Royal Air Force

The RAF Ensign

Founded 1 April 1918
Country United Kingdom
Branch Air Force
Part of British Armed Forces
Air Staff Offices MOD Main Building, Whitehall
Size Over 1200 aircraft, over 500 helicopters, and 100000 personnel (2007)
Motto Per Ardua ad Astra ('Through Struggle to the Stars')
March Royal Air Force March Past
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton
Notable Commanders
  • Lord Trenchard
  • Lord Portal
  • Lord Dowding
  • Keith Park
RAF Badge
RAF Roundel
Royaume uni
RAF Tactical Roundel
Royaume uni bv1
RAF Low Visibility Roundel
Royaume uni bv2
Aircraft flown
Bomber Vengeance, Merlin
Fighter Tomcat, Hornet, BAe Typhoon
Ground Attack Harrier
Electronic Warfare Merlin, VC 10
Reconnaissance VC 10, Canberra, Sentinel
Patrol Nimrod, Reaper
Transport Globemaster, Hercules, VC 10, Tristar, VC10, BAe 146, BAe 125
Training Hawk, Tucano, King Air, Firefly, Griffin, Squirrel
Helicopters Cormorant, Chinook, Puma, Sea King, Blackhawk

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the air arm of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918 the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history ever since, playing a large part in World War II and in more recent conflicts. The majority of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the United Kingdom with many others serving on operations or at long-established overseas bases (notably the Falkland Islands, and Gibraltar).


The professional head of the RAF is the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. The CAS heads the Air Force Board, which is a committee of the Defence Council. The Air Force Board is the management board of the RAF and consists of the Commander-in-Chief of Air Command, together with several other high ranking officers. The CAS also has a deputy known as the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS); this post is held by Air Vice-Marshal T M Anderson.

The Air Force Board delegates authority to various functional commands:

  • Strike Command
    • Combat air power
  • Air Support Command
    • Transport aircraft, tankers, support helicopters
  • Personnel and Training Command
    • Air and ground training
  • Support Command
    • Facilities, logistics, and deep level maintenance

Strike CommandEdit

Strike Command performs all the combat tasks of the RAF including air defence, ground attack, nuclear and conventional strike, maritime reconnaissance and strike, and reconnaissance.

It has the following combat units:

  • No. 1 Group
    • 1 Group is a bomber group, and operates Vengeances.
  • No. 2 Group
    • 2 Group is a tactical group. It operates some of the RAF's Hornets, Typhoons, and Harriers.
  • No. 3 Group
    • 3 Group is a surveillance and reconnaissance group.
  • No. 4 Group
    • 4 Group is a strike group, and operates Merlins.
  • No. 11 Group
    • 11 Group has been since 1940 Britain's premier air defence formation. It is split into four fighter wings (two covering Southern England, and one each covering Northen England-Wales, and Scotland-Northern Ireland), and five missile wings. It operates Tomcats, and Sentrys. 11 Group has a secondary tactical strike and support role. 11 Group operates the RAF's Land Dart missile batteries.
  • No. 12 Group
    • 12 Group is a tactical group. It operates some of the RAF's Hornets, Typhoons, and Harriers.
  • No. 18 Group
    • 18 Group is Strike Command's maritime reconnaissance and strike group. It has the RAF's maritime patrol Nimrods, and the two Merlin squadrons which are tasked primarily with maritime strike.
  • No. 83 Group
    • 83 Group is a tactical group. It operates some of the RAF's Hornets, Typhoons, and Harriers.
Recruiting logo of the Royal Air Force

Air Support CommandEdit

Air Support Command fulfills all combat support roles of the RAF. It operates transports, tankers, and helicopters.

  • No. 22 Group
    • 15 Group is Air Support Command's helicopter group, divided into an air/sea rescue wing, a heavy-lift helicopter wing, a medium-lift helicopter wing, and an "out of Europe" support helicopter wing equipped with Blackhawk helicopters.
  • No. 38 Group
    • 20 Group is Air Support Command's fixed-wing tactical transport group, divided into three tactical transport wings
  • No. 46 Group
    • 21 Group is Air Support Command's strategic transport group one strategic transport wing, and two tanker-transport wings

Personnel and Training CommandEdit

Personnel and Training Command is the RAF's training command. Its flying units are all training units, along with the Red Arrows. The flying units are formed into No. 21 Group.

