Guide to US Air Force Officer Ranks: Types and Definitions (2023)

The air force is a highly respected branch of the military and its officers are held to a higher standard of excellence. An officer in the air force is expected to be well trained, highly organized, and able to lead personnel with efficiency. As such, the air force has a unique system of officer ranks. These ranks are based on the amount of experience and knowledge that an individual has acquired throughout their air force career. In this blog post, we will be exploring the different air force officer ranks and their responsibilities. We will also be looking at the educational requirements and qualifications necessary for each one. Understanding the different air force ranks is essential for any aspiring air force officer, and this post will provide a comprehensive overview of the different ranks and their respective responsibilities.

Air Force Officer Ranks: Company Grade

  • Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt)(O1) The rank of second lieutenant is shown through a single gold bar. …
  • First Lieutenant (1st Lt)(O2) …
  • Captain (Capt)(O3) …
  • Major (Maj)(O4) …
  • Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col)(O5) …
  • Colonel (Col)(O6) …
  • Brigadier General (Brig Gen)(O7) …
  • Major General (Maj Gen)(O8)

What is the difference between officer ranks and pay grades?

Officer ranks are used to denote various job responsibilities, despite the fact that professionals frequently equate them with pay grades. While an officer’s pay grade is an administrative classification used to standardized pay across the military services, an officer’s rank reflects their level of responsibility. Often, an officers pay grade rises with their rank.

What are the United States Air Force officer ranks?

The officer ranks of the United States Air Force are used to distinguish officers from enlisted personnel and can be used to help people decide which officer to contact in various circumstances. The experience and leadership responsibilities that the military expects from officers vary depending on their rank within the officer field. The Air Force has three different categories of officers, including company-grade officers, field-grade officers, and general officers.

Company grade officers

Officers in company grade pay range from O-1 to O-3. Company grade officers typically support their flight of airmen in more administrative leadership capacities. A flight of personnel, which may consist of two or more airmen, may be subject to the control of some O-3 officers.

Field grade officers

Officers in pay grades O-4 to O-6 are considered field grade officers. Field grade officers may see an increase in the number of people they support as well as expanded areas of responsibility. They might be in charge of a squadron, group, or wing of soldiers with varying numbers of members.

General officers

O-7 to O-10 are the pay grades for general officers. These officers supervise the activities of commands made up of different wings. O-8 is the highest level an officer can reach in peacetime, and the president chooses the other temporary ranks that are used in conflict.

Types of Air Force office ranks

There are ten different officer ranks in the Air Force, each with a unique set of duties and requirements. Each officer joins the military as a second or first lieutenant, and they advance as they reach certain milestones in each rank. Here is a list of each Air Force officer rank:

Second Lieutenant

Most newly commissioned officers are given the rank of second lieutenant. Although each second lieutenant’s duties vary depending on their field of work, they typically support higher-level officers in administrative capacities. Due to their prior experience and enlisted service, some airmen may skip this rank.

First Lieutenant

Second lieutenants share similar duties with first lieutenants, but first lieutenants are paid more. Some first lieutenants may be given the duty of directing a personnel flight. Additionally, these experts may be in charge of training and developing second lieutenants. First lieutenants who are chosen by the military to work in the intelligence or flying fields must attend additional training sessions until they are adept at handling the added duties of their positions.


After four years as an officer, a professional typically rises to the rank of captain. Although captains typically serve as flight commanders, their duties can still differ depending on their particular line of work A captain’s rank may be awarded to an officer upon commissioning in some professions, such as medicine or law, because of the extensive education requirements of those fields.


Major is typically the rank attained by officers after ten years of service. These officers will have more obligations, and they might be more involved in running a squadron or wing’s operations. They may also advance to the position of squadron commander in some career fields, managing the activities of the career field where they are stationed.

Lieutenant Colonel

One who is promoted from major is given the rank of lieutenant colonel. Typically, professionals reach this rank around their 20th year in the military. Typically, squadron commanders in a variety of flying, non-flying, and medical career fields are lieutenants colonels. In addition to becoming a squadron commander, they could work as a wing staff member or a general’s assistant.


