RAF officer ranks

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The officer ranks of the Royal Air Force, as they are today, were introduced in 1919. Prior to that Army ranks were used.

Ranks (Highest to Lowest)[edit]

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 United Kingdom
British RAF OF-10 (ceremonial shoulder board).svgBritish RAF OF-10.svg British RAF Air Officer (ceremonial shoulder board).svgBritish RAF OF-9.svg British RAF Air Officer (ceremonial shoulder board).svgBritish RAF OF-8.svg British RAF Air Officer (ceremonial shoulder board).svgBritish RAF OF-7.svg British RAF Air Officer (ceremonial shoulder board).svgBritish RAF OF-6.svg British RAF OF-5.svg British RAF OF-4.svg British RAF OF-3.svg British RAF OF-2.svg British RAF OF-1b.svg British RAF OF-1a.svg UK-RAF-OFD.svg No equivalent
Marshal of the RAF1 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 Off Cdt NA [1]
  • 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.[2]

Badges of rank[edit]

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.[3] 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[4]

Rank titles[edit]

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, 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, this rank title was changed to marshal of the Royal Air Force at the request of King George V, his belief being that the former sounded too much like it encroached on the attributes of God.

Composite braid[edit]

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[edit]

Air Chf Mshl
Air Mshl
Air Cdre
Gp Capt
Wg Cdr
Sqn Ldr

Distinction between ranks and appointments[edit]

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. A squadron leader does not necessarily command a squadron, nor a wing commander necessarily command a wing, nor a group captain command a group.

RAF Air Cadets (Air Training Corps and Combined Cadet Force)[edit]

The majority of officers in the Air Cadet Organisation (ATC and CCF(RAF)) are remunerated volunteers commissioned into the 'Training Branch' of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) and although commissioned into a Reserve Air Force of the Crown, wear the insignia of the branch they serve in[5]. They are identified as such by wearing 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 certain circumstances, Honorary Appointments within the RAFVR(T) may be made, however the rank may vary. Wef: 1 Oct 17, it is anticipated that all officers will transfer over to the new Cadet Forces Commission and the ACO is being re-branded as RAF Air Cadets (RAFAC).

Other air forces[edit]

Navies Armies Air forces
Commissioned and Non-commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
General of the Army 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 lieutenant Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Flight 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:

General Charles Horner, USAF, wearing the short-lived USAF silver sleeve braid rank insignia, similar in concept but not colour to the RAF officer ranks

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armitage, Michael (1998). The Royal Air Force : an illustrated history (2 ed.). London: Brockhampton Press. p. 280. ISBN 1-86019-851-1. 
  2. ^ Hering, Peter George (1961). Customs and traditions of the Royal Air Force. Aldershot: Gale and Polden Ltd. pp. 21, 22. OCLC 462209238. 
  3. ^ "Commissioned Ranks of the Royal Air Force April 1918 - Aug 1919 Initial Uniform Design". Air of Authority. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  4. ^ "RAF AP 1358, CHAP 7 - DISTINGUISHING INSIGNIA" (PDF). MOD. 2 August 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  5. ^ AP1919 Rules and Regulations of the Air Training Corps
  6. ^ "Royal Australian Air Force / Royal Australian Air Force". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  7. ^ "Royal New Zealand Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  8. ^ "Hellenic Air Force / Πολεμική Αεροπορία - Polemikí Aeroporía". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  9. ^ "The Nigerian Air Force Service, Colours, Wings and Rank Structure". Nigerianairforce.net. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  10. ^ "Indian Air Force / भारतीय वायु सेना / Bhartiya Vāyu Sen&#257". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  11. ^ "Bangladesh Air Force / বাংলাদেশ বিমান বাহিনী - Bangladesh Biman Bahini". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  12. ^ "Sri Lanka Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  13. ^ "Ghana Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2012-12-16. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  14. ^ "Air Force of Zimbabwe / Air Force of Zimbabwe". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-04. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  15. ^ "Royal Thai Air Force / กองทัพอากาศไทย - Kong Thab Akat Thai". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  16. ^ "Chilean Air Force / Fuerza Aérea de Chile". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  17. ^ "Pakistan Air Force - PAF / پاک فضائیہ - Pak Fiza´ya". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  18. ^ "Egyptian Air Force / القوات الجوية المصري&#1577". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  19. ^ "Afghan National Air Corps /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  20. ^ "Argentine Air Force / Fuerza Aérea Argentina". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  21. ^ "Belgian Air Component / Luchtcomponent-Composante". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  22. ^ "Eritrean Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  23. ^ "Finnish Air Force / Suomen ilmavoimat / Finska flygvapnet". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  24. ^ (PDF) http://www.mil.se/attachments/the_facts_2006_2007_eng.pdf. Retrieved March 1, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  25. ^ "Royal Malaysian Air Force / Tentera Udara DiRaja Malaysia". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  26. ^ "Peruvian Air Force / Fuerza Aérea del Perú". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  27. ^ "Royal Netherlands Air Force / Koninklijke Luchtmacht". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  28. ^ "Royal Danish Air Force / Flyvevåbnet". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  29. ^ "Air Force / Aeronautica Militare". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  30. ^ "Romanian Air Force / Forţele Aeriene Române". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  31. ^ "Romanian Air Force / Forţele Aeriene Române". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  32. ^ "South African Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  33. ^ "Canadian Air Force / Canadian Forces Air Command - AIRCOM". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  34. ^ "Irish Air Corps / Aer Chór na hÉireann". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  35. ^ "Uruguayan Air Force / Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  36. ^ "Canadian Air Force / Canadian Forces Air Command - AIRCOM". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  37. ^ "Royal Rhodesian Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  38. ^ "Republic of Singapore Air Force / 新加坡空军部队 - Angkatan Udara Republik Singapura - சிங்கப்பூர் ஆகாயப்பட&#3016". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  39. ^ "U.S. Air Force / United States Air Force". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  40. ^ Although the USAF discontinued the RAF-pattern rank insignia introduced by General Merrill McPeak in 1994, U.S. Air Force Academy, college & university Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, and Air Force Officer Training School officer cadets use identical insignia today.
  41. ^ "Pakistan Air Force - PAF / پاک فضائیہ - Pak Fiza´ya". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  42. ^ "Royal Air Force of Oman / al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Sultanat Oman". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  43. ^ "Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  44. ^ "Air Force of the Democratic Republic of the Congo / Force Aérienne du Congo". Uniforminsignia.org. 2010-08-02. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  45. ^ "Air Force /". Uniforminsignia.org. 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  46. ^ "Air Force / Force Aérienne". Uniforminsignia.org. 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[edit]