Royal Australian Air Force

"RAAF" redirects here. For the British auxiliary air force, see Royal Auxiliary Air Force. For other uses, see RAAF (disambiguation).
Royal Australian Air Force
Active 31 March 1921 – present
Country Australia
Type Air force
Size 14,120 Active personnel
4,273 Reserve personnel[1]
259 aircraft
Part of Australian Defence Force
Headquarters Canberra
Motto(s) Per Ardua ad Astra
"Through Adversity to the Stars"
Anniversaries RAAF Anniversary Commemoration – 31 March
Commander-in-chief Queen of Australia represented by General Sir Peter Cosgrove
As Governor-General of Australia
Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Gavin "Leo" Davies
Deputy Chief of Air Force Air Vice Marshal Warren McDonald
Air Commander Australia Air Vice Marshal Gavin Turnbull
Warrant Officer of the Air Force Warrant Officer Robert Swanwick
Aircraft flown
Boeing EA-18G Growler, E-7A Wedgetail
Fighter F/A-18 Hornet (A and B), F/A-18F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (Ordered)
Patrol AP-3C Orion, P8-A Poseidon
Reconnaissance Heron UAV
Trainer PC-9, Hawk 127, B300
Transport C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, Boeing 737, B300, Challenger 600, Airbus A330 MRTT

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), formed March 1921, is the aerial warfare branch of the Australian Defence Force. It directly continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), formed on 22 October 1912.[2] The RAAF provides support across a spectrum of operations such as air superiority, precision strikes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, air mobility, and humanitarian support.

The RAAF has taken part in many of the 20th century's major conflicts. During the Second World War a number of RAAF bomber, fighter, reconnaissance and other squadrons served initially in Britain, and with the Desert Air Force located in North Africa and the Mediterranean, while the majority were later primarily deployed in the South West Pacific Area. Thousands of Australians also served with other Commonwealth air forces in Europe.[3] By the time the war ended, a total of 216,900 men and women served in the RAAF, of whom 10,562 were killed in action.[4]

Later the RAAF served in the Berlin Airlift, Korean War, Malayan Emergency, Indonesia–Malaysia Confrontation and Vietnam War. More recently, the RAAF has participated in operations in East Timor, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The RAAF has 259 aircraft, of which 110 are combat aircraft.


An Australian F-35A arriving at Luke AFB to begin pilot training
A Royal Australian Air Force B-737 taxies at Sydney Airport
A RAAF C-130J departing Point Cook
A BAE Hawk 127 arriving at Avalon Airport

Formation, 1912

The RAAF traces its history back to the Imperial Conference held in London in 1911, where it was decided aviation should be developed within the armed forces of the British Empire. Australia implemented this decision, the first dominion to do so, by approving the establishment of the "Australian Aviation Corps", which initially consisted of the Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria, on 22 October 1912.[5] By 1914 the corps was known as the "Australian Flying Corps".[6]

First World War

Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914, the Australian Flying Corps sent aircraft to assist in capturing German colonies in what is now north-east New Guinea. However, these colonies surrendered quickly, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until 27 May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq.[7]

The corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of the First World War. By the end of the war, four squadrons—Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4—had seen operational service, while another four training squadrons—Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8—had also been established. A total of 460 officers and 2,234 other ranks served in the AFC, whilst another 200 men served as aircrew in the British flying services.[8] Casualties included 175 dead, 111 wounded, 6 gassed and 40 captured.[9]

Inter-war period

The Australian Flying Corps remained part of the Australian Army until 1919, when it was disbanded along with the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps (AAC) was formed. The Australian Air Force was formed on 31 March 1921. King George V approved the prefix "Royal" in June 1921 and became effective on 31 August 1921. The RAAF then became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, following the British Royal Air Force.[10] When formed the RAAF had more aircraft than personnel, with 21 officers and 128 other ranks and 153 aircraft.[11]

Second World War

Europe and the Mediterranean

In September 1939, the RAAF's Air Board directly controlled the Air Force via RAAF Station Laverton, RAAF Station Richmond, RAAF Station Pearce, No. 1 Flying Training School RAAF at Point Cook, RAAF Station Rathmines and five smaller units.[12]

