Royal Air Force

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Royal Air Force
ColoursRed, white, blue
MarchQuick: "Royal Air Force March Past"
Slow: "Saeculum"[3]
Anniversaries1 April
C-17 Globemaster
Envoy IV CC1
TankerVoyager KC2/3

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the

Second World War, the RAF established air superiority over Hermann Göring's Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, and led the Allied strategic bombing effort.[8][9]

The RAF's mission is to support the objectives of the British

air power, which guides its strategy. Air power is defined as "the ability to project power from the air and space to influence the behaviour of people or the course of events".[12]

Today, the Royal Air Force maintains an

Joint Helicopter Command in support of ground forces. Most of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the UK, with many others serving on global operations (principally over Iraq and Syria) or at long-established overseas bases (Ascension Island, Cyprus, Gibraltar, and the Falkland Islands). Although the RAF is the principal British air power arm, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and the British Army's Army Air Corps
also operate armed aircraft.


Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917
Act of Parliament
7 & 8 Geo. 5. c. 51
Royal assent29 November 1917
Other legislation
Amended by
Status: Current legislation
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from


While the British were not the first to make use of heavier-than-air military aircraft, the RAF is the world's oldest independent air force; first air force to become independent of army or naval control.

Hotel Cecil.[17]

After the war, the RAF was drastically cut and its inter-war years were relatively quiet. The RAF was put in charge of

Admiralty control on 24 May 1939.[19]

The RAF adopted the doctrine of strategic bombing, which led to the construction of long-range bombers and became its main bombing strategy in the Second World War.[20]

Second World War

A Spitfire and Hurricane, which both played major roles in the Battle of Britain.

The Royal Air Force underwent rapid expansion prior to and during the Second World War. Under the

occupied Europe, also served with RAF squadrons. By the end of the war the Royal Canadian Air Force had contributed more than 30 squadrons to serve in RAF formations, similarly, approximately a quarter of Bomber Command's personnel were Canadian.[21] Additionally, the Royal Australian Air Force represented around nine per cent of all RAF personnel who served in the European and Mediterranean theatres.[22]
During the
Hitler's plans for an invasion of the UK. In the House of Commons on 20 August, prompted by the ongoing efforts of the RAF, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a speech to the nation, where he said "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".[23]

The Avro Lancaster heavy bomber was extensively used during the strategic bombing of Germany.

The largest RAF effort during the war was the

area bombing on German cities such as Hamburg and Dresden. Night time area bombing constituted the great bulk of the RAF's bombing campaign, mainly due to Harris, but it also developed precision bombing techniques for specific operations, such as the infamous "Dambusters" raid by No. 617 Squadron,[25] or the Amiens prison raid known as Operation Jericho.[26]

Cold War era

Following victory in the Second World War, the RAF underwent significant re-organisation, as technological advances in air warfare saw the arrival of jet fighters and bombers. During the early stages of the Cold War, one of the first major operations undertaken by the RAF was the

Gatow Airport and Short Sunderlands flying to Lake Havel.[27] The RAF saw its first post-war engagements in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War: during the withdrawal of the former Mandatory Palestine in May 1948 where British Supermarine Spitfire FR.18s shot down four Royal Egyptian Air Force Spitfire LF.9s after the REAF mistakenly attacked RAF Ramat David;[28] and during encounters with the Israeli Air Force which saw the loss of a single de Havilland Mosquito PR.34 in November 1948 and four Spitfire FR.18s and a single Hawker Tempest F.6 in January 1949.[29][30]

Before Britain developed its own

nuclear bombs

For much of the Cold War the primary role of the RAF was the defence of

RAF Eastleigh.[37] The Suez Crisis in 1956 saw a large RAF role, with aircraft operating from RAF Akrotiri and RAF Nicosia on Cyprus and RAF Luqa and RAF Hal Far on Malta as part of Operation Musketeer.[38] The RAF suffered its most recent loss to an enemy aircraft during the Suez Crisis, when an English Electric Canberra PR7 was shot down over Syria.[39]

In 1957, the RAF participated heavily during the

Konfrontasi against Indonesia in the early 1960s did see use of RAF aircraft, but due to a combination of deft diplomacy and selective ignoring of certain events by both sides, it never developed into a full-scale war.[42] The RAF played a large role in the Aden Emergency between 1963 and 1967. Hawker Hunter FGA.9s based at RAF Khormaksar, Aden, were regularly called in by the British Army as close air support to carry out strikes on rebel positions.[43] The Radfan Campaign (Operation Nutcracker) in early 1964 was successful in suppressing the revolt in Radfa, however it did nothing to end the insurgency with the British withdrawing from Aden in November 1967.[44]

One of the largest actions undertaken by the RAF during the Cold War was the air campaign during the 1982

South Atlantic to provide air defence to the Falkland Islands, with the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR2 based at RAF Mount Pleasant which was built in 1984.[48]

Post-Cold War

The Tornado played an integral part in RAF operations from 1991 until its retirement in 2019

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the RAF's focus returned to

War in Afghanistan,[52] the 2003 invasion and war in Iraq,[53] the 2011 intervention in Libya[54] and from 2014 onwards has been involved in the war against the Islamic State.[55]

The RAF began conducting Remotely-piloted Air System (RPAS) operations in 2004, with No. 1115 Flight carrying out missions in Afghanistan and Iraq with the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator.[56] Initially embedded with the United States Air Force, the RAF formed its own RPAS squadron in 2007 when No. 39 Squadron was stood up as a General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper unit at Creech AFB, Nevada.[57]

The RAF's 90th anniversary was commemorated on 1 April 2008 by a flypast of the RAF's Aerobatic Display Team the

RAF Memorial and (at 13.00) the Ministry of Defence building.[58][59][60]

Four major defence reviews have been conducted since the end of the Cold War: the 1990

RAF Search and Rescue
was disbanded.