The highest field grade officer rank is colonel. Armed forces personnel who have served for about 22 years are given this rank. Colonels, who are typically group or wing commanders, have the authority to make choices that have an impact on a base’s overall mission. Some colonels are expected to pursue post-graduate degrees and may think about becoming a commander for an officer training school or military college.

Brigadier General

Career officers known as brigadier generals typically hold the position of wing or base commander. Instead of colonels, brigadier generals can command larger wings and bases; however, they may also hold senior staff positions. Brigadier generals manage the base’s administrative and operational tasks and can make choices that have an impact on the base’s mission.

Major General

Major generals hold a variety of high-level command positions, but they can anticipate overseeing about 10,000 people. Major generals are expected by the Air Force to efficiently oversee a base’s administrative and operational operations and make sure that they consistently carry out the base’s mission. These professionals are also sometimes responsible for performing tactical operations.

Lieutenant General

Lieutenant generals oversee numbered Air Force commands and work in high-level headquarters positions or in very high command positions. At any given time, there are no more than 25% of officers in the Air Force that have two stars or more Before being chosen, they need the backing of numerous groups and people in order to become a lieutenant general.


Those with extensive service and recognition in the Air Force are given the rank of general by the president. The Pentagon’s top military positions will be filled by officers with this rank, which is the highest rank an officer can achieve. They can hold leadership positions in treaty organizations like NATO or in command positions for numbered Air Forces.

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US Air Force Ranks In Order


What are the 5 ranks of officers?

Officer Ranks

  • Second Lieutenant. Typically the entry-level rank for most commissioned officers.
  • First Lieutenant. A seasoned lieutenant with 18 to 24 months of service.
  • Captain. …
  • Major. …
  • Lieutenant Colonel. …
  • Colonel. …
  • Brigadier General. …
  • Major General.

How long does it take to rank up in the Air Force as an officer?

The highest rank in the American Air Force is general of the air force (GAF), a five-star general officer rank.

What is the highest ranking in the Air Force?

The highest rank in the American Air Force is general of the air force (GAF), a five-star general officer rank.

What is the first officer rank in the Air Force?

The highest rank in the American Air Force is general of the air force (GAF), a five-star general officer rank.

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What are the rank categories for Air Force officers? ›

Types of U.S. Air Force officer ranks
  • Second lieutenant. Second lieutenant is the rank given to newly commissioned officers. ...
  • First lieutenant. ...
  • Captain. ...
  • Major. ...
  • Lieutenant colonel. ...
  • Colonel. ...
  • Brigadier general. ...
  • Major general.
Mar 10, 2023

How do you read Air Force ranks? ›

Here's the complete list of ranks in the Air Force:
  1. Airman basic (E-1, pay grade) Classification: Enlisted airmen. ...
  2. Airman (E-2) Classification: Enlisted airmen. ...
  3. Airman first class (E-3) ...
  4. Senior airman (E-4) ...
  5. Staff sergeant (E-5) ...
  6. Technical sergeant (E-6) ...
  7. Master sergeant (E-7) ...
  8. Senior master sergeant (E-8)
Aug 4, 2022

What are two categories for Air Force ranks? ›

There are two categories of Airmen within the Air Force: Enlisted (E-1 through E-9), which include noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers (O-1 through O-10).

How do I know my Air Force rank by uniform? ›

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 also worn on epaulets which slide onto the epaulet loops on the light blue shirt; the rank insignia is embroidered in silver or gold thread on an Air Force blue field.

What rank should you be after 20 years in the Air Force? ›

Senior Master Sergeant (E-8)

The average servicewide, active-duty time for advancement to the rank of senior master sergeant is more than 20 years. Moving up the Air Force Ranks: Because public law allows only 2% of the enlisted workforce to be in the grades of E8, the SMSgt promotion system is highly competitive.

