Wing commander (rank)

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A Wing Commander's sleeve/shoulder insignia

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 Royal Air Force[1] and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks immediately above squadron leader and immediately below group captain.

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-4, and is equivalent to a commander in the Royal Navy or a lieutenant colonel 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 "wing officer". The equivalent rank in the Royal Observer Corps (until 1995) was "observer commander" which had a similar rank insignia.

Origins[edit]

The rank insignia of a Royal Naval Air Service wing commander

On 1 April 1918, the newly created RAF adopted its officer rank titles from the British Army, with Royal Naval Air Service commanders (titled as wing commanders) and Royal Flying Corps lieutenant colonels becoming lieutenant colonels in the RAF. In response to the proposal that the RAF should use its own rank titles, it was suggested that the RAF might use the Royal Navy's officer ranks, with the word "air" inserted before the naval rank title. For example, the rank that later became wing commander would have been air commander.

Although the Admiralty objected to this simple modification of their rank titles, it was agreed that the RAF might base many of its officer rank titles on naval officer ranks with differing pre-modifying terms. It was also suggested that RAF lieutenant colonels might be entitled reeves or wing-leaders. However, the rank title wing commander was chosen as wings were typically commanded by RAF lieutenant colonels and the term wing commander had been used in the Royal Naval Air Service. The rank of wing commander has been used continuously since 1 August 1919.

Usage[edit]

In the early years of the RAF, a wing commander commanded a flying wing, typically a group of three or four aircraft squadrons. In current usage a wing commander is more likely to command a wing which is an administrative sub-division of a station. In the Air Training Corps, a wing commander is the officer commanding of a wing.[citation needed]

Navies Armies Air forces
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 Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Lieutenant
commander
Major or
Commandant
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant Flying officer
Ensign Second
lieutenant
Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Chief petty officer or
Warrant officer
Sergeant major or
Warrant officer
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

Insignia and command flag[edit]

The rank insignia is based on the three gold bands of commanders in the Royal Navy and consists of three narrow light blue bands over slightly wider black bands. This is worn on both the lower sleeves of the tunic or on the shoulder of the flying suit or the casual uniform.

The command pennant is two triangular command pennants used in the RAF. Two thin red lines differentiate this one from the other.

During 1941-45 Fighter Command's wing leaders (of wing commander rank) were also allowed to use their own initials as aircraft identification letters on their personal aircraft, e.g., Wing Commander Roland Beamont's personal Hawker Tempest, JN751, was coded "R-B", Wing Commander John Robert Baldwin's personal Hawker Typhoon was coded "J-B".

Other air forces[edit]

The rank of wing commander is also used in a number of the air forces in the Commonwealth, including the Bangladesh Air Force, Ghana Air Force, Nigerian Air Force, Indian Air Force, Pakistan Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Malaysian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Sri Lankan Air Force. It is also used in the Egyptian Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Royal Air Force of Oman and the Royal Thai Air Force.

Royal Canadian Air Force[edit]

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used the rank until the unification of the Canadian Forces (CF) in 1968, when army-type rank titles were adopted. A Canadian wing commander then became a lieutenant-colonel. In official French Canadian usage, a wing commander's rank title was lieutenant-colonel d'aviation. The rank of wing commander continues to be used as a cadet rank at the Royal Military College of Canada.

In the 1990s, the Canadian Forces Air Command (the post-1968 RCAF) altered the structure of those bases under its control, redesignating them as wings. The commander of such an establishment was re-designated as the "wing commander" (or Wg Comd). Like the United States Air Force usage, the term "wing commander" (as used in the modern Canadian Forces) is an appointment, not a rank. A "wing commander" usually holds the rank of colonel.

United States Air Force[edit]

In the United States Air Force (USAF) wing commander is a duty title, not a rank. The equivalent USAF rank is lieutenant colonel who typically has command of a squadron. Because USAF wings are larger formations than RAF wings, the commander of a wing must hold at least the rank of colonel, and is typically a colonel or a brigadier general. The one exception to this is the commander of the 59th Medical Wing (Wilford Hall Medical Center) who is customarily a major general.

Civil Air Patrol (United States Air Force Auxiliary)[edit]

The Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer auxiliary of the USAF, follows the USAF rank structure. CAP divides the nation into 52 wings (each corresponding to a state, territory, and District of Columbia). Each wing is headed by a CAP colonel, who holds the position of wing commander.

Notable wing commanders[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]