Can a civilian in 1939 England use the general term 'airman' to describe a man who is undergoing pilot training but has not yet completed it. Or does the term 'airman' in the RAF always refer to auxiliary crew and the civilian would already be using 'pilot' to differentiate? Thanks for your advice!

  • history aside...in English a pilot is always an airman, but an airman is not always a pilot.
    – J. Taylor
    Apr 22, 2018 at 16:23
  • Agreed. 😊 I went with airman to be on the safe side but am having second thoughts on whether he would have to be called 'pilot' as he's on his way to becoming one.
    – Nik99
    Apr 22, 2018 at 16:44
  • You need to give dictionary definitions from say Collins and CED. There appear to be different and conflicting senses in use even today. Apr 22, 2018 at 16:57
  • Yes, I noticed that in some articles and personal accounts, people qualify their usage ahead of their texts (as in 'The term 'airman' is used as follows because...' In a novel, it's more difficult to differentiate.
    – Nik99
    Apr 22, 2018 at 17:01
  • If you look up dictionaries you'll find that airman can be a rank, or even part of the aircrew.
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 22, 2018 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


A civilian who was a typical member of the public might well have used the term 'airman' to mean any person who was a pilot or member of an aircraft's flying or ground crew, whether a member of the Royal Air Force or not. Later, when the war was well under way, and mass recruitment had taken place, and military terminology had become more widely known, such a person might be aware that the RAF called all personnel under the rank of sergeant "airmen". Women did not join the RAF; they belonged to a auxiliary organisation called the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). A person undergoing flying training was called a 'student pilot' and was not correctly called simply a 'pilot' until he had passed final tests and examinations. At that point he received his flying brevet (Pilot's Wings).

Here is some background information:


  • 'Trainee' was also commonly used. My dad joined the RAF in '39 and learned to fly at the famous Gillies Flying School in Canada. He was later an instructor pilot there. For additional info on this subject, see Ted Barris's Behind the Glory
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 22, 2018 at 23:46
  • Thank you very much, Michael. That's what I'd hoped to narrow in on. I had come across that website also, which has a lot of other good info. 😊
    – Nik99
    Apr 23, 2018 at 5:45

A civilian in 1939 England?Likely pilot


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