What percentage of Air Force officers make colonel? ›

Colonel2 percent
Lieutenant colonel8 percent
Major16 percent
Captain39 percent
First lieutenant and second lieutenant (when combined with the number authorized for general officer grades under section 12004 of this title)35 percent.
1 more row

How long does it take to rank up in the Air Force as an officer? ›

Air Force Policy
Promotion toMandatory Promotion Years in GradeVacancy Promotion Years in Grade
O22 yearsn/a
O32 yrs (USAFR) 5 yrs (ANG)n/a
O47 years4 years
O57 years4 years
1 more row

Do you salute warrant officers? ›

All military enlisted personnel in uniform are required to salute when they meet and recognize a commissioned or warrant officer, except when it is inappropriate or impractical (for example, if you're carrying something using both hands).

At what rank do pilots stop flying? ›

Over 90% of the pilots within a flying squadron who make it to 20 years will retire as an O-5. For those who wish to continue their career, they may be eligible for promotion to O-6 after four years as an O-5.

What is the most common rank in the Air Force? ›

Airman is both the most common rank among the enlisted officers and a general term for anybody in the United States Air Force.

Who is the lowest ranked Air Force officer? ›

The correct option is C Aircraftsman.

What rank do you get in the Air Force with a bachelor's degree? ›

Upon graduation, Cadets are commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Air Force and earn a Bachelor of Science degree.

What does 3 stripes in the Air Force mean? ›

Sergeant (three stripes) Staff Sergeant (four stripes) Technical Sergeant (five stripes)

Why is a colonel called a full bird? ›

U.S. military colonels rank above a lieutenant colonel and below a brigadier general. The modern day insignia for a colonel is a silver eagle with a U.S. shield on its chest and holding an olive branch in one talon and a bundle of arrows in the other. The eagle insignia led to the informal term “full-bird colonel.”

Do Air Force officers get uniform allowance? ›

Both officers and enlisted members of the U.S. Armed Forces are entitled to an initial clothing allowance. Office , however, are only entitled to the allowance once except in the situation noted below: Upon first reporting for active duty (other than for training) for a period of more than 90 days.

What rank should you be after 10 years in the Air Force? ›

USAF Officer Rank Structure
RankRank (Abbrev.)Officer Rank Timeline (See notes)*
ColonelCol18 - 20 years
Lieutenant ColonelLt Col14 - 16 years
MajorMaj8 - 10 years
CaptainCapt4 years
7 more rows
Nov 12, 2017

Is it hard to rank up in the Air Force as an officer? ›

To get from an entry-level position and grade to one of the highest-ranking grades, you will need to have acquired over 20 years in service as well as passing all relevant skill tests, showing authoritative behaviors, and also passing through a panel who make the decisions for high ranking positions.

What are the hardest ranks to make in the Air Force? ›

Promotion to senior master sergeant is the most difficult enlisted promotion to attain in the Air Force and Space Force. It is the second enlisted grade in which results of a central promotion board is the only factor in selection for promotion.

How long can a Lt Col stay in the Air Force? ›

Air Force Policy
Current GradeCommissioned Service
Captain20 years
Major24 Years
Lieutenant Colonel33 years
Colonel35 years

How much does a full bird colonel make in retirement? ›

What is the average salary for a Colonel at Us Army Retired in the United States? Based on our data, it appears that the optimal compensation range for a Colonel at Us Army Retired is between $91,756 and $101,357, with an average salary of $96,542.

What is the average age of a colonel? ›

Colonel Age Breakdown

Interestingly enough, the average age of colonels is 30-40 years old, which represents 41% of the population.

What is the GPA requirement for Air Force officer? ›

Meet minimum Air Force Officer Qualification Test (AFOQT) scores and grade point Average (GPA). The AFOQT minimum of 10 or higher on the Quantitative score and 15 or higher on the Verbal score is mandatory for all applicants. Minimum GPA for rated and non-rated applicants is 2.50.

How hard is it to move up ranks in the Air Force? ›

Air Force personnel may dream of going from an entry-level rank and climbing the ladder up to a high-ranking grade, but this will require more than 20 years of experience, and one must exhibit exemplary skill and dedication for a rank increase.

How long do Air Force officers have to serve? ›

Officers usually incur a service commitment of four to six years with pilots incurring a 10-year obligation. During your time in the Air Force you may deploy to locations around the world in support of contingencies such as combat operations and humanitarian missions.

