The British Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's air and space warfare force. It was established in 1918 when Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service merged, making it the oldest independent air force in the world. The RAF fought in the Second World War with great distinction, playing a crucial role in the Battle of Britain.
This article contains a list of all British Royal Air Force ranks from highest to lowest, with descriptions of what each rank confers and requires.
Marshal of the Royal Air Force (four-star)
The Marshal of the Royal Air Force is the highest ranking officer in the British Royal Air Force. This position is a four-star rank and is equivalent to a full general in the British Army or a marshal in the Royal Navy. The current Marshal of the Royal Air Force is Sir Stephen Hillier, who was appointed to the position in 2016.
The Marshal of the Royal Air Force is responsible for the command, control, and administration of the RAF. This includes responsibility for personnel, equipment, and training. The Marshal also has a role in advising government ministers on air force matters.
The Marshal of the Royal Air Force is appointed by the Queen on advice from her ministers. The appointment does not require parliamentary approval. The current Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Stephen Hillier, was appointed in 2016.
Air Chief Marshal (four-star)
The second highest rank in the Royal Air Force is that of Air Chief Marshal. This is a four-star rank and is equivalent to the ranks of General and Admiral in other branches of the military.
This rank is reserved for only the most senior and experienced officers. An Air Chief Marshal’s career typically spans several decades, and they are often appointed to high-level positions within the UK government and NATO.
Those who hold this rank are responsible for leading and coordinating the activities of the entire Royal Air Force and report directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Air Marshal (two-star)
Air Marshal is the third rank in the Royal Air Force and is also a two-star rank. An Air Marshal typically serves as a Divisional Commander within the Royal Air Force or as the RAF's representative to a Joint Headquarters.
An Air Marshal is a senior officer in the Royal Air Force. Their role is to provide leadership and strategic direction for the RAF. Air Marshals are responsible for the operational effectiveness of the RAF.
They also have a role in promoting the RAF’s interests, both nationally and internationally. Air Marshals are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Air Vice-Marshal (two-star)
An Air Vice-Marshal is a two-star senior air officer who is responsible for the operations of a large command within the Royal Air Force. The rank of Air Vice-Marshal is equivalent to that of a Major General in the British Army or a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.
Air Vice-Marshals are typically appointed to lead RAF stations, groups, or wings. Their main duties include overseeing the training and development of personnel, as well as the planning and execution of operations.
In addition, Air Vice-Marshals may also be required to provide advice and assistance to other senior RAF officers on a variety of matters.
Air Commodore (one-star)
An Air Commodore is a one-star rank in the Royal Air Force and is equivalent to a Brigadier in the British Army or a Commodore in the Royal Navy.
The rank of Air Commodore was first used in 1918 when it was created as a temporary rank for senior RAF officers during World War I. In 1919, it became a permanent rank. During World War II, it was used as a higher ranking for squadron leaders and wing commanders.
Since 1963, Air Commodore has been the lowest ranking one-star officer in the RAF. It is typically held by the Commandant of an RAF station or by the commander of a large RAF unit such as an airbase or support command.
Group captain is one of the senior officer ranks in the RAF. A group captain typically commands a large RAF base or a group of bases. They may also be responsible for training, logistics, or other specialist functions within the RAF.
Becoming a group captain is a significant milestone in an RAF career. It takes many years of hard work and dedication to reach this level. Group captains have usually experienced as pilots, although this is not always the case.
A Wing Commander is a senior commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force, typically commanding a squadron of aircraft.
A Wing Commander is responsible for the operational effectiveness and leadership of a wing. This includes planning and executing missions, as well as training and development of personnel. They also liaise with other agencies to ensure the smooth running of operations.
Wing Commanders are usually promoted from within their squadrons, but they may also be brought in from other units. Their rank is equivalent to that of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army or Royal Marines.
As the name suggests, a Squadron Leader is the leader of a squadron. A squadron is a group of around 10-12 aircraft and can be either combat or non-combat. The role of a Squadron Leader is to lead and coordinate the activities of the squadron, as well as be responsible for the safety of all personnel and equipment.
A typical day for a Squadron Leader may involve briefing pilots on mission objectives, planning and executing missions, debriefing pilots after missions, and maintaining contact with other squadrons and ground control. In addition to their flying duties, Squadron Leaders also have administrative responsibilities such as managing resources and personnel.
The rank of Squadron Leader is reserved for experienced officers who have demonstrated leadership ability and dedication to their career. To become a Squadron Leader, one must first serve as a Flight Lieutenant or Captain for at least three years.
A flight lieutenant is a junior officer in the Royal Air Force. They are typically the most senior officers onboard aircraft and are responsible for the safety of the crew and passengers.
Flight lieutenants typically have several years of experience as pilots or navigators, and have completed advanced training courses. They may also be responsible for training new pilots or navigators.
Flight lieutenants are often the first officers to be considered for promotion to higher ranks, such as Squadron leaders or Wing Commander.
Flying Officers are typically young officers who have recently completed their training. Flying Officer typically holds this rank for two to three years before being promoted to a more senior rank.
Flying Officers hold a great deal of responsibility and are expected to lead by example. They may be required to lead small teams of airmen on missions, or oversee the work of junior officers.
Becoming a Flying Officer in the RAF requires completing officer training at one of the service's academies. Candidates must also have completed a minimum of two years' service as a Commissioned Officer to be eligible for the promotion.
A Pilot Officer is the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force. It is equivalent to a Second Lieutenant in the British Army or a Flying Officer in the Royal Navy. A Pilot Officer typically commands a section of four aircraft.
Pilot Officers are usually aged between 22 and 28 years old and have completed their training at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.
You can be promoted to Flying Officer after completing 12 months as a Pilot Officer, providing you have met the required standards.
Are you interested in a career in the Royal Air Force? If so, you’ll need to pass several aptitude tests as part of the recruitment process. These examine skills such as verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and mechanical comprehension: all crucial for any occupation in the armed forces.
Check out our RAF Aptitude Test to learn more about how these tests work, and practice some realistic samples like RAF AST practice test.