United States Air Force officer rank insignia
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The United States Air Force officer rank insignia in use today.
|US DoD Pay Grade||O-1||O-2||O-3||O-4||O-5||O-6||O-7||O-8||O-9||O-10||Special1|
|Air Force Service Dress Uniform Insignia|
|Title||Second Lieutenant||First Lieutenant||Captain||Major||Lieutenant Colonel||Colonel||Brigadier General||Major General||Lieutenant General||General||General of the Air Force|
|Abbreviation||2d Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Ge||Maj Ge||Lt Ge||Ge||GAF|
This chart displays the United States Air Force officer rank insignia. The ranks are divided into three sections: company grade, field grade, and general officers. Company grade officers are those officers of grades O-1 to O-3. Field grade officers are those of grades O-4 to O-6. General officers are those of O-7 and above.
Currently, promotion from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant is virtually guaranteed after two years of satisfactory service. Promotion to Captain is virtually guaranteed after another two years of satisfactory service. Previously there was a Promotion Board to Captain, but that was discontinued in 2013. An officer's record is reviewed by a selection board at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This process occurs approximately between the nine- and eleven-year mark, where a certain percentage of Captains will be selected for Major. This process will repeat at the 13-16 year mark for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and then around the twenty-year mark for promotion to Colonel.
The five-star grade General of the Air Force has only been held by General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold. Federal law currently contains no provisions to promote an officer to five-star grade.
Wearing of insigniaEdit
On the Air Force Mess Dress uniform, officer rank insignia are embroidered in silver or gold thread on detachable shoulder boards which are attached to the mess dress jacket. No rank insignia are worn on the mess dress shirt.
On the service dress uniform, metal rank insignia pins are worn on the epaulets of the Air Force Blue service dress jacket. Rank insignia are embroidered in silver or gold thread on Air Force Blue epaulets which slide onto the epaulet loops on the light blue shirt. The slide-on epaulet for field-grade officers' shirts has a single line of silver piping toward the outer edge of the epaulet. The slide-on epaulet for general officers' shirts has silver piping on both the inner and outer edges of the epaulets. These slide-on epaulets are also worn on the cardigan and pull-over uniform sweaters.
The Flight Duty Uniform (FDU) features subdued cloth rank insignia sewn onto the shoulders. The Air Force flight cap is worn with the FDU and service dress uniforms (the service cap may also be worn with the service uniform). The flight cap is solid Air Force Blue for enlisted personnel, but features a solid silver edge braid for general officers, and an edge braid in a silver and blue diamond pattern for other officers. Officers wear a bright metal rank insignia toward the front edge of the (wearer's) left side of the flight cap.
The Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) feature subdued cloth rank insignia worn on both sides of the collar. The ABU patrol cap features a rank insignia centered on the front of the cap, above the bill, which may be a subdued cloth insignia or subdued metal pin-on insignia. On the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform rank is worn as a velcro patch on the center of the chest. Subdued cloth rank is worn on the front of the OCP patrol cap, above the bill.  Air Force officers authorized to wear berets (Security Forces Officers, Special Tactics Officers, Combat Rescue Officers, and Combat Weather Officers) wear a bright metal rank insignia on the beret's flash.
Subdued rank insignia, as worn on the ABU, OCP, and FDU, are designed to reduce visibility of the wearer under field conditions. The subdued versions of silver insignia are embroidered in dark blue thread on an olive-drab backing. The subdued versions of gold insignia are embroidered in brown thread on an olive-drab backing. On ABU uniforms the backing is an ABU colored material. On Desert FDUs and OCP uniforms, OCP patterned backing (or tan for the FDU) replaces the olive-drab backing (with black thread in place of dark blue thread). Subdued metal insignia are black and brown in place of silver and gold, respectively. General officers wear black stars as subdued rank.
Agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations normally do not wear uniforms while on duty, but even when in uniform they often do not wear rank insignia. However, when attending Professional Military Education courses, they do wear rank insignia.
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The current Air Force officer rank names and insignia were borrowed from the Army upon the establishment of the Air Force as a separate service in 1947. The insignia have been essentially unchanged since then, except for a brief period during the 1990s.
The Army origin explains why the color silver outranks gold in Air Force officer insignia. In the early 19th century, Army infantry colonels wore gold eagles, while all other Army colonels wore silver eagles. When the Army later decided to adopt a single color of eagles for all colonels, that single color was silver, apparently because more silver eagles than gold eagles were already in use. Lieutenant colonels received silver oak leaves next, to match the silver eagles of full colonels. Majors were then given gold oak leaves to distinguish them from lieutenant colonels. Once the precedent of silver outranking gold was set, it was followed when gold bars were later created for second lieutenants, who had no grade-specific insignia until the early 20th century.
During the 1990s, Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak redesigned the service dress uniform to give it a more distinctive look. His redesign replaced the metal rank insignia for officers with silver braid on the sleeves, similar to the Navy's officer rank insignia and that of the United States Coast Guard. This was similar to the rank insignia of the British Royal Air Force, the Canadian Armed Forces and other Commonwealth air forces. The uniform reforms also introduced for the first time in the USAF slip-on shoulder marks on the other uniforms, using the traditional rank insignia. The "McPeak uniform" was very unpopular, drawing comparisons to the jackets worn by airline pilots, and the traditional rank insignia were reinstated within a week of General McPeak's retirement in 1994 on the shoulder boards, while the slip-on insignia stayed.
- Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903 Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel
- Use of Silver and Gold Officer Insignia of Rank. U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.
- Insignia: The Way You Tell Who's Who in the Military. Jim Garamone, Armed Forces Press Service.(dead link)
- Whatever Happened to the Plain Blue Suit? Bruce D. Callander, Journal of the Air Force Association. July 2006, Vol. 89, No. 7.
- Not the Time for 'Designer Battle Dress'. Paul Connors, Military.com. 26 September 2003.