangladesh Air Force / বাংলাদেশ বিমান বাহিনী - Bangladesh Biman Bahini". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  8. ^ "Sri Lanka Air Force /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  9. ^ "Ghana Air Force /". 2012-12-16. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  10. ^ "Air Force of Zimbabwe / Air Force of Zimbabwe". 2010-08-04. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  11. ^ "Royal Thai Air Force / กองทัพอากาศไทย - Kong Thab Akat Thai". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  12. ^ "Chilean Air Force / Fuerza Aérea de Chile". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  13. ^ "Pakistan Air Force - PAF / پاک فضائیہ - Pak Fiza´ya". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  14. ^ "Egyptian Air Force / القوات الجوية المصرية". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  15. ^ "Afghan National Air Corps /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  16. ^ "Argentine Air Force / Fuerza Aérea Argentina". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  17. ^ "Belgian Air Component / Luchtcomponent-Composante". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  18. ^ "Eritrean Air Force /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  19. ^ "Finnish Air Force / Suomen ilmavoimat / Finska flygvapnet". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ "Royal Malaysian Air Force / Tentera Udara DiRaja Malaysia". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  22. ^ "Peruvian Air Force / Fuerza Aérea del Perú". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  23. ^ "Royal Netherlands Air Force / Koninklijke Luchtmacht". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  24. ^ "Royal Danish Air Force / Flyvevåbnet". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  25. ^ "Air Force / Aeronautica Militare". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  26. ^ "Romanian Air Force / Forţele Aeriene Române". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  27. ^ "Romanian Air Force / Forţele Aeriene Române". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  28. ^ "South African Air Force /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  29. ^ "Canadian Air Force / Canadian Forces Air Command - AIRCOM". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  30. ^ "Irish Air Corps / Aer Chór na hÉireann". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  31. ^ "Uruguayan Air Force / Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  32. ^ "Canadian Air Force / Canadian Forces Air Command - AIRCOM". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  33. ^ "Royal Rhodesian Air Force /". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  34. ^ "Republic of Singapore Air Force / 新加坡空军部队 - Angkatan Udara Republik Singapura - சிங்கப்பூர் ஆகாயப்படை". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  35. ^ "U.S. Air Force / United States Air Force". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  36. ^ Although the USAF discontinued the RAF-pattern rank insignia introduced by General Merrill McPeak in 1994, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps officer cadets use identical insignia today.
  37. ^ "Pakistan Air Force - PAF / پاک فضائیہ - Pak Fiza´ya". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  38. ^ "Royal Air Force of Oman / al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Sultanat Oman". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  39. ^ "Air Force /". 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  40. ^ "Air Force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo / Force Aérienne du Congo". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  41. ^ "Air Force /". 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  42. ^ "Air Force / Force Aérienne". 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 


  • Hobart, Malcolm. Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force. London/Barnsley, England: Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2000. ISBN 0-85052-739-2.

External links

  • Officer Ranks and Badges of the RAF at the RAF official Web site
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.