Order of BattleEdit

Strike CommandEdit


  • 7 Squadrons of Tupolev/BAe Vengeance B.2

Fighter/Ground AttackEdit

  • 10 Squadrons of Grumman Tomcat FR.4
  • 7 Squadrons of General Dynamics Merlin S.6
  • 3 Squadrons of BAe Typhoon T.1/FGR.2
  • 10 Squadrons of Boeing/BAe Hornet FGR.3/T.4
  • 6 Squadrons of BAe Harrier GR.7/GR.9/T.10/T.12

Electronic Warfare/ReconnaissanceEdit

  • 4 Squadrons of BAe Nimrod MRA.4
  • 1 Squadron of Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2
  • 1 Squadron of Vickers VC10 AEW.2 (15 aircraft)
  • 1 Squadron of General Dynamics Raven E.1
  • 1 Squadron of English Electric Canberra PR.9
  • 2 Squadrons of Raytheon Sentinel R.1
  • 1 Squadron of Hawker Siddeley Nimrod R.1 (12 aircraft)
  • 1 Squadron ofVickers VC10 R.2 (12 aircraft)
  • 2 Squadrons of General Atomics Reaper DGR.1

Surface to Air MissilesEdit

  • 15 Squadrons of Land Dart1 (2 launch units per squadon)

Battle of Britain Memorial FlightEdit

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) is a Royal Air Force flight which provides an aerial display group comprising an Avro Lancaster, Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes. The aircraft are regularly seen at events commemorating World War II, upon British State occasions, notably the Trooping the Colour celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday in 2006, and at air displays throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. All aircraft in the flight are regarded as active service RAF aircraft, and are part of 11 Group due to that Group's outstanding performance during the Battle of Britain.

  • 1 Avro Lancaster B.1
  • 1 Supermarine Spitfire F.2
  • 1 Supermarine Spitfire F.5B
  • 1 Supermarine Spitfire F.9
  • 2 Supermarine Spitfire PR.19
  • 2 Hawker Hurricane F.2
  • 1 Douglas Dakota C.3
  • 2 de Havilland Chipmunk T.10

Apart from the Chipmunks, all appear in period colour schemes. The Chipmunks are not used for display flying. They are used to train BBMF pilots to operate tail-wheel aircraft, and general support. They therefore wear the same all over gloss black colour scheme as all RAF trainers.

Air Support CommandEdit

Transport AircraftEdit

  • 4 Squadrons of Lockheed Hercules C.1/C.3
  • 4 Squadrons of Lockheed Martin Hercules C.4/C.5
  • 2 Squadrons of Boeing Globemaster C.1


  • 2 Squadrons of Lockheed Tristar K.1/KC.1/C.2/C.2A
  • 1 Squadron of Concorde Voyager C.1K
  • 4 Squadrons of Vickers VC10 C.1K/K.3/K.4

No 32 (The Royal) SquadronEdit

No 32 (The Royal) Squadron is primarily a communications and military transport squadron. Its secondary role is providing VIP transport to senior members of the British Government, and the Royal Family.

  • 2 Vickers VC10 CC.1
  • 2 BAe 146 CC.2
  • 6 BAe 125 CC.3
  • 3 Sikorsky S-76 HCC.1
  • 3 Britten-Norman Defender AL.1 (Malta)
  • 6 Westland Blackhawk AH.1 (Malta)

Support HelicoptersEdit

  • 4 Squadrons of AgustaWestland Cormorant HC.3
  • 5 Squadrons of Boeing Chinook HC.2/HC.2A/HC.3/HC.4
  • 2 Squadrons of Westland Puma HC.2
  • 3 Squadrons of Westland Sea King HAR.3
  • 4 Squadrons of Westland Blackhawk HC.2

Personnel and Training CommandEdit

Personnel and Training Command controls all of the RAF's training units, both air and ground.