In 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War, Australia joined the Empire Air Training Scheme, under which flight crews received basic training in Australia before travelling to Canada for advanced training. A total of 17 RAAF bomber, fighter, reconnaissance and other squadrons served initially in Britain and with the Desert Air Force located in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Thousands of Australians also served with other Commonwealth air forces in Europe during the Second World War.[3] About nine percent of the personnel who served under British RAF commands in Europe and the Mediterranean were RAAF personnel.[13]

With British manufacturing targeted by the German Luftwaffe, in 1941 the Australian government created the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP; later known as the Government Aircraft Factories) to supply Commonwealth air forces,[14] and the RAAF was eventually provided with large numbers of locally built versions of British designs such as the DAP Beaufort torpedo bomber, Beaufighters and Mosquitos, as well as other types such as Wirraways, Boomerangs, and Mustangs.[3]

In the European theatre of the war, RAAF personnel were especially notable in RAF Bomber Command: although they represented just two percent of all Australian enlistments during the war, they accounted for almost twenty percent of those killed in action. This statistic is further illustrated by the fact that No. 460 Squadron RAAF, mostly flying Avro Lancasters, had an official establishment of about 200 aircrew and yet had 1,018 combat deaths. The squadron was therefore effectively wiped out five times over.[15] Total RAAF casualties in Europe were 5,488 killed or missing.[3]

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk IA of 75th Squadron RAAF, which F/O Geoff Atherton flew over New Guinea in August 1942.

Pacific War

Brewster Buffalo fighters, flown by many RAAF fighter pilots in the Malayan, Singapore and Dutch East Indies campaigns, as seen here being inspected at RAF Sembawang, Singapore.

The beginning of the Pacific War—and the rapid advance of Japanese forces—threatened the Australian mainland for the first time in its history. The RAAF was quite unprepared for the emergency, and initially had negligible forces available for service in the Pacific. In 1941 and early 1942, many RAAF airmen, including Nos. 1, 8, 21 and 453 Squadrons, saw action with the RAF Far East Command in the Malayan, Singapore and Dutch East Indies campaigns. Equipped with aircraft such as the Brewster Buffalo, and Lockheed Hudsons, the Australian squadrons suffered heavily against Japanese Zeros.[16]

During the fighting for Rabaul in early 1942, No. 24 Squadron RAAF fought a brief, but ultimately futile defence as the Japanese advanced south towards Australia.[17] The devastating air raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942 increased concerns about the direct threat facing Australia. In response, some RAAF squadrons were transferred from the northern hemisphere—although a substantial number remained there until the end of the war. Shortages of fighter and ground attack planes led to the acquisition of US-built Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks and the rapid design and manufacture of the first Australian fighter, the CAC Boomerang. RAAF Kittyhawks came to play a crucial role in the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns, especially in operations like the Battle of Milne Bay. As a response to a possible Japanese chemical warfare threat the RAAF imported hundreds of thousands of chemical weapons into Australia.[18]

RAAF volunteers from Brisbane leaving for training

In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, imported Bristol Beaufighters proved to be highly effective ground attack and maritime strike aircraft. Beaufighters were later made locally by the DAP from 1944.[19] Although it was much bigger than Japanese fighters, the Beaufighter had the speed to outrun them.[20] The RAAF's heavy bomber force was predominantly made up of 287 B-24 Liberators, equipping seven squadrons, which could bomb Japanese targets as far away as Borneo and the Philippines from airfields in Australia and New Guinea.[21] By late 1945, the RAAF had received or ordered about 500 P-51 Mustangs, for fighter/ground attack purposes. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation initially assembled US-made Mustangs, but later manufactured most of those used.[22]

By mid-1945, the RAAF's main operational formation in the Pacific, the First Tactical Air Force (1st TAF), consisted of over 21,000 personnel, while the RAAF as a whole consisted of about 50 squadrons and 6,000 aircraft, of which over 3,000 were operational.[23] The 1st TAF's final campaigns were fought in support of Australian ground forces in Borneo,[24] but had the war continued some of its personnel and equipment would likely have been allocated to the invasion of the Japanese mainland, along with some of the RAAF bomber squadrons in Europe, which were to be grouped together with British and Canadian squadrons as part of the proposed Tiger Force. However, the war was brought to a sudden end by the US nuclear attacks on Japan.[25] The RAAF's casualties in the Pacific were around 2,000 killed, wounded or captured.[24]

