Air chief marshal

Air chief marshal
An RAF air chief marshal's command flag
United Kingdom-Air force-OF-9-collected.svg
Shoulder and sleeve insignia from the Royal Air Force.
Service branchAir forces
AbbreviationAir Chf Mshl / ACM
NATO rankOF-9
Non-NATO rankO-10
Formation1 August 1919 (1919-08-01) (RAF)
Next higher rankMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Next lower rankAir marshal
Equivalent ranks
NaviesArmiesAir forces
Commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Field marshal or
General of the Army
Marshal of
the air force
AdmiralGeneralAir chief marshal
Vice admiralLieutenant generalAir marshal
Rear admiralMajor generalAir vice-marshal
CommodoreBrigadier or
brigadier general
Air commodore
CaptainColonelGroup captain
CommanderLieutenant colonelWing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
LieutenantCaptainFlight lieutenant
junior grade
Lieutenant or
first lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign or
Second lieutenantPilot officer
Officer cadetOfficer cadetFlight cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officerSergeantSergeant
Leading seamanCorporal or
SeamanPrivate or
gunner or
Aircraftman or
Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns in RAF No. 1A Dress uniform

Air chief marshal (Air Chf Mshl or ACM) is a four-star air officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force, where it is the most senior peacetime air force rank.[1][2] The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries that have historical British influence and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-British air force-specific rank structure.

Air chief marshal is a four-star air officer rank and has a NATO ranking code of OF-9.[3] An air chief marshal is equivalent to an admiral in the Royal Navy or a general in the British Army or the Royal Marines. In other forces, such as the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces, the equivalent four-star rank is general.

The rank of air chief marshal is immediately senior to the rank of air marshal but subordinate to marshal of the Royal Air Force. Air chief marshals are sometimes generically considered to be air marshals.[4]

Royal Air Force use and history


Prior to the adoption of RAF-specific rank titles in 1919, it was suggested that the RAF might use the Royal Navy's officer ranks, with the word "air" inserted before the naval rank title. For example, the rank that later became air chief marshal would have been air admiral. The Admiralty objected to any use of their rank titles, including this modified form, and so an alternative proposal was put forward: air-officer ranks would be based on the term "ardian", which was derived from a combination of the Gaelic words for "chief" (ard) and "bird" (eun), with the unmodified word "ardian" being used specifically for the equivalent to full admiral and general. However, air chief marshal was preferred and was adopted on 1 August 1919. The rank was first used on 1 April 1922 with the promotion of Sir Hugh Trenchard.[5] With Trenchard's promotion to marshal of the RAF on 1 January 1927, no officer held the rank until Sir John Salmond was promoted on 1 January 1929. It has been used continuously ever since.

In the RAF, the rank of air chief marshal is held by the serving Chief of the Air Staff (currently Sir Stephen Hillier). Additionally, RAF officers appointed to four-star tri-service posts hold the rank of air chief marshal and currently Sir Stuart Peach, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, is the only RAF officer in such a post. Throughout the history of the RAF, 139 RAF officers have held the rank and it has also been awarded in an honorary capacity to senior members of the British Royal Family and allied foreign monarchs.

Although no serving RAF officer has been promoted to marshal of the Royal Air Force since the British defence cuts of the 1990s, British air chief marshals are not the most senior officers in the RAF as several officers continue to retain the RAF's highest rank. Additionally, Lord Stirrup was granted an honorary promotion to marshal of the Royal Air Force in 2014. The marshals are still to be found on the RAF's active list even though they have for all practical purposes retired.

RAF insignia, command flag and star plate

The rank insignia consists of three narrow light blue bands (each on a slightly wider black band) over a light blue band on a broad black band. This is worn on the lower sleeves of the service dress jacket or on the shoulders of the flying suit or working uniform. The command flag for an RAF air chief marshal is defined by the two broad red bands running through the centre of the flag. The vehicle star plate for an RAF air chief marshal depicts four white stars (air chief marshal is a four-star rank) on an air force blue background.