Like the US's, the Canadian Air Force's ranks are named identically to its Army's.

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But Australia's and New Zealand's rank names follow the RAF's. Why?

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  • 1
    The RAF was founded as a separate organization on the 1st of April 1918 where it probably developed it's own structure, where as the US Air Force remained a part if the US army until 1947. The RCAF used RAF ranks until 1968. After the Unified Canadian Forces, the Air Command used the same rank titles as Mobile Command (Army). Sep 18, 2020 at 9:07
  • Clearly because an ISO standard had not been promulgated...
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 18, 2020 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


This can be explained by organisational history, but for different reasons in the US and Canadian contexts.

The British system, where the RAF has distinct names, arises from the origins of the RAF in 1918. It was formed by merging the Army and Navy air wings, which were until then using their original rank structures. The new service's ranks were newly created to help give a sense of it being an independent and equal service to the other two. Australia, NZ and Canada adopted this approach, as at the time their militaries were organisationally very closely linked to the UK.

The US Air Force developed as part of the Army, and did not become independent until the late 1940s, by which time its rank structure was very firmly established. The naval air service remained part of the Navy, and unlike the UK, it was not transferred to the Air Force. The new Air Force thus kept on using Army ranks - there wasn't any percieved need to change things, and everything was by now very well established.

In 1968, Canada took the unusual step of unifying its services - they amalgamated the Army, Navy and Air Force into one distinct entity, the Canadian Armed Forces. As part of this, the rank titles (and insignia) were changed to be consistent across the three services, mostly standardising on ones used by the Army. (Until this point, the other Canadian services maintained traditional (British-style) ranks; you can see a list of the RCAF ones here.)

So the Canadian air force uses Army-style ranks because they consciously adopted them in 1968; the US air force uses Army-style ranks because they were already using them when they became independent, and did not choose to change.

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