By the time the war ended, a total of 216,900 men and women served in the RAAF, of whom 10,562 were killed in action; a total of 76 squadrons were formed.[4] With over 152,000 personnel operating nearly 6,000 aircraft it was the world's fourth largest air force.[26]

Service since 1945

During the Berlin Airlift, in 1948–49, the RAAF Squadron Berlin Air Lift aided the international effort to fly in supplies to the stricken city; two RAF Avro York aircraft were also crewed by RAAF personnel. Although a small part of the operation, the RAAF contribution was significant, flying 2,062 sorties and carrying 7,030 tons of freight and 6,964 passengers.[27]

In the Korean War, from 1950–53, North American Mustangs from No. 77 Squadron RAAF, stationed in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, were among the first United Nations aircraft to be deployed, in ground support, combat air patrol, and escort missions. When the UN planes were confronted by North Korean Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighters, 77 Sqn acquired Gloster Meteors, however the MiGs remained superior and the Meteors were relegated to ground support missions as the North Koreans gained experience. The air force also operated transport aircraft during the conflict. No. 77 Squadron flew 18,872 sorties, claiming the destruction of 3,700 buildings, 1,408 vehicles, 16 bridges, 98 railway carriages and an unknown number of enemy personnel. Three MiG-15s were confirmed destroyed, and two others probably destroyed. RAAF casualties included 41 killed and seven captured; 66 aircraft – 22 Mustangs and 44 Meteors – were lost.[28]

Two RAAF Mirage III fighters in 1980

In July 1952, No. 78 Wing RAAF was deployed to Malta in the Mediterranean where it formed part of a British force which sought to counter the Soviet Union's influence in the Middle East as part of Australia's Cold War commitments. Consisting of No. 75 and 76 Squadrons equipped with de Havilland Vampire jet fighters, the wing provided an air garrison for the island for the next two and half years, returning to Australia in late 1954.[29]

In 1953, a Royal Air Force officer, Air Marshal Sir Donald Hardman, was brought out to Australia to become Chief of the Air Staff.[30] He reorganised the RAAF into three commands: Home Command, Maintenance Command, and Training Command. Five years later, Home Command was renamed Operational Command, and Training Command and Maintenance Command were amalgamated to form Support Command.[31]

In the Malayan Emergency, from 1950–60, six Avro Lincolns from No. 1 Squadron RAAF and a flight of Douglas Dakotas from No. 38 Squadron RAAF took part in operations against the communist guerrillas (labelled as "Communist Terrorists" by the British authorities) as part of the RAF Far East Air Force. The Dakotas were used on cargo runs, in troop movement and in paratroop and leaflet drops within Malaya. The Lincolns, operating from bases in Singapore and from Kuala Lumpur, formed the backbone of the air war against the CTs, conducting bombing missions against their jungle bases. Although results were often difficult to assess, they allowed the government to harass CT forces, attack their base camps when identified and keep them on the move. Later, in 1958, Canberra bombers from No. 2 Squadron RAAF were deployed to Malaya and took part in bombing missions against the CTs.[32]

An RAAF F/A-18 with a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, two F-15Es, an F-117, two F-16s and a RAF Tornado over Iraq

During the Vietnam War, from 1964–72, the RAAF contributed Caribou STOL transport aircraft as part of the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam, later redesignated No. 35 Squadron RAAF, UH-1 Iroquois helicopters from No. 9 Squadron RAAF, and English Electric Canberra bombers from No. 2 Squadron RAAF. The Canberras flew 11,963 bombing sorties, and two aircraft were lost. One went missing during a bombing raid. The wreckage of the aircraft was recovered in April 2009, and the remains of Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver were found in late July 2009. The other was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, although both crew were rescued. They dropped 76,389 bombs and were credited with 786 enemy personnel confirmed killed and a further 3,390 estimated killed, 8,637 structures, 15,568 bunkers, 1,267 sampans and 74 bridges destroyed.[33] RAAF transport aircraft also supported anti-communist ground forces. The UH-1 helicopters were used in many roles including medical evacuation and close air support. RAAF casualties in Vietnam included six killed in action, eight non-battle fatalities, 30 wounded in action and 30 injured.[34] A small number of RAAF pilots also served in United States Air Force units, flying F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers or serving as forward air controllers.[35]

A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet at the 2013 Avalon Airshow

