page contains answers to the most frequently
asked questions about the RAF. They are:
you cannot find your question, then please email
us and we will do our best to find the
information you require.
is the Royal Air Force?
RAF is the air component of the United
Kingdom's Armed Forces. (The other Services
being the Royal Navy and British Amy).
are the roles of the Royal Air Force?
understand the roles and responsibilities of
the RAF, we must first look at the Defence
Mission. It says:
purpose of the Ministry of Defence, and the
Armed Forces, is to:
the United Kingdom, and Overseas
Territories, our people and interests;
as a force for good by strengthening
international peace and security.
achieve this, we:
a vital contribution to Britain's
security policy and its promotion at
home and abroad;
and provide a defence effort that meets
the needs of the present, prepares for
the future and insures against the
modern, battle-winning forces and other
defence capabilities to help:
conflicts and build stability;
crises and respond to emergencies;
and further UK interests;
our commitments and
with Allies and partners to
strengthen international security
this, the key roles of the RAF can be split
into two main areas:
and defensive air operations. Initial phases
of recent conflicts have involved
concentrated air operations designed to gain
control of the air. Once this control has
been achieved, land-based forces will the
begin their operations. These operations
involve air defence (e.g mounting aerial
patrols to intercept opposition aircraft)
and a number of different offensive
operations (e.g disrupting enemy
communications, destroying radar sites etc).
air operations. Often the unsung heroes,
there are three main types of support
operations. Reconnaissance and surveillance
(e.g. locating enemy troop positions and
stores), air transport (e.g long-range
movement of personnel, equipment or aid
using aircraft such as the Tristar or
Hercules or localised transport involving
helicopters such as Chinooks and Merlins)
and air-to-air-refuelling which is used to
extend an aircraft's range.
does the Royal Air Force contribute to Joint
(or coalition) air operations?
deployments have seen RAF aircraft working
alongside those of allied nations and this is
likely to remain the case for the future.
Aircraft such as the Tornado GR4A and its
low-level reconnaissance ability can
contribute a unique and highly specialized
capability to an air campaign. Our Tristar and
VC10 tankers also deployed to Afghanistan to
provide aerial refuelling for US Navy aircraft
even though no RAF combat aircraft were used.
it is not just with aicraft of other countries
that the RAF works in a joint environment. Our
Chinook, Puma and Merlin helicopters form part
of the British Joint Helicopter Command. Here
RAF personnel are trained to work alongside
those from the Royal Navy and Army in their
everyday duties, not just on operational
is the RAF Motto?
is 'Per Ardua ad Astra'. Although difficult to
translate, it is generally said to be
"Through Struggles to the Stars". To
find out how this motto was adopted, click HERE.
do RAF aircraft have a target on the side?
is not a target but the RAF Roundel. All the
world's military forces have markings on their
aircraft to identify their aircraft and each
has a different way of doing so:- The United
States Air Force uses the famous 'Star and
Bars' badge, whilst the Russians have the
equally famous 'Red Star'. The RAF's is either
a three-colour insignia with a blue outer
ring, white middle ring and red inner, as used
on support aircraft, or a blue and red two
colour roundel for fighters. To find out why
it looks like this, click HERE.
are the ranks of the RAF?
are two rank structures, one for commissioned
officers and one for other ranks. The
structures are as follows:-
of the Royal Air Force
Technician (Technical trades only)
Technician (Technical trades only. To
be phased out.)
Officer / Master Aircrew
is covered in greater detail in the Organisation
is the difference between commissioned and
the RAF, the commissioned ranks are Pilot
Officer through to Marshal of the Royal Air
Force. They are generally referred to as
'officers'. In the RAF, a commissioned officer
is a member of the Service who derives
authority directly from a sovereign power
(i.e. the Monarchy), and as such holds a
commission from that power. Any officer (and
all non-commissioned ranks) address a senior
officer as "Sir" or
ranks are split into three groups; airmen
(Aircraftsman up to Junior Technician),
non-commissioned officers (or NCOs: Corporal
to Flight Sergeant) and Warrant Officers. In
the British Armed Forces, NCOs are split into
two categories - Junior NCOs (abbreviated to
JNCOs) are Corporals while Senior NCOs (SNCOs)
covers Sergeants to Flight Sergeants.
are enlisted members of the RAF
have been delegated leadership or command
authority by a commissioned officer. They are
the junior management of the Service.
