Chief of the Air Staff (United Kingdom)

Chief of the Air Staff

Ensign of the Royal Air Force
(CAS Command Flag)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier

since 11 July 2016
Ministry of Defence
Style Air Chief Marshal
Member of Defence Council
Air Force Board
Reports to Chief of the Defence Staff
Nominator Secretary of State for Defence
Appointer Prime Minister
Subject to formal approval by the Queen-in-Council[1]
Inaugural holder Major-General
Sir Hugh Trenchard

The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) is the professional head of the Royal Air Force and a member of both the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Air Force Board. The post was created in 1918 with Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard as the first incumbent. The current and 31st Chief of the Air Staff is Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, who succeeded Sir Andrew Pulford in July 2016.[2][3]


The post was established in January 1918, just prior to the official formation of the RAF, and its first occupant was Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard. Following Trenchard's resignation in March 1918 after disagreements with the first air minister, his rival Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes was appointed. For political reasons Trenchard's resignation did not take effect until late April in order that he would be CAS when the RAF was formed. With Churchill's post-War appointment as Secretary of State for War and Air, Sykes was moved sideways to head up the nascent Civil Aviation ministry and Trenchard returned as Chief of the Air Staff. In the early 1920s Trenchard had to fight to keep the RAF from being divided and being absorbed back into the Royal Navy and the British Army. After Lord Trenchard retired in 1930 there were still suggestions that the RAF should be broken up, but Trenchard's foundations proved solid.[4]

By the time World War II broke out in 1939, the then occupant of the post, Air Chief Marshal Sir Cyril Newall, had a service that had been undergoing the most rapid of expansions during the British rearmament programs of the late 1930s. Newall gave way in 1940 to Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, who led the service for the rest of the war. Portal was a tireless defender of the RAF and extremely able in administration and strategy. Postwar the RAF was reoriented to perform the dual roles of defending the shrinking British Empire and possibly fighting against the Soviet Union in a Warsaw Pact verses NATO war over Germany and the United Kingdom. The Chiefs of the Air Staff of the day had to fight a constant battle to keep the British aircraft industry alive. In the end only minimal success was achieved, with only a rump aviation industrial base left by the 1970s.[5]

The first eight chiefs of the air staff were originally commissioned in the Army, with four coming from the infantry, two from the artillery and one each from the cavalry and the engineers. Of these both Lord Trenchard and Sir John Salmond each held the post over two separate periods. By the early mid-1950s sufficient time had elapsed for officers originally commissioned in the British air services of World War I to have risen through the ranks to RAF's senior post; Sir John Slessor had originally served in the Royal Flying Corps while Sir William Dickson was commissioned into the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1956 Sir Dermot Boyle became the first chief to have originally been commissioned in the RAF.[6]

Chiefs of the Air Staff

The following list gives details of the chiefs of the air staff from 1918 to the present:

