New insignia for the Royal Canadian Air Force

Backgrounder / September 24, 2014 / Project number: RCAF-20140924-01

By RCAF Public Affairs

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) new uniform respects the contributions and sacrifices of airmen and airwomen who served – and continue to serve – with pride and professionalism, honours RCAF heritage and traditions, and focuses our airmen and airwomen on a dynamic and bright future.

Main aspects of the new uniform are drawn from pre-unification rank insignia while the design also maintains the modern elements and terminology familiar to serving members and militaries around the world. The insignia for most ranks will be recognizable as the symbols that air force personnel have worn for nearly half a century.

Rank names, with the exception of “private,” will remain the same.

The RCAF’s shoulder titles and uniform buttons will also be updated to harmonize with the new rank insignia.

There will be no changes to RCAF organizational structures or the names of subordinate headquarters and organizations.

The rank names and insignia for non-commissioned members will remain the same, with the exception of “private.” The Canadian maple leaf, which air force personnel have worn with pride for 46 years, will continue to be displayed on the rank insignia of master corporals, sergeants, and general officers, and chief warrant officers’ insignia will continue to display the Canadian coat of arms.

The rank insignia will now be pearl-grey, similar to the historic colour of non-commissioned members’ rank insignia.

Only one rank name will change: “private” will become “aviator.” This new, gender-neutral rank, which is almost identical in both official languages, reflects the historical French rank of aviateur (aviator) which in English was aircraftman or aircraftwoman. The rank insignia for “aviator” will be a pearl-grey propeller worn on the uniform sleeve, which is a return to the historical insignia for this rank.

All officers will retain modern rank names.

Officers rank insignia colour will be pearl-grey – the same historic colour as the non-commissioned members’ rank insignia. In the past, the officers wore blue rank insignia and the non-commissioned members wore pearl-grey; the change reflects the RCAF`s emphasis on one team – one mission.

In the pre-unification era, RCAF general officers only wore rank insignia on their tunic sleeves, not on their shoulders. The new design will retain the insignia currently embroidered on tunic shoulder straps/shoulder slip-ons and display the Canadian maple leaf.

The design of the general officers’ sleeve insignia, located near the cuff of the tunic, will be modified to echo the design of the historical sleeve insignia for general officers and will be edged in black, similar to the historical sleeve insignia.

The gold piping (embroidery) on the general officers’ wedge cap will be replaced with pearl-grey piping.

The new insignia will also include colour harmonization of national badges to be worn at the top of the tunic sleeve. These curved badges will comprise the RCAF`s eagle and the word “CANADA” for non-commissioned members and the word “CANADA” for officers and chief warrant officers. The style will be similar to the modern national badges, but will be created in the new pearl-grey colour. The word CANADA which appears on dress shirt slip-ons and on certain garments such as topcoats will also be embroidered in pearl-grey.

To match the new pearl-grey rank insignia, the RCAF will also receive new silver-coloured buttons. The design will be unchanged from the current button design and include the Crown, RCAF eagle and the word “CANADA.”

The badge of the RCAF, which recalls the pre-unification RCAF badge showing an eagle with its wings outstretched, was created following the restoration of the historical name “Royal Canadian Air Force” in 2012. This will remain unchanged as the official badge of the RCAF.

The motto will remain Sic Itur Ad Astra – “Such is the pathway to the stars” – which has been the air force’s motto since 1975. This is the motto adopted by the very first Canadian Air Force, which was first established in 1920.

Even before unification, the air force rank structure was a topic for discussion. For instance, a 1965 report highlighted that by that stage in RCAF history, officers’ ranks no longer reflected their function; for instance, squadron leaders did not command squadrons and wing commanders did not command wings. In addition, there were advantages to adopting the Canadian Army rank structure as it was similar to the rank structures used by other NATO members, with whom the RCAF would be working on operations. The 1965 report recommended that RCAF rank insignia be retained but Canadian Army rank titles be adopted as “the best of both choices.”

Forty-nine years later, this is essentially the route that the 2014 changes to rank and insignia have taken.

(For a more detailed examination of the history of RCAF ranks and insignia, consult “A Return to the Royal Canadian Air Force Ranks: A Historical Examination” by Lieutenant-Colonel John J. Alexander, published in The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal, Winter 2014, Vol. 3, No. 1.)

Current 1924-1968
General Air Chief Marshal
Lieutenant-General Air Marshal
Major-General Air Vice Marshal
Brigadier-General Air Commodore
Colonel Group Captain
Lieutenant-Colonel Wing Commander
Major Squadron Leader
Captain Flight Lieutenant
Lieutenant Flying Officer
2nd Lieutenant Pilot Officer
Officer Cadet Flight Cadet / Officer Cadet (until 1962)
Current 1924-1968
Chief Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Class 1
Master Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Class 2
Warrant Officer Flight Sergeant
Sergeant Sergeant
Master Corporal (did not exist)
Corporal Corporal
Aviator (formerly Private) Trained

Leading Aircraftman/Leading Aircraftwoman

Aviator (formerly Private) Basic Aircraftman/Aircraftwoman 1st Class
Aviator (formerly Private) Recruit Aircraftman/Aircraftwoman 2nd Class

During the Second World War, female officers in the RCAF Women’s Division had a rank structure and terminology that was completely different from the male officers’ terminology; it included ranks such as Air Commandant, Group Officer and Section Officer. The Women’s Division non-commissioned ranks were similar, but the highest rank was Flight Sergeant.

The melding of elements of both historical and modern rank insignia and terminology strengthens the RCAF’s links to its history and heritage while honouring all those who have served throughout the Royal Canadian Air Force’s history.

Page details

Date modified: