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Royal Flying Corps

Last modified: 2013-04-13 by rob raeside
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[Royal Flying Corps] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 August 2012

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Official Flag

Ian Sumner mentions a recruitment poster advertising the RFC (Military Wing) at On it, a flag is shown representing the Royal Flying Corps, or possibly strictly its Military Wing, though the latter possibility doesn't match the theory that the colours stand for the two branches of the military plus the light blue of the skies.

I've tried to draw that flag. As it's displayed rather short, I've used 2:3. I don't know whether service or camp flags used at the time were of a specific ratio. For the colours, I've used the colours of the flags of the later Royal Air Force, though the poster suggests the blue of the skies may have been lighter, at that time before they became a battleground.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 August 2012

The term ‘Military Wing’ became unnecessary after 30 June 1914.
The Royal Flying Corps was constituted by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912.
As recommended by the Technical Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, it consisted of a Naval Wing and a Military Wing. However the Admiralty ignored this arrangement and set-up its own flying school, kept its own uniform and ranks and ordered its own aircraft. The Naval Wing became the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 July 1914.
David Prothero, 26 August 2012

[concerning the Military Wing flag] - that legend remains valid for the Royal Air Force, created on 1 April 1918 from the Royal Flying Corps (Army) and the Royal Naval Air Service (Royal Navy). The full dress (i.e., ceremonial) uniform of the RFC was, IIRC, blue with red facings, and I suspect that this uniform is the origin of two of the colours of the flag. It isn't a universal rule for the choice of flag colours, but there are some examples - such as old Royal Artillery flags blue with red stripes (blue unforms, faced red), Royal Engineers flags red with blue stripes (red uniforms faced blue), Royal Army Service Corps flags blue, yellow and white (blue uniforms faced white with brass buttons). I've never found anything in the RAF papers in the National Archives to explain the origins of the colours.

[concerning the dimensions] - I don't think there was a universal ratio laid down by the War Office - it was much more the responsibility of the individual corps or regiments. Based on photos I've collected from the internet and elsewhere, 2:3 and 3:5 look to be the commonest ratios.

[concerning the colours] - I think the colours in the poster have degraded over time; your use of the RAF light blue seems a good one to me.
Ian Sumner, 27 August 2012

This is the official flag of the Royal Flying Corps. The source for this information is "Royal Flying Corps Handbook 1914 - 1918" by the renowned WWI historian Peter G. Cooksley. The colours in the recreation are correct.

The colours on the two pennants (below) should really be the same colours as those that have been used for the official flag, as these are RFC flag pennants with the RFC wings and lettering superimposed on top. The colours in the photograph of the pennant have degenerated over time, especially the dark blue at the top and bottom of the flag.
Timothy Smith, 22 March 2013


[Royal Flying Corps Pennand] located by Ian Sumner

[Royal Flying Corps Pennand] by Marc Pasquin

At is a command pennant that the site claims dates from 1915. It is similar to that of a modern Group Captain, but longer, with the dark blue lines parallel to the red, rather than following the edges to a point. It is embroidered with the letters RFC and a set of pilot's wings, in white.

Further down the page, there is a reference to the book by Hering on Customs of the RAF, concerning the adoption of the three colours of dark blue, light blue and red. When the RAF enquired of the War Office if they had any information about the choice of colours, the reply was in the negative, but an order of July 1917 was quoted, which stated that a flag in the three colours, with the letters RFC in black on the red stripe, was adopted for the headquarters of the RFC in the Field. The design of the flag was based on the brassards (armbands) worn by RFC staff officers. But if the date of the pennant shown is correct, then the date for the introduction of the colours must be at least two years earlier.

On the page showing RAF rank flags on, Roy Stilling suggests that the choice of light blue reflected the colour of the RAF's full dress uniform. In fact, this uniform was introduced only in the early summer of 1918, and abolished in July of the same year. Given the existence of the Order of 1917, and this pennant in the photo, the uniform cannot be the source of the colour.

If I were to guess, I would say that the dark blue and red almost certainly did come from the colours of the RFC's pre-war uniform, which was dark blue with red facings. The current grey-blue uniform dates from September 1919.