  • No.1 Elementary Flying Training School (Flight Screening, Elementary Training, University Air Squadrons, Air Experience Flights for the Air Training Corps)
    • 50 Slingsby Firefly T.1
    • 14 University Air Squadrons/Air Experience Flights
      • 4 Slingsby Firefly T.1's each
  • No 1 Flying Training School (Basic jet training)
    • 130 Short Tucano T.1
  • No 4 Flying Training School (Advanced jet training, lead-in fighter training)
    • 150 BAe Hawk T.1/T.1A/T.3
  • No.3 Flying Training School (multi-engine, navigator, non-commissioned aircrew training)
    • 29 Slingsby Firefly T.1
    • 10 Beech King Air T.1
    • 9 BAe Dominie T.1
  • Defence Helicopter Flying School
    • 26 Aerospatiale Squirrel HT.1
    • 16 Bell Griffin HT.1
  • SARTU (Search And Rescue Training Unit)
    • 6 Bell Griffin HT.1
  • Central Flying School (Instructor training, uses aircraft from other units)
    • CFS Glider Squadron
    • CFS Tucano Squadron
    • CFS Helicopter Squadron
    • CFS Hawk Squadron
    • Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (Red Arrows)
      • 9 BAe Hawk T.1
  • 28 Volunteer Gliding Squadrons
    • 100 PZL Bielsko T.1
    • 77 Slingsby Venture T.1

Support CommandEdit

Support Command contains no flying units. The only combat unit in RAF Support Command is the RAF Regiment.

RAF RegimentEdit

  • 7 Field Squadrons (each stronger than an infantry company)
  • CBRN Squadron (Chemical Biological, Radiological, Nuclear)
  • 4 Ground Based Air Defence Squadrons
  • 4 Light Armoured Squadrons
  • 4 Royal Auxiliary Air Force Field Squadrons

63 Squadron (Queen's Colour Squadron) often performs "public duties" including the Queen's Guard.

Ground Based Air Defence Squadrons are equipped with Rapier missiles and Oerlikon GDF-005 cannon (Field Squadrons additionally use Starstreak). Light Armoured Squadrons use the Scimitar and Scorpion light tanks, and Spartan armoured personnel carriers.


  • Browning L9A1 9mm Pistol
  • Beretta L131A1 9mm Pistol (Beretta 92FS)
  • SA80 Series
    • L85A2 5.56mm Rifle
    • L86A2 5.56mm Designated Marksman Rifle
    • L22A2 5.56mm Carbine
  • L108A1 MINIMI 5.56mm Light Machine Gun
  • L7A2 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun
  • L2A1 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun
  • L115A1 8.6mm Sniper Rifle
  • L9A1 51mm Light Mortar
  • L16 81mm Mortar
  • L17A1 40mm Under-slung Grenade Launcher (M203PI)
  • L19A1 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (Mk.19 mod.3)
  • L14A1 Carl Gustav 84mm Recoilless Rifle
  • L1A1 66mm Rocket
  • MILAN 2 ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile)
  • FGM-148 Javelin ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile)
  • Oerlikon GDF-005 35mm anti aircraft gun
  • Starstreak HVM
  • Rapier Field Standard C



  • Aden 30mm cannon
  • Aden 25 25mm cannon
  • M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon
  • M134 7.62mm Minigun
  • L7 7.62mm machine gun

Air to Air MissilesEdit

  • AIM-9M Sidewinder
  • AIM-132 ASRAAM
  • Skyflash
  • AIM-54 Phoenix

Air to Surface MissilesEdit

  • ALARM (Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile)
  • Brimstone
  • AGM-114 Hellfire
  • AGM-65 Maverick
  • Sea Eagle
  • AGM-84 Harpoon
  • AGM-130
  • AGM-109 Tomahawk
  • Storm Shadow
  • MBDA Apache
  • Raduga Kh-15
  • Zvezda-Strela Kh-31

Guided BombsEdit

  • Paveway II
    • 1000 lb General Purpose Bomb
  • Paveway III
    • 1000 lb General Purpose Bomb
    • Mark 84 2000lb
    • BLU-109/B 2000lb
    • GBU-28 4500 lb
  • Enhanced Paveway II
    • 1000 lb General Purpose Bomb
  • Enhanced Paveway III
    • 1000 lb General Purpose Bomb
    • Mark 84 2000lb
    • BLU-109/B 2000lb
    • EGBU-28 4500 lb
  • Paveway IV
    • Mark 82 500lb
  • GBU-15 MGWS (Modular Guided Weapon System)

Unguided BombsEdit

  • 1000 lb General Purpose Bomb
  • 540 lb General Purpose Bomb
  • Hunting BL755 Cluster Bomb
  • Matra Durandal

Other WeaponsEdit

  • WE.177 Nuclear Bomb
    • WE.177A Tactical Nuclear Bomb
    • WE.177B Strategic Thermonuclear Bomb
    • WE.177C Tactical Thermonuclear Bomb
  • CRV7 75mm unguided rocket in LAU-5002 6 round launcher, LAU-5003 19 round launcher, and SUU-5003 training launcher
  • Sting Ray torpedo
  • Bomb, Incendiary, 750lb Mk.40