Do I call a warrant officer sir? ›

Warrant officers are referred to as "Mr." or "Ms.," although once promoted to CWO2, they are typically referred to informally as "chief." In the Marines and the Navy, warrant officers are formally addressed as "sir" or "ma'am" by subordinate enlisted personnel.

Do you salute a car with an officer in it? ›

When you see a vehicle with General Officer Stars or a Colonel Rank on the license plate, you will salute the vehicle.

Who do warrant officers outrank? ›

Warrant Officers outrank all enlisted members, but are not required to have a college degree. Commissioned Officers outrank Warrant Officers and enlisted service members, and must have a minimum of a four-year bachelor's degree.

At what age do military pilots stop flying? ›

They're eager to stay and earn the pay increases and freedoms that come with seniority. However, there is a limit. In the U.S., the maximum retirement age for pilots is currently 65, mirroring the international mandatory retirement age set by the International Civil Aviation Authority.

What is the hardest rating to get as a pilot? ›

The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the most advanced pilot certificate one can obtain, and it's necessary for those who want to fly commercial airliners for a living. All commercial airlines now require a pilot applicant to have an ATP certificate.

What age can a pilot no longer fly? ›

In the U.S., there are no FAA age limits for pilots except for commercial airline pilots employed by airlines certificated under 14 CFR Part 121. These airlines cannot employ pilots after they reach the age of 65. However, these pilots may stay on with a Part 121 carrier in some other role, such as flight engineer.

What rank is an A1C in the Air Force? ›

Airman first class (A1C) is the third enlisted rank in the United States Air Force, just above airman and below senior airman. The rank of airman first class is considered a junior enlisted rank, with the non-commissioned officers and senior non-commissioned officers above it.

How long does it take to become a captain in the Air Force? ›

To become a captain, individuals must have at least four years of service and meet certain performance and leadership requirements. Once these requirements are met, individuals will be promoted to captain and will continue to serve in the air force.

How much more do you get paid for being married in the Air Force? ›

Many military benefits and resources are available to spouses. There is no military spouse pay or stipend, but the military offers a number of benefits to help service members and their families.

What rank are fighter pilots? ›

That means that most military pilots fall somewhere between ranks O-1 and O-5, depending on how many years they've been in the service.

Can Air Force officers lose rank? ›

This occurs often in the US military, to three- or four-star general or flag officers, who can be reduced in rank to no lower than their permanent rank of two-stars, as all ranks above two-stars are temporary, and are linked to their position's office.

Is a flight lieutenant a pilot? ›

The majority of squadron line pilots are flight lieutenants, with some squadron executives or Career Commission aircrew reaching Squadron Leader.

How much does a retired Air Force officer make? ›

The estimated total pay for a Retired at US Air Force is $88,369 per year. This number represents the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users. The estimated base pay is $88,369 per year.

How much is the Air Force retirement pay? ›

Defined Benefit: Monthly retired pay for life after at least 20 years of service (so if you retire at 20 years of service, you will get 40% of your highest 36 months of base pay). Retired pay will be calculated as follows: (Years of creditable service x 2.0%) x average of highest 36 months basic pay.

Do you need a Bachelor's degree to be an officer in the Air Force? ›

Upon applying, all Air Force applicants must complete the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) entrance exam. To join as an officer, you must have a four-year college degree or be within 365 days of attaining your bachelor's degree when you apply.

What ranks do you salute in the Air Force? ›

Any commissioned or warrant officer, as well as any commissioned officer of a friendly foreign country is entitled to a salute. You should also salute the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Air Force. Additionally, you need not be in uniform to salute another.

What does the diamond mean in Air Force ranks? ›

A diamond in the middle of their stripes denotes they are a First Sergeant and they are addressed as "Sergeant". There is more than one E-9, Chief Master Sergeant - there is also: E-9 Chief Master Sergeant w/diamond - the diamond denotes they are a First Sergeant.

What is a full bird colonel in the Air Force? ›

The highest-ranking of the Air Force's Field-Grade Officers, Colonels are sometimes referred to informally as “Full Birds” because of their distinct eagle insignia and to distinguish them from Lieutenant Colonels, who are also addressed as “Colonel” in correspondence.

