General of the Air Force

General of the Air Force (GAF[1]) is a five-star general officer rank and is the highest possible rank in the United States Air Force. General of the Air Force ranks immediately above a general and is equivalent to General of the Army in the United States Army and fleet admiral in the United States Navy. The rank has been held only once, by General Henry H. Arnold, who had served as head of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.

General of the Air Force
Flag of a General of the Air Force of the United States.svg
Rank flag of a General of the Air Force.
US Air Force O11 shoulderboard.svg
General of the Air Force insignia
Country United States
Service branch United States Air Force
Rank groupGeneral officer
NATO rank codeOF-10
Pay gradeSpecial grade
Formation21 December 1944
Next lower rankGeneral
Equivalent ranks


Henry "Hap" Arnold as a General of the Army. His rank was changed in 1949 to that of General of the Air Force.

General Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air Forces, became the first airman to be promoted to the five-star rank of general of the Army on 21 December 1944. The four other individuals promoted to the rank of General of the Army, all from the Army Ground Forces, were George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the United States Army, Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the South West Pacific Area, Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, and Omar Bradley, commander of the Twelfth United States Army Group.[2] Four Navy admirals were also promoted to the five-star rank of fleet admiral, including William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations and commander-in-chief, United States Fleet, Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas and United States Pacific Fleet, and William Halsey Jr., commander of the South Pacific Area.[3]

General of the Army Arnold retained the rank after the U.S. Air Force gained its independence from the U.S. Army on 18 September 1947.[4] On 7 May 1949, under Pub.L. 81–58, Henry Arnold's official U.S. rank was redesignated from General of the Army to General of the Air Force. General of the Air Force Arnold is the only individual in the U.S. Armed Forces to possess two five-star ranks and is the only airman to have a five-star rank.[4]

The Air Force currently declares that General of the Air Force is an active rank and it could again be bestowed at the discretion of the United States Congress. However, the President, with consent from the Senate, may award a fifth star at any time he sees fit.[5][6][7]

In the 1990s, there were proposals in Department of Defense academic circles to bestow a five-star rank on the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[8][9][10]

In 2007 there was a proposal that the military leader in the Global War on Terrorism be promoted to a five-star rank.[11]

Ranks senior to General of the Air ForceEdit

The only United States Armed Forces rank senior to General of the Air Force is General of the Armies.[12] The rank of General of the Armies has only been granted to Generals John J. Pershing and George Washington. No Air Force officer has ever been promoted to a rank senior to General of the Air Force.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Commissioned Officer rank and descriptions". 927th Air Refueling Wing. United States Air Force. 17 November 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  2. ^ "How many U.S. Army five-star generals have there been and who were they?". U.S. Army Center of Military History. 31 January 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Fleet Admirals, U.S. Navy". A Naval Historical Foundation Publication. 1 August 1966. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b Boyne, Walter J. (1 September 1997). "Hap". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  5. ^ "U.S. Sen. Kasten Pushing Effort To Award Powell With Historic Fifth Star". Jet. 79 (23). March 1991. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 21 February 2011. ...there is a movement afoot in the U.S. Senate to award an historic fifth star to the nation's first Black Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell for his military proficiency.
  6. ^ Italia, Bob (1991). Armed Forces: War in the Gulf. Abdo & Daughters. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-1-56239-026-6. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  7. ^ Stephanopoulos, George (1999). All Too Human: A Political Education. Thorndike Press. pp. 330–331. ISBN 978-0-7862-2016-8. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  8. ^ Organizing for National Security: The Role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Institute for Foreign Analysis. January 1986. p. 11. ISBN 9780895490742. Retrieved 21 February 2011. There was some discussion of the proposal to grant the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs five-star rank, as a symbol of his status as the most senior officer in the armed forces.
  9. ^ Jones, Logan (February 2000). "Toward the Valued Idea of Jointness: The Need for Unity of Command in U.S. Armed Forces" (PDF). Naval War College: 2. ADA378445. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Lay summary. Promoting the Chairman to the five-star rank and ceding to him operational and administrative control of all U.S. Armed Forces would enable him to provide a unifying vision... Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Owsley, Robert Clark (June 1997). "Goldwater-Nichols Almost Got It Right: A Fifth Star for the Chairman" (PDF). Naval War College: 14. ADA328220. Retrieved 21 February 2011. Lay summary. ...Chairman's title be changed to Commander of the Armed Forces and commensurate with the title and authority he be assigned the grade of five stars. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Stringer, Kevin D. (2007). "A Supreme Commander for the War on Terror" (PDF). JFQ. National Defense University Press (44): 23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2011. The development of a four- or even five- star commander with staff to run the war on terror...
  12. ^ Public Law 94-479 of 1976 to provide for the appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States