Wing (air force unit)

Wing (air force unit)

Wing is a term used by different air forces for a unit of command. The terms wing and group are used for different-sized units from one country or service to another, and this may cause confusion.

In some military aviation services, such as those of the United States, a wing is a relatively large formation of two or more groups, which in turn control two or more squadrons.

In other contexts, such as the military of the United Kingdom, a wing is a smaller unit, comprising two to four squadrons, with several wings forming a group.

Therefore a US wing is equivalent to a British group, which is in turn equivalent to an army regiment, whereas one step down the nomenclature, a US group is equivalent to a British wing.

British usage


On its establishment in 1912, the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was intended to be an inter-service, combined force of the British Army and Royal Navy. Given the rivalry that existed between the army and navy, new terminology was used, in order to avoid marking the corps out as having an army or navy ethos. Accordingly, the corps was originally split into a "Military Wing" (i.e. an army wing) and a "Naval Wing". Each wing consisted of a number of squadrons.

By 1914, the naval wing had become the Royal Naval Air Service, and gained its independence from the Royal Flying Corps. By 1915, the Royal Flying Corps had significantly expanded and it was felt necessary to create organizational units which would control two or more squadrons; the term "wing" was re-used for these new organizational units.

The Royal Flying Corps was amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918, creating the Royal Air Force. The RFC usage of wing was maintained in the new service. [ [ Command Development_P ] ]

Current use

Most Commonwealth air forces, as well as some others, a wing is usually made up of three or four squadrons. In these air forces a wing is subordinate to a group. Although originally commanded by a Wing Commander (equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel in other air forces), a wing may also be commanded by a Group Captain (equivalent to a Colonel).

A wing may also be used for non-flying units, such as the infantry forces of the RAF Regiment, (in which a wing equates to a battalion). Additionally, RAF stations are administratively divided into wings.

In 2006, expeditionary air wings were established at the RAF's main operating bases. These expeditionary air wings consist of the deployable elements of the main operating base and other supplementary forces.

The Canadian Forces Air Command is an example of a Commonwealth air force which does not follow UK usage. The size of a wing (base) follows US usage (see below); it varies greatly and may comprise personnel numbering in the thousands.

United States usage

By comparison, in the United States Air Force, a wing is normally the organizational tier below a Numbered Air Force. Most USAF wings are commanded by a Colonel, but some are commanded by Brigadier Generals. USAF wings structured to fulfill a mission from a specific base, and contain a headquarters and four groups: an operations group, a maintenance group, a medical group and a mission support group. Such a wing is referred to as a Combat Wing Organization, which is comparable to a brigade in the US Army. Other wings, such as Air Expeditionary Wings, exist for various other purposes, and their scope may extend to one base, one theater or worldwide.

In the United States Navy, a wing is a group of two or more squadrons of aircraft that are based on land rather than on an aircraft carrier. A Carrier air wing (or Carrier Air Group) consists of seven squadrons, four of which are of fighters or fighter-bombers.

In the United States Marine Corps, a wing is an overall command consisting of at least two Marine Aircraft Group and their subordinate squadrons and support units.

Equivalents in other countries

Most other Western air forces tend to follow the US nomenclature, insofar as having squadrons coming directly under groups. Immediately above this however, some air forces have foreign terms which are equivalent to a US "wing". For example: "Geschwader" in Germany; "Stormo" in Italy; and "escadre" in pre-World War II French Air Force, which is also the official French translation of a wing in modern-day Canadian Forces.


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