An RFC order, current in March 1918, gave the rank flags as -

RFC HQ: two red stripes
Brigade HQ: one red stripe, swallow tailed
Wing HQ: one red stripe, triangular pennant
Squadrons, Army Aircraft Parks, or Aircraft Depots: one red stripe,
pilot's wings above, squadron number below

This was changed on 1 April 1918 for the RAF to Major General, Brigadier and Wing Commander respectively. There was no provision for squadron commander's flags until May 1918. In other words, the flags had changed from indicating a headquarters to indicating rank. Air Ministry Order 782 of 1918 changed Wing Commander to Colonel. Lieutenant-colonels were given a pennant with two narrow red stripes; the old squadron commander's flag was now a Major's. Army ranks were replaced by Air Force ones on 15th September 1919.

The flags for Air Marshal, Air Chief Marshal and Marshal of the RAF were not introduced until 1927 (Air Ministry Weekly Order 8).

I've no info on when the device on the squadron commander's flag changed from the pilot's wings to the eagle. The drawings that accompany Orders on the subject change shape gradually, as if the artist did not know what he was looking at.

Ian Sumner, 15 February 2005

On Wikipedia there is a recruitment poster, most probabaly pre-WWI (with recruits promised "one month furlough per annum on full pay", something not quite possible during The Great War!) ( that showed the Union Jack along with what was probably the camp flag of the Royal Flying Corps: air force blue with navy blue stripes on top and bottom and a red horizontal stripe at the centre, similar to the RAF Squadron Leader's flag but without the eagle and number. In other words, the RAF rank flags have their origin from the RFC camp flag, which dated back to the pre-WWI years.

It is sometimes said that colours of these flags were meant to symbolize the Navy (navy blue), the Army (red) and the sky (air force blue). Although the RFC was part of the British Army, it originally had a naval section as well as a military section, until the Royal Navy, unhappy with having the naval aviation placed under the Army, formed its own Royal Naval Air Service in 1914. Therefore the explanation of the flag colours did make sense after all.
Miles Li, 28 July 2007

This poster is advertising the RFC (Military Wing). It must date from the short period when there was a Naval Wing as well, before the RNAS was formed. Therefore a strict reading might say that this is the flag only of the RFC (Military Wing), and not necessarily that of the RFC as a whole. The Naval Wing (and later, the RNAS) used a White Ensign.
Ian Sumner, 29 July 2007


Royal Flying Corps squadrons did not have colours. The first colours were only issued to RAF squadrons as a result of a decision taken in 1943.

A number of squadrons - those who were in France by the time of the battle of Mons - were each presented with a blue banner to commemorate their presence in France. They were unofficial, and were never designed to be taken on parade.

[In response to a question specifically about the 47 Squadron "Sans Peur":]

Since 47 Squadron was only formed in 1916 then it would not have qualified anyway. The squadron qualified for a colour in 1943, but it was not presented until 1955. I have a note that the squadron has been presented with the following colours:
25th March 1955 by MRAF Sir John Slessor;
3rd May 1984 by HRH the Princess Anne;
8th June 2006 by HRH the Princess Anne.
Old colours are usually laid up at RAF Cranwell or at St Clement Danes, London.
Ian Sumner, 26 November 2010

 I find it curious that modern scholars view 47 Squadron Royal Flying Corps as the origin of 47 Squadron Royal Air Force, purely on the basis of the number 47. 47 Squadron RFC was clearly an Army unit.

The Royal Air Force, of my time firmly, regarded itself as a separate and equal, Arm of HM Services and had done so since 1918. As a member of the Royal Air Force, I believe that we earned that right. I do not mean to be flippant, but one might as well have chosen the 47th Hussars as the origin. I think I am right in saying that, throughout history, Unit Colours were, and indeed are, everything. (As in "Joining the colours".) Whatever else changed, the colours are the constant.
David George, 2 December 2010

Not just scholars, but the RAF thought that as well. Squadrons became eligible for a standard after a total of twenty-five years' service in the RAF, RFC or RNAS, or it must have earned the Sovereign's appreciation for 'outstanding operations'. Of course, by the time the decision to adopt standards had been taken in 1943, all the squadrons in the RAF of 1918 had their twenty-five years in anyway. But it was obviously the intention to count RFC and RNAS service as contributing to the twenty-five years should it be appropriate.
Ian Sumner, 3 December 2010