Force History – Overview

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) owes its origin to Lord Trenchard’s vision of an elite corps of civilians who would serve their country in flying squadrons in their spare time. Instituted by Order in Council on 9th October 1924, the first Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) Squadrons were formed the following year. By September 1939, there were 20 flying squadrons, equipped with a variety of operational aircraft which included Hurricanes and Spitfires; there were also 47 balloon squadrons contributing to the air defences of the UK. These AAF Squadrons scored a number of notable successes before and during World War II. In the Battle of Britain, the AAF provided 14 of the 62 squadrons in Fighter Command’s Order of Battle and accounted for approximately 30% of the accredited enemy kills. In 1947, the AAF’s achievements were honored by the prefix “Royal” conferred by His Majesty King George VI.

ln the immediate post-war years, the Force expanded to a strength of over 7,500 and included twenty jet fighter squadrons. In the late 1950s, the Force was almost entirely disbanded, leaving only three Maritime Headquarters Units to keep the Auxiliary flag flying for the next 20 years. It was not until 1979 that the renaissance began with the formation of 3, and later a further 3, Field Squadrons. Others followed including a Movements and an Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. In 1997, an Air Transportable Surgical Squadron and 5 Role Support Squadrons were formed.

In 1984, the RAuxAF’s Diamond Jubilee was marked by the award of its Badge, which records the motto “Comitamur Ad Astra” “We go with them to the stars.”The Badge provides the basic design of The Sovereign’s Colour for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force which was presented to the Force by Her Majesty The Queen in 1979.

During the Gulf War in 1991, 4624 (Movements) and 4626 (Aeromedical) Squadrons were mobilised and performed with great distinction, and many individual Auxiliaries augmented UK-based Headquarters and air bases. In 1994, the RAF reintroduced reserve aircrew after a gap of 37 years. On 5th April 1997, the RAuxAF embraced 4 new squadrons formed from the war-appointable elements of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), resulting in the formation for the first time of a single volunteer reserve force for the RAF.

In recent years, changes in defence policy and improvements in legislation governing the use of reservists have led to the RAuxAF becoming a more integrated and more important part of the RAF. In 2003 the RAuxAF undertook successfully its first large-scale mobilisation for over 50 years. More than 900 people, over 70% of its trained strength were called into full-time service and deployed to many locations overseas and in the UK. Elements of the Force have been mobilised continuously ever since, providing support to RAF operations across the whole spectrum of its capabilities. The contribution made by the RAuxAF to operations was recognised at the highest levels by the presentation of a new Sovereign’s Colour for the RAuxAF by Her Majesty The Queen at RAF Marham in July 2010.

Lord Trenchard’s vision for a part-time volunteer air force has been amply vindicated by its many peacetime and wartime achievements throughout its long history. The professional skill, enthusiasm and esprit-de-corps of his young men of the twenties and thirties are equally matched by the men and women who constitute the RAuxAF of today.