Experienced NCOs are a very important part of
many armed forces; in many cases NCOs are
credited as being the metaphorical
"backbone" of their Service, and of
their individual units.
Officers (WOs) are often included in the SNCO
category, but actually form a separate class
of their own. A Warrant Officer will have many
years experience and is respected by both rank
structures. Warrant Officers are addressed as
"Mister" (or "Mrs",
"Ms" or "Miss" for female
Warrant Officers) by commissioned officers
(and as "Sir" or "Ma'am"
by everyone else). SNCOs and WOs have their
own messes, whereas JNCOs live and eat with
the junior ranks.
do you salute?
custom of saluting commissioned officers
relates wholly to the commission given by Her
Majesty the Queen to that officer, not the
person. Therefore, when a subordinate airman
salutes an officer, he is indirectly
acknowledging Her Majesty as Head of State. A
salute returned by the officer is on behalf of
with many things in military history, the
origin of the custom of saluting is a little
obscure. In a book called 'Military Customs',
Major TJ Edwards suggests that 'saluting and
the paying of compliments may be said to
proceed from the exercise of good manners'.
Indeed, if you take the word saluting
literally, it is merely the offering of a
salutation or greeting, which in the military
must be reciprocated.
more romantic theory dates from medieval times
which suggests that victors at the many
tournaments of the day shielded their eyes
with their hands when receiving their prize
from the Queen, rather than be dazzled by her
beauty. This is very unlikely, but far more
chivalrous. A far more plausible tale relates
that the military salute is merely a form of
offering an open hand as a token of respect
and friendship in much the same way as a
handshake does. Knights in the Middle Ages
greeted each other by raising the visor of
their armour, an action not unlike a military
the 17th Century, military records detail that
the 'formal act of saluting was to be by
removal of headdress' For some time after, hat
raising became an accepted form of the
military salute, but in the 18th Century the
Coldstream Guards amended this procedure. They
were instructed to 'clap their hands to their
hats and bow as they pass by'. This was
quickly adopted by other Regiments as wear and
tear on the hats by constant removal and
replacing was a matter of great concern. By
the early 19th Century, the salute had evolved
further with the open hand, palm to the front,
and this has remained the case since then.
RAF salute is essentially the same as that of
the Army. When RAF personnel hand salute they
display an open hand, positioned such that the
finger tips almost, but not quite, touch the
hat band. The Naval salute differs in that the
palm of the hand faces down towards the
shoulder. This dates back to the days of
sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to
seal the timber from seawater. To protect
their hands, officer wore white gloves and it
was considered most undignified to present a
dirty palm in the salute so the hand was
turned through 90 degrees.
do some officers have yellow rope on their
shoulders and braiding on their hats?
correct name for the yellow rope is
'aiguillettes' and they are plaited cord
shoulder distinctions worn on ceremonial
occasions by air officers, equerries and
aides-de-camp. The hat braiding (known in RAF
slang as 'scrambled egg') is also worn.
in charge of the RAF?
most senior position in the RAF is that of
Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). At the moment
this position is occupied by Air Chief Marshal
Sir Jock Stirrup. A brief biography of Air
Chief Marshal Stirrup can be read HERE.
always been interested in a career in the RAF.
How do I join?
you have decided that the RAF is for you, then
please contact your nearest Careers Office for
details on joining the RAF. A full list of all
offices complete with telephone numbers,
addresses, maps and e-mail details, can be
found on the RAF Careers website at www.rafcareers.com.
you arrange work experience at RAF Valley?
experience is possible but is subject to
stringent rules concerning numbers, dates and
the age of school pupils that are eligible.
The approach must come from the school. The
scheme is managed by the Assistant Corporate
Communication Officer who can be written to at
the address on the contact
aircraft will be flying into or out of RAF
Valley this week?
are not allowed to pre-release details of
aircraft movements into or out of RAF Valley
due to security reasons, this applies equally
to visiting aircraft on an ad-hoc basis or
those who may be here for a little longer.