Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Throughout the history of the RAF the basic independent unit has been the squadron, which in turn have been sub-divided into Flights but these flights only existed as part of their larger parent unit.  However from time to time it was deemed necessary to form smaller independent flights for specific purposes, sometimes designated by name or role but also within three numbered ranges at different times.

First Series

From around 25 May 1918 the small ex RNAS coastal units located around the coasts of the UK were given identities as numbered flights beginning at 300 as squadron numbers at that time only went into the 200s.

The breakdown of units was as follows: - 

Flight Nos Role/Type
300 - 358  Large flying boats
400 - 442 Floatplanes
450 - 455 Sopwith Baby seaplanes
470 - 487 Land based fighters for defence against enemy torpedo equipped aircraft
490 - 499 Light bombers for anti-submarine patrols
500 - 533 Special duties flights for anti-submarine patrols equipped with DH6s
534 Light bombers for anti-submarine patrols
550 - 561 Light bombers for anti-submarine patrols
562 Anti-submarine flight based in Malta

Eventually these flights were absorbed into squadrons in the 200 series but retained their numbered identities and by the end of 1919 most had been disbanded.

Click on the title link to see histories of individual flights

Second Series

In the post WW1 period the RAF continued to provide the aircraft, pilots and support personnel aboard the Royal Navy's small but expanding carrier force and in 1923 a new element of the RAF was established to work exclusively with the Navy.  This was called the Fleet Air Arm of the RAF or more simply the Fleet Air Arm.  As the carriers of the time were quite small it was decided to create flights rather than squadrons so that a single carrier could carry a range of types to cover the three main roles identified for support of the fleet.  These roles were Fleet Fighter, Fleet Spotter Reconnaissance and Fleet Torpedo Bomber so flights of each type were formed and numbered in the 400 series, although numbers from 480 were used for RAF (non FAA) coastal reconnaissance units. 

The breakdown of units was as follows: - 

Flight Nos Role/Type
401 - 409 Fleet Fighter
420 - 423 Fleet Spotter
440 - 446 Fleet Reconnaissance
447 - 450 Fleet Spotter Reconnaissance
460 - 466 Fleet Torpedo Bomber

In 1929 the RAF coastal reconnaissance flights were raised to squadron status in the 200 series and in April 1933 the FAA units were grouped into a new range of squadrons numbered in the 800 series except for the catapult units which were numbered in the 700 series some as flights whilst others were raised to squadron status.

Click on the title link to see histories of individual flights

Third series

At the beginning of WW2 it became necessary to form a number of units for specific operational and non-operational duties which did not require a unit of squadron size and so began the formation of what would eventually become a large number of independent numbered flights.  Initially these flights were numbered from 400 as it had been decided to allocate the 300 series to squadrons to be composed of European personnel.  However, on 1 March 1941 these numbered flights had 1000 added to their designation to avoid confusion with the Article XV Commonwealth squadron that were beginning to form in the UK.

Flights in this series carried out a wide range of duties including meteorological reconnaissance, target towing, beam approach training and transport/communications.  Later in the war many of the flights were amalgamated into squadrons and numbers in this series continue to be used to the present day.

Click on the title link to see histories of individual flights

This page was last updated on 11/09/20

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