Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

Home Page

Main Menu

Quick Menu

Members' Area

What New?

About this site


Help Needed?



Sign Guest Book

View Guest Book

Link to Amazon

Online Store

Contact Me

Commissioned Ranks of the Royal Air Force 1919 - Present

Final Uniform Design

The original proposal (by Lt-Gen Sir David Henderson) was to use a combination of Naval and Army ranks for the new service.  However, the War Office felt that the new service should have its own rank titles and also that the original list gave senior officers naval ranks and junior officers military ones.  On the other hand, the Admiralty objected to the use of naval ranks, even with the addition of the word 'Air', and also suggested that the RAF adopt its own titles. 

The final choice of titles are those still in use today and shown below.  However prior to arriving at these an initial list of titles was suggested:-

Ensign, Lieutenant, Flight-Leader, Squadron-Leader, Reeve, Banneret, Fourth-Ardian, Third-Ardian, Second-Ardian, Ardian, Air Marshal.

Ardian was derived from the Gaelic 'Ard' meaning Chief and 'Ian' or 'Eun' meaning Bird

A further suggestion varied the higher ranks as follows: -

Ensign, Lieutenant, Flight-Leader, Squadron-Leader, Wing-Leader, Leader, Flight Ardian, Squadron Ardian, Wing Ardian, Ardian, Air Marshal.

When introduced the new ranks were adopted as from 1 August 1919, however, appointments in the London Gazette were still being made with reference to Army ranks into early September 1919, their first use appearing to be in the edition of 5 September 1919, when appointments made after 1 August 1919 are in the new rank titles.

The following is an answer to a question posed in the House of Commons during WW2 regarding time promotions: -


Officers of the General Duties Branch (aircrews) are commissioned in the rank of pilot officer. After six months' service in that rank they are granted time-promotion to flying officer and after a further 18 months time-promotion to flight lieutenant, subject in each case to satisfactory service. For other officers there is time-promotion to the rank of flying officer after six months' satisfactory service in the rank of pilot officer, except in the Medical and Dental Branches where officers are entered as flying officers and are granted time-promotion to flight lieutenant after one year's satisfactory service.

Temporary Promotion.

Promotions to ranks outside the scope of time-promotions are made within the war establishment on the recommendations of Central Promotion Boards held at the Air Ministry.

Acting Promotion.

Acting rank is granted to officers employed in posts graded in a rank above their existing rank pending the availability of an officer of the appropriate substantive or temporary rank, and is tenable only so long as officer is filling such a post. Acting ranks up to wing commander may be granted by commands; the acting rank of group captain and above is granted by the Air Ministry.

Officers who obtain an acting rank two or more steps above their basic rank and hold it for certain periods are given war substantive rank one rank below the acting rank and they cannot drop below this in war if they lose their acting rank.

Promotion Boards for temporary rank are held half-yearly and the claims of officers, whether holding acting rank or not, who have not been selected by one Board are considered by subsequent Boards.

As for the last part of the Question, the claims to promotion to temporary rank of R.A.F.V.R. officers with previous service are fully considered along with those of other officers. Promotions are of course limited to vacancies."


Pilot Officer - Final uniform design 

Flying Officer - Final uniform design

Flight Lieutenant - Final uniform design

 Pilot Officer 

Flying Officer

Flight Lieutenant
Squadron Leader - Final uniform design Wing Commander - Final uniform design Group Captain - Final uniform design
Squadron Leader Wing Commander Group Captain
Air Commodore - Final uniform design Air Vice Marshal - Final uniform design Air Marshal - Final uniform design
Air Commodore Air Vice-Marshal Air Marshal
Air Chief Marshal - Final uniform design   Marshal of the RAF - Final uniform design
Air Chief Marshal   Marshal of the RAF

This page was last updated on 29/10/22 

[Top of Page]

Back to Ranks and Insignia Menu  Ranks and Insignia Menu