In recent years, fighter aircraft on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) have been increasingly required to scramble in response to Russian Air Force aircraft approaching British airspace.[63] On 24 January 2014, in the Houses of Parliament, Conservative MP and Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Andrew Robathan, announced that the RAF's QRA force had been scrambled almost thirty times in the last three years: eleven times during 2010, ten times during 2011 and eight times during 2012.[64] RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Lossiemouth in Moray both provide QRA aircraft, and scramble their Typhoons within minutes to meet or intercept aircraft which give cause for concern. Lossiemouth generally covers the northern sector of UK airspace, while Coningsby covers the southern sector. Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Noel Rees describes how QRA duty works. "At the start of the scaled QRA response, civilian air traffic controllers might see on their screens an aircraft behaving erratically, not responding to their radio calls, or note that it's transmitting a distress signal through its transponder. Rather than scramble Typhoons at the first hint of something abnormal, a controller has the option to put them on a higher level of alert, 'a call to cockpit'. In this scenario the pilot races to the hardened aircraft shelter and does everything short of starting his engines".[65]

The RAF operated the Hercules since 1967. The C-130J model was in service between 1998 and 2023

On 4 October 2015, a final stand-down saw the end of more than 70 years of

Private Finance Initiative with newly purchased Sikorsky S-92 and AgustaWestland AW189 aircraft. The new contract means that all UK SAR coverage is now provided by Bristow aircraft.[66]

In 2018, the RAF's vision of a future constellation of imagery satellites was initiated through the launch of the

Carbonite-2 technology demonstrator. The 100 kg Carbonite-2 uses commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components to deliver high-quality imagery and 3D video footage from space.[67][68] The Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary on 1 April 2018.[69] It marked the occasion on 10 July 2018 with a flypast over London consisting of 103 aircraft.[70][71]

Between March 2020 and 2022, the RAF assisted with the response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom as part of Operation Rescript. This saw the service provide repatriation flights and aeromedical evacuations of COVID-19 patients, drivers and call-handlers to support ambulance services and medics to assist with the staffing of hospitals, testing units and vaccination centres.[72][73] Under Operation Broadshare, the RAF has also been involved with COVID-19 relief operations overseas, repatriating stranded nationals and delivering medical supplies and vaccines to British Overseas Territories and military installations.[74]

The UK's 20-year long operations in Afghanistan came to an end in August 2021, seeing the largest airlift since the Berlin Blockade take place. As part of

Operation Polarbear.[77][78]


Senior leadership

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton

The professional head and highest-ranking officer of the Royal Air Force is the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). He reports to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who is the professional head of the British Armed Forces.[79] The incumbent Chief of the Air Staff is Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton who was appointed in 2023.[80]

The management of the RAF is the responsibility of the

overseas territories. The Chief of the Air Staff chairs the Air Force Board Standing Committee (AFBSC) which decides on the policy and actions required for the RAF to meet the requirements of the Defence Council and His Majesty's Government.[81]

The Chief of the Air Staff is supported by several other senior commanders:

Royal Air Force senior management positions[82]
Title Rank NATO rank scale
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal OF-9
Deputy Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal OF-8
Air and Space Commander Air Marshal OF-8
Air Officer Northern Ireland Air Marshal OF-8
Assistant Chief of the Air Staff Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Air Officer Scotland Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Plans) Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Chief of Staff Personnel and Air Secretary Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Commandant General Royal Auxiliary Air Force Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Director of Legal Services Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Air Member for Materiel and Chief of Materiel
Vice Admiral
Air Vice-Marshal OF-7
Air Officer Wales Air Commodore OF-6
Director of Resources Civilian
Warrant Officer of the Royal Air Force Warrant Officer OR-9

Air Command

Administrative and operational command of the RAF is delegated by the Air Force Board to Headquarters Air Command, based at RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Air Command was formed on 1 April 2007 by combining RAF Strike Command and RAF Personnel and Training Command, resulting in a single command covering the whole RAF, led by the Chief of the Air Staff.[84] Through its subordinate groups, Air Command oversees the whole spectrum of RAF aircraft and operations.[85]

United Kingdom Space Command (UKSC), established 1 April 2021 under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey is a joint command, but sits "under the Royal Air Force."[86] Godfrey is of equal rank to the commanders of 1, 2, 11, and 22 Groups. The new command has "responsibility for not just operations, but also generating, training and growing the force, and also owning the money and putting all the programmatic rigour into delivering new ..capabilities."[86] UKSC headquarters is at RAF High Wycombe co-located with Air Command.[87]