In most other English-speaking countries, air-forces have their own ranking structure with titles like "Flight Lieutenant", "Squadron Leader", "Wing Commander", "Group Captain" etc. The exception is the United States Air Force which ranks its officers with equivalent Army titles such as "Major"(Squadron Leader), "Lieutenant Colonel"(Wing Commander), "Brigadier" (Air Commodore) etc.

In all other respects the ranking systems of the US military follows an internationally recognised pattern. (which I believe is codified within e.g. NATO)

Is this because the USAF, for a long time, was not a separate service but part of the Army? I believe it was well after WW2 that it was given a separate status. It seems surprising that inter-service rivalry has not demanded separate treatment, such as is maintained by the US Navy.

Has there ever been any movement to change this?

  • Is this question about the English language? – user 66974 Mar 27 '20 at 8:22
  • The air force officer ranks from Pilot Officer to Air Chief Marshal (and one more) originated in the British Royal Air Force in 1919. Many (not all) [British] Commonwealth countries adopted them when they set up air arms. Canada changed in 1968 and used army-style ranks. It is hardly surprising that countries outside the Commonwealth do not follow that tradition (Thailand does, though). South Africa always used army ranks. I do not believe any US Air Force majors have lobbied to become Squadron Leaders, although I stand to be corrected. – Michael Harvey Mar 27 '20 at 9:02
  • Still less USAF brigadier-generals to become Fourth Ardians. – Michael Harvey Mar 27 '20 at 9:28
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center. – choster Mar 27 '20 at 12:38
  • @user067531 Yes. It's about titles. Would you lot all have got out of your prams if the question had been about Bishops and Cardinals, Peers and Baronets, or the naming of chess pieces? – WS2 Mar 27 '20 at 15:33

It started as the U.S. Army Air Corps. When it separated, it kept the names of ranks it had always used. Why not?

Do rival football teams have different names for their positions? Of course not. Rivals can be mirror images of each other.

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    Not to mention the USAAF in existence from 1941-1947 between the USAAC and the USAF. – Weather Vane Mar 27 '20 at 12:47
  • @CharlieBernstein - "why not?" Inter-service rivalry? To create a new identity? The British Royal Flying Corps (part of the army) used army-style rank designations from formation in 1912 to 1918 when it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force, a new separate service. New rank titles were chosen, some of which had a naval character, e.g. Flight Lieutenant, equal to a naval lieutenant or an army or marine captain. In the years since, the British Army has acquired its own Army Air Corps (AAC), and the Royal Navy its Fleet Air Arm (FAA). – Michael Harvey Mar 27 '20 at 17:12
  • @MichaelHarvey Interestingly police forces in the US mostly have a hybrid ranking system, with some military names - corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, etc, and some which are unique to the police, which correspond with some of ours - which aside from sergeant, bear closer comparison with HMRC than to the military - constable, sergeant, inspector, chief inspector, superintendent, chief superintendent - with the sole word "detective" in front of each of them for the non-uniformed ranks. – WS2 Mar 27 '20 at 19:21
  • HMRC in the UK are the tax people. Perry Mason's courtroom sparing partner was Lieutenant Tragg. There was a 1980s TV series with Edward Woodward called the "The Equalizer" in which he is supposed to be have been "an Inspector at Scotland Yard", and had to sheepishly confess that he had been an 'analyst' and not a detective. All that was a load of cod, of course. The supposed rank would have had resonance in the NY setting because it is a senior rank in the NYPD, four up from sergeant. An inspector in the UK police is one up from sergeant. – Michael Harvey Mar 27 '20 at 19:51
  • British police dramas are often Bowdlerised for the Yanks, for example when detectives are addressed as e.g. "Detective Smith" and not properly by their rank such as 'Detective-sergeant Smith", or more usually "DS Smith". – Michael Harvey Mar 27 '20 at 19:54

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