Wing Commander (rank)
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Wing Commander Rank

Wing commander
An RAF wing commander's command pennant
British RAF OF-4.svg
A wing commander's sleeve/shoulder insignia from the Royal Air Force
Service branchAir forces
AbbreviationWg Cdr / WGCDR / W/C
NATO rankOF-4
Non-NATO rankO-5
Equivalent ranks
Related articles
HistoryRoyal Naval Air Services

Wing commander (Wg Cdr in the RAF, the IAF, and the PAF, WGCDR in the RNZAF and RAAF, formerly sometimes W/C in all services) is a senior commissioned rank in the British Royal Air Force and air forces of many countries which have historical British influence, including many Commonwealth countries but not including Canada (since Unification) and South Africa. It is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. It ranks immediately above squadron leader and immediately below group captain.[1]

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-4, and is equivalent to commander in the Royal and United States Navies, as well as to lieutenant colonel in the British Army, the Royal Marines, the United States Army, Air Force and Marine Corps. The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was wing officer. The equivalent rank in the Royal Observer Corps (until 1995) was observer commander which had a similar rank insignia.


The rank insignia of a Royal Naval Air Service wing commander

On 1 April 1918, the newly created British Royal Air Force did not initially adopt a new rank structure, with personnel continuing their prior services' rank and uniform. There were some changes in ranks but it was inconsistent. In 1920, the RAF began using the rank of wing commander.[2]

On 1 April 1918, the newly created RAF adopted its officer rank titles from the British Army, with Royal Naval Air Service captains and Royal Flying Corps colonels becoming 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 naval officer ranks with differing pre-modifying terms. It was also suggested that RAF lieutenant colonels might be entitled 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 flying wing, typically a group of three or four aircraft squadrons. In current usage a wing commander is more likely to command a wing which is an administrative sub-division of an RAF station. A flying squadron is normally commanded by a wing commander but is occasionally commanded by a squadron leader for small units. In the Air Training Corps, a wing commander is usually the officer commanding of a wing.[]

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 is two triangular command pennants used in the RAF. Two thin red lines differentiate this one from the other.

During 1941-45 RAF 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", Wing Commander John Robert Baldwin's personal Hawker Typhoon was coded "J-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, Namibian Air Force, Pakistan Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the 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. The Royal Malaysian Air Force used the rank until it was retitled as that of lieutenant colonel in 1973, with the same rank insignia.[]

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. The rank of wing commander continues to be used as a cadet rank at the Royal Military College of Canada.

In the 1990s, the Canadian Forces Air Command (the post-1968 RCAF) altered the structure of those bases under its control, redesignating them as wings. The commander of such an establishment was re-designated as the "wing commander" (or "Wg Comd"). Like the United States Air Force usage, the term "wing commander" (as used in the modern Canadian Forces) is an appointment, not a rank. A wing commander usually holds the rank of colonel.

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, and since the USAF wing is a larger formation than the USAF group, 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.

Civil Air Patrol (United States Air Force Auxiliary)

The Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer auxiliary of the USAF, follows the USAF rank structure. The CAP divides the nation into 52 wings (each corresponding to a state, territory, and District of Columbia). Each wing is headed by a CAP colonel, who holds the position of wing commander.

Notable wing commanders

  • 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[who?] to have changed the course of the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II
  • Mervyn Middlecoat – fighter pilot who belonged to Pakistan Air Force
  • Nouman Ali Khan – Wing Commander of the Pakistan Air Force who downed an Indian Air Force MiG-21 piloted by Abhinandan Varthamanand and crashed in Pakistan administered Kashmir on 27 February 2019. He conferred with Sitar-e-Jurat for his bravery[4]
  • Abhinandan Varthaman – Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force. In the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff. His aircraft was shot down in an aerial dogfight and he was held captive for 60 hours in Pakistan.[5]
  • Ken Wallis – World War II fighter pilot, aircraft engineer, and multiple world record holder in autogyro aircraft flight
  • Adrian Warburton – legendary for his role as a reconnaissance aviator in the defence of Malta; shot down over Germany on 12 April 1944, aged 26. It was only in 2002 that his remains were found in the wreckage of his plane
  • Dennis Wheatley – the popular historical novelist and thriller writer was granted a commission and brought into Whitehall's World War II Joint Planning Staff

See also


  1. ^ "Military ranks". BBC Academy. 1 November 2012. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ "Fleet Air Arm, Naval Aviation, Royal Navy Air Service History- 1918 - 1 April: RNAS and RFC amalgamated to create RAF". Fleet Air Arm Officers Association. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ Geldenhuys, Preller (2007). Rhodesian Air Force Operations with Air Strike Log. Durban, South Africa: Just Done Productions Publishing (published 13 July 2007). ISBN 978-1-920169-61-9.
  4. ^ "Pakistan to give top military awards to two pilots for downing Indian jet".
  5. ^ Manu Pubby. "Abhinandan Varthaman's MiG21 locked in Pakistan's F16". Retrieved 2020.

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