Wing commander (rank)

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 Navy and to lieutenant colonel in the British Army, the Royal Marines, and the US Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Wing commander
An RAF wing commander's command pennant
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
Next higher rankGroup captain
Next lower rankSquadron leader
Equivalent ranks
Related articles
HistoryRoyal Naval Air Service
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 officerSergeantFlight sergeant
Leading seamanCorporal or
SeamanPrivate or
gunner or
Aircraftman or

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.


With the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps adopting the name of Royal Naval Air Service 1 July 1914, the Naval Air Service adopted appointments in addition to the naval ranks. Pilots wore insignia according to the appointment not their rank. One of the appointments was wing commander holding the rank of commander.[2]

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 inconstant. In 1920, RAF began using the rank of wing commander.[3]


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, 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, 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

  • Douglas Bader  World War II fighter pilot and double amputee, was the first commander to lead formations of three or more squadrons during the Battle of Britain
  • Roland Beamont  World War II fighter pilot and post-war test pilot
  • Abdel Latif Boghdadi  pilot in the Egyptian Air Force turned politician
  • Pierre Clostermann  World War II fighter pilot and author of The Big Show
  • Linda Corbould  first woman to command a RAAF flying squadron
  • Roald Dahl  World War II fighter pilot, and famous novelist. His record of five aerial victories has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records. (He ended the war with the temporary rank of wing commander; substantive rank was squadron leader)
  • Roly Falk  test pilot on the maiden flight of the Avro Vulcan
  • Brendan "Paddy" Finucane  top ranking RAF World War II ace with 32 kills. A native of Rathmines, Dublin, Ireland (who emigrated to Britain with his family in 1936), 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
  • Preller Geldenhuys  combat pilot in the Rhodesian Air Force, survivor of the Rhodesian War and author of Rhodesian Air Force Operations[4]
  • Guy Gibson  commanding officer of 617 Squadron and leader of the "Dam Busters" raid
  • Andy Green  current holder of the land speed record and first person to break the sound barrier on land
  • M. Hamidullah Khan  commander - Sector 11, Bangladesh Forces, War of Independence 1971, first provost marshal and commander of Ground Defense Command of the Bangladesh Air Force. After retirement in 1979, joined the BNP and embarked on a political career. Remained active until death on 30 December 2011
  • 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 World War II
  • Mervyn Middlecoat  fighter pilot belonged to Pakistan Air Force
  • Nouman Ali Khan  Wing Commander of the Pakistan Air Force who downed an Indian Air Force jet Mig-21 Bison piloted by Abhinandan Varthamanand and crashed in Pakistan administered Kashmir on February 27' 2019. He conferred with Sitar-e-Jurat for his bravery[5]
  • Abhinandan Varthamanand  Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force.In the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff, he was held captive for 60 hours in Pakistan after his aircraft was shot down in an aerial dogfight.[6]
  • 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 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 27 February 2019.
  2. "Fleet Air Arm, Naval Aviation, Royal Navy Air Service History- 1914 - 1 July: Royal Naval Air Service is formed". Fleet Air Arm Officers Association. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  3. "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 27 February 2019.
  4. 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.
  5. "Pakistan to give top military awards to two pilots for downing Indian jet".
  6. "India-Pakistan latest news on Kashmir crisis". cnn.
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