Military airlifts were conducted for a number of purposes in the intervening decades, such as the peacekeeping operations in East Timor from 1999. Australia's combat aircraft were not used again in combat until the Iraq War in 2003, when 14 F/A-18s from No. 75 Squadron RAAF operated in the escort and ground attack roles, flying a total of 350 sorties and dropping 122 laser-guided bombs.[36] A detachment of AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft were deployed in the Middle East between 2003 and 2012. These aircraft conducted maritime surveillance patrols over the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea in support of Coalition warships and boarding parties, as well as conducting extensive overland flights of Iraq and Afghanistan on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and supporting counter-piracy operations in Somalia.[37] From 2007 to 2009, a detachment of No. 114 Mobile Control and Reporting Unit RAAF was on active service at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.[38] Approximately 75 personnel deployed with the AN/TPS-77 radar assigned the responsibility to co-ordinate coalition air operations.[39] A detachment of IAI Heron unmanned aerial vehicles has been deployed in Afghanistan since January 2010.[40]

In late September 2014, an Air Task Group consisting of up to eight F/A-18F Super Hornets, a KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport, a E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft and 400 personnel was deployed to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates as part of the coalition to combat Islamic State forces in Iraq.[41] Operations began on 1 October.[42] A number of C-17 and C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft based in the Middle East have also been used to conduct airdrops of humanitarian aid and to airlift arms and munitions since August.[43][44][45][46]

Ranks and uniform

A leading aircraftwoman from No. 75 Squadron wearing Auscam DPCU, 2008

The rank structure of the nascent RAAF was established within the context of the desire to ensure that the service remained separate from both the Army and Navy.[47] While the service's predecessor formations, the AFC and the AAC, had used the Army's rank structure, in November 1920, just prior to the RAAF's foundation, it was decided by the Air Board that the RAAF would adopt the rank structure that had been implemented in the RAF the previous year.[48] As a result, the RAAF's rank structure came to be: Aircraftsman, Leading Aircraftsman, Corporal, Sergeant, Flight Sergeant, Warrant Officer, Officer Cadet, Pilot Officer, Flying Officer. Flight Lieutenant, Squadron Leader, Wing Commander, Group Captain, Air Commodore, Air Vice Marshal, Air Marshal, Air Chief Marshal, Marshal of the RAAF.[49]

In 1922, the colour of the RAAF winter uniform was determined by Williams on a visit to the Geelong Wool Mill. He asked for one dye dip fewer than the RAN blue (three indigo dips rather than four). There was a change to a lighter blue when an all-seasons uniform was introduced in the 1970s. The original colour and style were re-adopted around 2005.[50][51] Slip-on rank epaulettes, known as "Soft Rank Insignia" (SRI), displaying the word "AUSTRALIA" are worn on the shoulders of the service dress uniform.[49] When not in the service dress or "ceremonial" uniform, RAAF personnel wear the Auscam DPCU as a working dress. Commencing in mid-2014 DPCU began to be replaced, only in the non-deployed environment, with the General Purpose Uniform (GPU) which is a blue version of the Australian Multicam Pattern.[52]


Originally, the air force used the existing red, white and blue roundel of the Royal Air Force. However, during the Second World War the inner red circle, which was visually similar to the Japanese Hinomaru, was removed after a No. 11 Squadron Catalina was mistaken for a Japanese aircraft by a US Navy Wildcat in the Pacific Theatre.[53]

After the war, a range of options for the RAAF roundel were proposed, including the Southern Cross, a boomerang, a sprig of wattle, and the red kangaroo. On 2 July 1956, the current version of the roundel was formally adopted. This consists of a white inner circle with a red kangaroo surrounded by a royal blue circle. The kangaroo faces left, except when used on aircraft or vehicles, when the kangaroo should always face in the direction of travel.[53] Low visibility versions of the roundel exist, with the white omitted and the red and blue replaced with light or dark grey.[54]


The RAAF badge was accepted by the Chester Herald in 1939. The badge is composed of the imperial crown mounted on a circle featuring the words Royal Australian Air Force, beneath which scroll work displays the Latin motto Per Ardua Ad Astra, which it shares with the Royal Air Force. Surmounting the badge is a wedge-tailed eagle. Per Ardua Ad Astra is attributed with the meaning "Through Adversity to the Stars" and is from Sir Henry Rider Haggard's novel The People of the Mist.[55]

Current strength


As of 2014, the RAAF had 13,991 permanent full-time personnel and 4,316 part-time active reserve personnel.[1]