OrdinalImageDate of appointmentRankIncumbentFlying specialism or armReferences
1st3 January 1918Major-GeneralSir Hugh TrenchardInfantry[7]
2nd13 April 1918Major-GeneralSir Frederick SykesCavalry[8]
3rd31 March 1919Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Hugh TrenchardInfantry[9]
4th1 January 1930Air Chief MarshalSir John SalmondInfantry[10]
5th1 April 1933Air Chief MarshalSir Geoffrey SalmondArtillery[11]
6th28 April 1933Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir John SalmondInfantry[12]
7th22 May 1933Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Edward EllingtonArtillery[13]
8th1 September 1937Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Cyril NewallInfantry[14]
9th25 October 1940Marshal of the Royal Air ForceThe Lord PortalEngineers[15]
10th1 January 1946Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Arthur TedderInfantry[16]
11th1 January 1950Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir John SlessorFighters (biplanes)[17]
12th1 January 1953Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir William DicksonNaval aviation (biplanes)[18]
13th1 January 1956Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Dermot BoyleFighters (biplanes)[19]
14th1 January 1960Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Thomas PikeFighters (biplanes)[20]
15th1 September 1963Air Chief MarshalSir Charles ElworthyBombers (biplanes)[21]
16th1 April 1967Air Chief MarshalSir John GrandyFighters (biplanes)[22]
17th1 April 1971Air Chief MarshalSir Denis SpotswoodMultirole (monoplane)[23]
18th1 April 1974Air Chief MarshalSir Andrew HumphreyFighters (monoplane)[24]
19th7 August 1976Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Neil CameronFighters (monoplane)[25]
20th10 August 1977Air Chief MarshalSir Michael BeethamBombers (monoplane)[26]
21st15 October 1982Air Chief MarshalSir Keith WilliamsonFighters (fast jet)[27]
22nd15 October 1985Air Chief MarshalSir David CraigFighters (fast jet)[28]
23rd14 November 1988Air Chief MarshalSir Peter HardingBombers (jet)[29]
24th6 November 1992Air Chief MarshalSir Michael GraydonFighters (fast jet)[30]
25th10 April 1997Air Chief MarshalSir Richard JohnsFighters (fast jet)[31]
26th21 April 2000Air Chief MarshalSir Peter SquireFighters (fast jet)[32]
27th1 August 2003Air Chief MarshalSir Jock StirrupGround attack / reconnaissance (fast jet)[33]
28th13 April 2006Air Chief MarshalSir Glenn TorpyGround attack (fast jet)[34]
29th31 July 2009Air Chief MarshalSir Stephen DaltonGround attack (fast jet)[35]
30th31 July 2013Air Chief MarshalSir Andrew PulfordHelicopters[36]
31st11 July 2016Air Chief MarshalSir Stephen HillierGround attack (fast jet)[37]
  1. ^ The ranks shown are the highest rank that the officer in question attained during his tour as Chief of the Air Staff. However, in the case where the officer was promoted on the day before he was posted or retired, then the lower rank is shown.

See also

Other service chiefs

Generally relevant


  1. Departmental Resource Accounts 2006-7 Ministry of Defence
  2. "The Secretary of State announces new Senior Appointments in the Armed Services". Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  3. "Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Sir Stephen Hillier". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  4. "Sir John Salmond". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  5. "Meeting our makers: Britain's long industrial decline". New Statesman. 24 January 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  6. "Sir Dermot Alexander Boyle". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  7. Barrass, Malcolm (9 October 2007). "Marshal of the RAF The Viscount Trenchard of Wolfeton". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
  8. "Air Vice Marshal Sir Frederick Sykes". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 31348. p. 6249. 20 May 1919. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 33565. p. 8506. 31 December 1929. Retrieved 25 May 2009.
  11. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33926. p. 2194. 31 March 1933. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  12. The London Gazette: no. 33936. p. 2940. 2 May 1933. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 33942. p. 3457. 23 May 1933. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 34432. p. 5561. 3 September 1937. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  15. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34989. p. 6492. 12 November 1940. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  16. "Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder". Air of Authority: A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  17. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38795. p. 6168. 30 December 1949. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  18. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39739. p. 56. 30 December 1952. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  19. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 40666. p. 7307. 27 December 1955. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  20. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 41664. p. 1979. 20 March 1959. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  21. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42924. p. 1615. 15 February 1963. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  22. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44281. p. 3691. 31 March 1967. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  23. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 45337. p. 3340. 5 April 1971. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  24. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 46252. p. 4287. 1 April 1974. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  25. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 46984. p. 10916. 10 August 1976. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  26. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 47289. p. 9978. 1 August 1977. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  27. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49156. p. 14275. 1 November 1982. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  28. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 50279. p. 13878. 7 October 1985. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  29. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 51543. p. 13394. 28 November 1988. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  30. "Sir Michael Graydon". Debretts People of Today. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  31. "Sir Richard Johns". Debretts People of Today. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  32. Who's Who 2010, A & C Black, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4081-1414-8
  33. "Sir Jock Stirrup". NATO. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  34. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57965. p. 5686. 25 April 2006. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  35. "Air Rank Appointments List 07/08 dated 16 October 2008". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  36. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60575. p. 14490. 23 July 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  37. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61656. p. 16088. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 3 December 2016.
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