Who is the only 6 star general? ›

Grant joins George Washington and John J. Pershing as the only generals to achieve the rank. This honor has been informally referred to as being a "six-star general." The highest official star rank in the U.S. Army is a five-star general, called the General of the Army.

Do you keep your military rank after retirement? ›

When an officer retires, their commission normally remains in force and effect forever. In return for the privilege of being legally entitled to being addressed by their military rank and getting all their retirement benefits, they basically remain an "officer of the United States" until death.

Do Air Force officers get free housing? ›

If you choose to live off base, you will receive a monthly tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which pays most, if not all, of your housing costs. The housing allowance is based on civilian rental costs by pay grade, dependency status and location. View specific location allowances here.

Can you wear Air Force uniform after retirement? ›

According to Department of the Air Force Instruction 36- 2903, retirees may wear the uniform as prescribed at date of retirement, or any of the uniforms authorized for active-duty personnel, including the dress uniforms. Retirees must not mix uniform items.

Can you walk and eat in uniform Air Force? ›

S/He may not walk and talk on a cell phone at the same time. S/He may not smoke, eat or drink while walking. Hands should not be in their pockets unless they are placing or retrieving an item. Chewing gum or smoking while in uniform is not "military" conduct.

How long can a LT Col stay in the Air Force? ›

Air Force Policy
Current GradeCommissioned Service
Captain20 years
Major24 Years
Lieutenant Colonel33 years
Colonel35 years

How many categories are there in Air Force? ›

The Indian Air Force is divided into five operational and two functional commands. Each Command is headed by an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief with the rank of Air Marshal.

What rank should you be after 6 years in the Air Force? ›

A Faster Way to E-4

The highest advanced rank one can enlist with under these programs is Airman First Class (E-3). The Air Force is the only service that gives an accelerated promotion for those who agree to enlist for six years.

What is the 10 year rule for officer retirement? ›

To retire from active duty as a commissioned officer, you must have 20 years of active duty service, with at least 10 of those years of service as a commissioned officer (the Secretary of the branch of service may waive this requirement to 8 years of service as a commissioned officer).

Do retired officers keep their rank? ›

When an officer retires, their commission normally remains in force and effect forever. In return for the privilege of being legally entitled to being addressed by their military rank and getting all their retirement benefits, they basically remain an "officer of the United States" until death.

What is the mandatory retirement age in the Air Force? ›

Mandatory retirement at 30 years has been the norm for enlisted personnel across the military branches and in the Coast Guard, with a maximum age of service of 62.

What is the hardest position in the Air Force? ›

They are on the frontline with the responsibility of calling in airstrikes.
  • Fusion Analyst - Digital Network Analyst (1N4)
  • Survival, Evasion, Resist & Escape (1T0)
  • Rescue Pilot (11H)
  • Reconnaissance /Surveillance/Electronic Warfare Pilot (11R)
  • Special Operations Pilot (11S)
  • Mobility Combat Systems Officer (12M)
Sep 16, 2019

What is the best rank to be in the Air Force? ›

The Air Force general is the highest rank with four stars. In 2022, there are 17 four-star generals. They take charge of command positions in NATO, Numbered Air Forces, and the Chief of Staff.

What is the most elite unit in the Air Force? ›

THE SPECIALTY IN SPECIAL WARFARE. The Airmen who make up Air Force Special Warfare are the most specialized warriors on the planet. They are the ones other special forces look to when the mission calls for their unique skills and fearless commitment.

What do you call someone in the Air Force? ›

The Air Force has "airmen." The Department of the Navy has "sailors" and "Marines." The Army is filled with "soldiers." Members of the Coast Guard are referred to as "Coast Guardsmen" by the media (and "Coasties" by their brothers and sisters in arms).

What does 7 level mean in Air Force? ›

In this case, the “7” skill level is a “craftsman.” Upon promotion to E-5, Airmen begin training for the “7” (craftsman) skill level. This level ​of training includes correspondence courses, more on-the-job training, and for some jobs, a 7-level technical school.


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