Reconnaissance and Targeting PodsEdit

  • MTRP (Merlin Tactical Reconnaissance Package)
  • TARPS (Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System)
  • TIALD (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator)
  • DJRP (Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod)


The RAF has used a variations on a Red-White-Blue roundel for all of its history. Initially, the Royal Flying Corps used a Union flag as the national marking, however this was easily confused with the German Iron Cross, and the roundel in the British national colours has been used since. These markings are also used on Army Air Corps, and Fleet Air Arm aircraft. Battle of Britain Memorial Flight aircraft wear national markings appropriate to the Second World War (except the de Havilland Chipmunks)

Most Commonwealth countries use, or have used variations of the RAF Roundel (and all started using the RAF Roundel itself). The most common variation is replacing the red disc in the centre with a national icon, Australia for example uses the Kangaroo, while Canada uses a Maple Leaf, and New Zealand a Kiwi.


Standard RoundelEdit

The standard roundel blue-white-red is used on trainers, and all other non-camouflaged aircraft of the RAF such as the Tucano, and BAe 146.

Royaume uni

Tactical RoundelEdit

The blue-red tactical roundel is used on aircraft with a so-called "dark" camouflage including the Hornet, and Harrier. The aircraft using this roundel tend to be employed on air-to-ground missions, multi-role missions, and tactical transport.

Royaume uni bv1

Low Visibility RoundelEdit

The light-blue-pink low visibility roundel is used on aircraft with a so-called "light" camouflage including the Tomcat, Sentry, and Nimrod. The aircraft using this roundel tend to be tankers, maritime patrol, AEW, and air defence aircraft.

Royaume uni bv2

Fin flashEdit

Each fin flash corresponds to a roundel above, and is always used with the respective roundel.

The fin flash is not used by the Army, or Navy. The Navy uses the words "Royal Navy" usually in white, or blue. The Army simply uses "Army", usually in black.

Standard Fin FlashEdit

Royaume uni der

Tactical Fin FlashEdit

Royaume uni der-bv1

Low Visibility Fin FlashEdit

Royaume uni der-bv2

Other national markingsEdit

On several aircraft types (mainly transports), the Union Jack is used in addition to other markings (Globemaster), or in lieu of other markings (BAe 125). The Royal Cipher is occasionally (rarely) used on VIP aircraft.

The Royal Cypher of HM The Queen

Royal Singapore Air ForceEdit

The Royal Singapore Air Force is the air arm of the self-governing colony of Singapore. It operates from three RAF air bases on Singapore, plus training bases in Great Britain. Its bases include RAF Tengah, RAF Changi, and RAF Sembawang. It possesses the following aircraft:

  • Fighter/Ground Attack
    • 2 Squadrons of Boeing/BAe Hornet FGR.3/T.4
    • 2 Squadrons of BAe Hawk FG.2
  • Transport
    • 1 Squadron of Lockheed Hercules C.1
    • 1 Squadron of Fokker F50 C.1
    • 5 Vickers VC10 K.3
  • Surveillance/Patrol
    • 4 Northrop Grumman Hawkeye AEW.2
    • 1 Squadron of Fokker F50 MR.2
  • Helicopters
    • 1 Squadron of Westland Puma HC.1
    • 1 Squadron of AgustaWestland Cormorant HC.3
    • 1 Squadron of Westland Apache AH.1
  • Trainers
    • 1 Squadron of Short Tucano T.1
    • 1 Squadron of BAe Hawk T.3
    • 1 Squadron of Eurocopter Squirrel HT.1

Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air ForceEdit

The Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force (RHKAAF) is an auxiliary unit of the United Kingdom Royal Air Force, based in Hong Kong. Its main role is support for other government agencies in Hong Kong. It also has a single Squadron for air defence, and strike. Aircrews for the latter aircraft are on secondment from the RAF.

  • 10 BAe Hawk FG.2
  • 5 Sikorsky S-70
  • 8 Sikorsky S-76
  • 4 Slingsby T-67M-200 Firefly
  • 4 Beech B200C King Air

Rank InsigniaEdit


Marshal of the RAF is the rank of an Air Force Chief of the Defence Staff. It is also held by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Chiefs of the Air Staff are promoted to Marshal of the RAF on their last day.

Other RanksEdit

Non-commissioned aircrew wear an eagle above their insignia to distinguish them from aircrew.

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