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A Pilot Officer's sleeve/shoulder insignia

Pilot Officer (Plt Off officially in the RAF; PLTOFF in the RAAF and RNZAF; P/O in the former RCAF and frequently in the RAF) is the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force[1] and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks immediately below Flying Officer. It normally denotes an Officer who has elected to join as a non-graduate direct entrant Officer, as those with degrees usually only serve a week at the rank after graduation from the RAF College Cranwell. Some newly commissioned officers hold the lower grade of Acting Pilot Officer.

It has a NATO ranking code of OF-1 and is equivalent to a Second Lieutenant in the British Army or the Royal Marines. The Royal Navy has no exactly equivalent rank, and a Pilot Officer is senior to a Royal Navy Midshipman and junior to a Royal Navy Sub-Lieutenant. In the Australian Armed Forces, the rank of pilot officer is equivalent to acting sub lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy.

The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was Assistant Section Officer.


On 1 April 1918, the newly created RAF adopted its officer rank titles from the British Army, with Royal Flying Corps Second Lieutenants becoming Second Lieutenants in the RAF. Consideration was given to renaming Second Lieutenants as Ensigns. However, when the RAF's own rank structure was introduced on 1 August 1919, RAF Second Lieutenants were re-titled as Pilot Officers, a rank which has been in continuous use ever since.


The rank title does not imply that an officer in the rank of Pilot Officer is a pilot. Some Pilot Officers are aircrew, whilst many are ground branch officers. A ground branch Pilot Officer rarely may have command of a flight.

RAF usageEdit

The rank is normally held by an officer who has joined as a non-graduate direct entrant to the RAF. Those with degrees usually only serve a week in the rank after graduation from the RAF College Cranwell. Some newly commissioned non-graduate officers hold the lower grade of Acting Pilot Officer.


The rank insignia consists of a thin blue band on slightly wider black band. This is worn on both the lower sleeves of the tunic or on the shoulders of the flying suit or the casual uniform.

Although no Royal Navy rank has an insignia of a single half width ring, a pilot officer's mess insignia of one thin band of gold running around each cuff is similar to the general naval pattern. As with the mess insignia for other RAF officer ranks, the band of gold does not have the Royal Navy's loop.

Other air forcesEdit

The rank of Pilot Officer is also used in a number of the air forces in the Commonwealth, including the Bangladesh Air Force, Pakistan Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and Sri Lanka Air Force. The rank is no longer used by the Indian Air Force and all trainee cadets are commissioned into the force as Flying Officers.

The Royal Canadian Air Force used the rank until the three armed services were unified into the Canadian Forces in 1968 and Army-type ranks were adopted. A Canadian Pilot Officer then became a Second Lieutenant. In official French Canadian usage, a pilot officer's rank title was sous-lieutenant d'aviation.

See alsoEdit


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