Current inventory

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
F/A-18 Hornet USA multirole F/A-18A

Used for operational conversion
F/A-18 Super Hornet USA multirole F/A-18F 24[57]
F-35 Lightning II USA multirole F-35A 2[58] 70 on order[58]
E-7A Wedgetail USA early warning and control 6[57]
Electronic Warfare
EA-18G Growler USA electronic warfare 1[59] 11 more on order[57]
Gulfstream G550 USA surveillance 2 on order[60][61] To be complete by 30 November 2017.[62]
Maritime Patrol
P-8 Poseidon USA ASW-maritime patrol 1[63] 11 more on order. Total of 15 planned[64][65]
AP-3C Orion USA maritime patrol 15[57] To be replaced by 8 to 15[66] P-8s from 2019.[67]
Airbus A330 MRTT Spain aerial refueling / transport KC-30A 5[57] 2 on order[68]
Boeing 737 USA VIP 737-700 2[69]
CL-600 Canada VIP 604 3[70]
C-17 Globemaster III USA heavy transport 8[71]
C-27J Spartan Italy utility transport 4[72] 6 more on order[72]
C-130J Super Hercules USA utility transport C-130J-30 12[57]
Super King Air USA utility transport 200/300 9[57]
Trainer Aircraft
BAE Hawk UK primary trainer Hawk 127 33[57]
Super King Air USA multi engine trainer 350 8[57]
Pilatus PC-9 Switzerland trainer PC-9/A 63[57] Produced under license by de Havilland Australia.[73]
Pilatus PC-21 Switzerland trainer PC-21 49 on order[74]
IAI Heron Israel surveillance Heron 1 2[75] Leased from Canadian firm MDA


Missile Origin Type Versions Notes
Air-to-air missiles
AIM-9 Sidewinder USA Short Range IR guided AIM-9 L/M & AIM-9X [76]
ASRAAM UK Short Range IR guided [76]
AIM-120 AMRAAM USA Medium Range active radar homing guided AIM-120B & AIM-120C-7 [76]
Air-to-surface missiles
AGM-158 JASSM USA Standoff air-launched cruise missile AGM-158A JASSM [76][77]
AGM-88 HARM USA Anti-radiation missile AGM-88B HARM & AGM-88E AARGM [78]
AGM-84 Harpoon USA Anti-ship missile [76]
AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon USA Glide bomb AGM-154C [79]
Mark 82 / Mark 83 / Mark 84 USA General purpose bomb [80]
Joint Direct Attack Munition USA Smart bomb GBU-31 / GBU-32 / GBU-38 / GBU-54 [76]
GBU-10 / GBU-12 / GBU-16 Paveway II USA Laser-guided bomb [80]
Small Diameter Bomb USA Smart glide bomb GBU-39/B (SDB I) [81]
Mark 46 USA Lightweight anti-submarine torpedo Mod 5 [82]

Flying squadrons

Main article: Structure of the RAAF

Non-flying squadrons


Force Element Groups



Main article: RAAF Roulettes
Roulette aircraft in formation

The Roulettes are the RAAF's formation aerobatic display team. They perform around Australia and South-east Asia, and are part of the RAAF Central Flying School (CFS) at RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria.[83] The Roulettes use the Pilatus PC-9 and formations for shows are done in a group of six aircraft. The pilots learn many formations including loops, rolls, corkscrews, and ripple roles. Most of the performances are done at the low altitude of 500 feet (150 metres).[84]

Future procurement

The first Australian F-35A takes off from Luke AFB on a test sortie in 2015

This list includes aircraft on order or a requirement which has been identified:

See also


Memorials and Museums:


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  • Grey, Jeffrey (1999). A Military History of Australia (2nd ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64483-6. 
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Further reading

  • Ashworth, Norman (1999). How Not To Run An Air Force! The Higher Command of the Royal Australian Air Force During the Second World War. Australia: Royal Australian Air Force Air Power Development Centre. ISBN 0-642-26550-X. 
  • McPhedran, Ian (2011). Air Force: Inside the New era of Australian Air Power. Australia: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7322-9025-2. 
  • Royal Australian Air Force (September 2013). The Air Power Manual - 6th Edition. Canberra: Department of Defence, Air Power Development Centre. ISBN 978-1-9208-0090-1. reprinted with corrections May 2014 .
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