The Royal Air Force introduced officer RAF ranks in 1919. Prior to this, Army ranks were used.

Interestingly, many ranks within the Royal Air Force do not correspond with the actual duties of an officer. For example, a pilot officer may not be trained to pilot an aircraft.

The ranking for pilots actually starts at cadet officer and is then upgraded to flying officer on graduation.

There are many ranks which exist across all three forces: Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army.

Origin of the RAF Ranks

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.

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.

The British Army and Royal Navy 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 which was rejected, so 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.

RAF Commissioned Ranks

Rank insignia, which was to be worn on the jacket cuff, was established for the force in 1918. The ranking insignia has similarities to the Royal Navy rings. In 1919 the colour of the rank braid changed to black with a central pale blue stripe. The RAF mess dress, however, continued to be gold.

Rank Structure For Commissioned Ranks

Here is the rank structure for commissioned ranks of the Royal Air Force. Ranks are shown in ascending order. Rank insignia for commissioned ranks is worn on the lower arm of dress uniform.

Pilot Officer

  • Flying Officer
  • Flight Lieutenant
  • Squadron Leader
  • Wing Commander
  • Group Captain
  • Air Commodore
  • Air Vice-Marshal
  • Air Marshal
  • Air Chief Marshal
  • Marshal of the Royal Air Force

Non-Commissioned Aircrew

Rank insignia for Non-Commissioned Aircrew ranks is, with the exception of Master Aircrew, worn on the upper arm of dress uniform, Master Aircrew badges are worn on the lower arm.

  • RAF Sergeant Aircrew
  • RAF Flight Sergeant Aircrew
  • RAF Master Aircrew

Non-Commissioned other ranks

Here is the rank structure for other ranks of the Royal Air Force.

Ranks are shown in ascending order. In many cases, the Royal Air Force rank will be the junior of the three Services, the Royal Navy having seniority over both the Army and RAF.

Rank insignia for non-commissioned ranks is, with the exception of Warrant Officer and Master Aircrew, worn on the upper arm of dress uniform. Warrant Officer and Master Aircrew badges are worn on the lower arm the images of the Non-Commissioned Aircrew.

  • Leading Aircraftman
  • Senior Aircraftman
  • Senior Aircraftman (Technician)
  • Lance Corporal RAF Regiment
  • Corporal
  • Sergeant
  • Chief Technician
  • Flight Sergeant
  • Warrant Officer

RAF Initial Training

Regardless of your rank, skills and aspirations, all RAF recruits must pass through RAF Initial Training either at RAF Halton for Non-Commissioned ranks or IOT Cranwell for Commissioned ranks.

New recruits can make a substantial saving on their RAF initial training kit by purchasing their RAF initial training kit from Supply Drop.

In return, Supply Drop will make a donation to an armed forces charity to show their appreciation of your business. This is especially important at these times when donations to charities have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus.