Group captain

Group captain is a senior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force, where it originated,[1] as well as the air forces of many countries that have historical British influence. It is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-British air force-specific rank structure. Group captain has a NATO rank code of OF-5, meaning that it ranks above wing commander and immediately below air commodore, and is the equivalent of the rank of captain in the navy and of the rank of colonel in other services.

Group captain
An RAF group captain's command flag
A group captain's sleeve/shoulder insignia from the Royal Air Force
Service branchAir forces
AbbreviationGp Capt / GPCAPT
NATO rank codeOF-5
Non-NATO rankO-6
Formation1 April 1918 (1918-04-01) (RAF)
Next higher rankAir commodore
Next lower rankWing commander
Equivalent ranks

It is usually abbreviated Gp Capt. In some air forces (such as the RAF, IAF and PAF), the abbreviation GPCAPT is used; in others (such as the RAAF and RNZAF), and in many historical contexts, the abbreviation G/C is used. The full phrase “group captain” is always used; the rank is never abbreviated to "captain".

RAF usage


On 1 April 1918, the newly created RAF adopted its officer rank titles from the British Army, with Royal Naval Air Service captains and Royal Flying Corps colonels becoming colonels in the RAF. In response to the proposal that the RAF should use its own rank titles, it was suggested that the RAF might use the Royal Navy's officer ranks, with the word "air" inserted before the naval rank title. For example, the rank that later became group captain would have been "air captain". Although the Admiralty objected to this simple modification of their rank titles, it was agreed that the RAF might base many of its officer rank titles on naval officer ranks with differing pre-modifying terms. It was also suggested that RAF colonels might be entitled "bannerets" or "leaders". However, the rank title based on the Navy rank was preferred and as RAF colonels typically commanded groups the rank title group captain was chosen. The rank of group captain was introduced in August 1919[2] and has been used continuously since then.

Although in the early years of the RAF groups were normally commanded by group captains, by the mid-1920s they were usually commanded by an air officer.

In the post-World War II period the commander of an RAF flying station or a major ground training station has typically been a group captain. More recently, expeditionary air wings have also been commanded by group captains.

Insignia and command pennant

The rank insignia is based on the four gold bands of captains in the Royal Navy, comprising four narrow light blue bands over slightly wider black bands. This is worn on both the lower sleeves of the tunic or on the shoulders of the flying suit or the casual uniform. Group captains are the first rank in the RAF hierarchy to wear gold braid on the peak of their cap, informally known as 'scrambled egg'; however, they still wear the standard RAF officer's cap badge.

The command pennant for a group captain is similar to the one for a wing commander except that there is one broad red band in the centre. Only the wing commander and group captain command pennants are triangular in shape.

Other air forces

The rank of group captain is also used in a number of the air forces in the Commonwealth, including the Bangladesh Air Force,[3] Ghana Air Force,[4] Indian Air Force (IAF),[5] Namibian Air Force, Nigerian Air Force, Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), Sri Lankan Air Force and the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard.[6] It is also used in the Egyptian Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Royal Air Force of Oman, Royal Thai Air Force and the Air Force of Zimbabwe.[7]

The Royal Canadian Air Force used the rank until the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, when army-type rank titles were adopted. A Canadian group captain then became a colonel. In official French Canadian usage, a group captain's rank title was colonel d'aviation. In the Argentine Air Force comodoro (commodore) is the rank in Argentine Spanish while in the Chilean Air Force, the rank in Chilean Spanish is coronel de aviacion or "colonel of aviation". Until 1973 it was used by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), beyond that the sleeve insignia is that of a full colonel.

Equivalent ranks in other services

In addition to the equivalents used in most air forces, such as colonel, other air services, especially non-combat auxiliaries in Commonwealth countries, have used a variety of alternative names for equivalent ranks.

The equivalent rank in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, Women's Royal Air Force (until 1968) and Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (until 1980) was "group officer".

The equivalent rank in the Royal Observer Corps (until 1995) was "observer captain", which had a similar rank insignia.

Notable group captains


Fictional characters

  • Ian Gilmore, a fictional character in Doctor Who
  • Group Captain Tennant James, a fictional character in Doctor Who
  • Captain Jack Harkness, a fictional character in Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood
  • Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a fictional character in the film Dr. Strangelove, played by Peter Sellers
  • Group Captain Rodney Crittendon, a fictional character in the television show Hogan's Heroes, played by Bernard Fox (Crittendon was titled on the show as the equivalent rank of colonel to avoid confusion with the American audience).

See also


  1. "Ranks and Badges of the Royal Air Force". Royal Air Force. 2007. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2007.
  2. Hobart, Malcolm C (2000). Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force. Leo Cooper. p. 26. ISBN 0-85052-739-2.
  3. "BAF RANKS". Bangladesh Air Force Website. BAF Communication Unit. 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  4. "Ghana Air Force Ranks » Ghana Insider". 8 December 2020.
  5. "Officer ranks in Indian Army, Air Force and Navy". India Today. New Delhi. 25 February 2019. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  6. "Promotion and Appointment in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (Air Guard)" (PDF). Trinidad and Tobago Gazette (Extraordinary). 53 (140). 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  7. "Ranks and Badges in the AFZ". Air Force of Zimbabwe Website. Air Force of Zimbabwe. 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  8. "Group Captain Alan Charles Rawlinson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 1 February 2023.
  9. "Iron Maiden Lead Singer Bruce Dickinson Made Honorary Group Captain In RAF".
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