Wing Commander (rank)

Wing Commander (rank)

Wing Commander (Wg Cdr in the RAF, WGCDR in the RNZAF and RAAF, W/C in the former RCAF) is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force [cite web |url= |title=Ranks and Badges of the Royal Air Force |accessdate= 2007-12-01 |year=2007 |publisher=Royal Air Force] and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks above Squadron Leader and immediately below Group Captain. The name of the rank is the complete phrase; it is never shortened to "Commander".

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-4, and is equivalent to a Commander in the Royal Navy or a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army or the Royal Marines.

The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS) (until 1980) was Wing Officer. The equivalent rank in the Royal Observer Corps (until 1995) was Observer Commander which had a similar rank insignia.


On 1 April 1918, the newly created RAF adopted its officer rank titles from the British Army, with Royal Naval Air Service Commanders (titled as Wing Commanders) and Royal Flying Corps Lieutenant-Colonels becoming Lieutenant-Colonels in the RAF. In response to the proposal that the RAF should use its own rank titles, 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 Wing Commander would have been Air Commander. Although the Admiralty objected to this simple modification of their rank titles, it was agreed that the RAF might base many of its officer rank titles on Navy officer ranks with differing pre-modifying terms. It was also suggested that RAF Lieutenant Colonels might be titled as Reeves or Wing-Leaders. However, the rank title Wing Commander was chosen as Wings were typically commanded by RAF Lieutenant-Colonels and the term Wing Commander had been used in the Royal Naval Air Service. The rank of Wing Commander has been used continuously since 1 August 1919.


In the early years of the RAF, a Wing Commander commanded a wing, typically a group of three or four aircraft squadrons. Nowadays a Wing Commander is more likely to command a single flying squadron or a wing which is an administrative sub-division of a station.

Insignia and command flag

The rank insignia is based on the three gold bands of Commanders in the Royal Navy and consists of three narrow light blue bands over slightly wider black bands. This is worn on both the lower sleeves of the tunic or on the shoulder of the flying suit or the casual uniform.

The command pennant used by a Wing Commander is one of two triangular command pennants used in the RAF. Two thin red lines differentiate this one from the other.

During 1941-45 Fighter Command's Wing leaders (of Wing Commander rank) were also allowed to use their own initials as aircraft identification letters on their personal aircraft, e.g., Wing Commander Roland Beamont's personal Hawker Tempest, "JN751", was coded "R-B".

Other air forces

The rank of Wing Commander is also used in a number of the air forces in the Commonwealth, including the Bangladesh Air Force, Ghana Air Force,Nigerian Air Force, Indian Air Force (IAF), Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), Sri Lankan Air Force. It is also used in the Egyptian Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Royal Air Force of Oman and the Royal Thai Air Force.

Royal Canadian Air Force

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used the rank until the unification of the Canadian Forces (CF) in 1968, when Army-type rank titles were adopted. A Canadian Wing Commander then became a Lieutenant-Colonel. In official French Canadian usage, a wing commander's rank title was "lieutenant-colonel d'aviation".

United States Air Force

In the United States Air Force (USAF) wing commander is a duty title, not a rank. The equivalent USAF rank is Lieutenant Colonel who typically has command of a squadron. Because USAF wings are larger formations than RAF wings, the commander of a wing must hold at least the rank of Colonel, and is typically a Colonel or a Brigadier General. The one exception to this is the commander of the 59th Medical Wing (Wilford Hall Medical Center) who is customarily a Major General.

Notable wing commanders

*Guy Gibson, Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron and leader of the "Dam Busters" raid.
*Roland Beamont, Second World War fighter pilot and post-war test pilot
*Andy Green, Current holder of the Land Speed Record and first person to break the sound barrier on land
*Roald Dahl, WW2 fighter pilot, and famous novelist. His record of five aerial victories has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records.
*Paddy Finucane, top ranking RAF World War 2 ace with 32 kills. A native of Dublin, Ireland, he is the youngest Wing Commander in the history of the RAF. He was promoted to the rank in 1942 at age 21 and was shot down and killed shortly thereafter.
*Humphrey de Verd Leigh, inventor of the Leigh light which was developed to spotlight U-boats as they surfaced at night. The Leigh light is reputed to have changed the course of the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII
*Douglas Bader, WW2 Fighter Pilot and Amputee Advocate, was the first commander to lead formations of 3 or more Squadrons during the Battle of Britain.
*Roly Falk, Test Pilot on the maiden flight of the Avro Vulcan.

See also

* RAF officer ranks
* Comparative military ranks
* "Wing Commander", a popular computer game and movie.


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