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RAF officer ranks: Wikis


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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
UK-Air-OF10.svg UK-Air-OF9.svg UK-Air-OF8.svg UK-Air-OF7.svg UK-Air-OF6.svg UK-Air-OF5.svg UK-Air-OF4.svg UK-Air-OF3.svg UK-Air-OF2.svg UK-Air-OF1A.svg UK-Air-OF1B.svg RAF Off Cdt.png
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 Officer Cadet or Student Officer
Abbreviation MRAF Air Chf Mshl or ACM Air Mshl or AM AVM Air Cdre Gp Capt Wg Cdr Sqn Ldr Flt Lt Fg Off Plt Off A/Plt Off OCdt
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.

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, 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 and at the request of King George V, this rank title was changed to Marshal of the Royal Air Force.

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 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 and a Squadron Leader does not necessarily command a squadron.

Other air forces

Common military ranks
Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the Fleet
Marshal / Field Marshal Marshal of
the Air Force
Admiral General Air Marshal
Commodore Brigadier Air Commodore
Captain Colonel Group Captain
Commander Lt. Colonel Wing Commander
Lt. Commander Major / Commandant Squadron Leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight Lieutenant
Sub-Lieutenant Lieutenant Flying Officer
Ensign 2nd Lieutenant Pilot Officer
Midshipman Officer Cadet Officer Cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant Officer 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 to the RAF:

The following air forces use rank insignia for their officers which are similar to 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:

See also



  • 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


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