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A flight of four RNZAF Strikemasters

A flight is a military unit in an air force, naval air service, or army air corps. It usually comprises three to six aircraft, with their aircrews and ground staff; or, in the case of a non-flying ground flight, no aircraft and a roughly equivalent number of support personnel. In most usages, multiple flights make up a squadron. The "flight" is also a basic unit for intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the Fleet Air Arm a flight could be as few as 1 helicopter operating from a smaller ship. French equivalent is "escadrille".


The use of the term "flight" to describe a collection of aircraft (typically four in the early days of aviation) dates back to around 1912. Winston Churchill claims to have invented the term while he was learning to fly with the Royal Navy's embryonic air service. It has also been suggested that the term was coined by technical sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence which was examining the British air arrangements around the same time.[1]

Commonwealth usage

Aircraft flights

In the United Kingdom Royal Air Force and the air forces of the Commonwealth, from where much air force terminology emanated, an aircraft flight, in the first decades of air forces, was commanded by a flight lieutenant, a rank equivalent to captain in armies and other air forces, or a naval lieutenant. More recently, however, it has become common for a flight to be led by a squadron leader—a formal rank distinct from a squadron commander—equivalent to an army major or naval lieutenant commander.

A flight is usually divided into two Sections, each containing two to three aircraft, which share ground staff with the other section, and are usually commanded by a Flight Lieutenant.

The British Army Air Corps and other army air corps, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force also have flights. The term is also used in some Navy air squadrons such as the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm.

Ground flights

An air force ground flight is roughly equivalent to an army platoon and may be commanded by a flight commander, flight lieutenant, flying officer, pilot officer, or warrant officer. (The names of ranks are still used, even though a ground flight contains no aircrewmen.) A flight is also a basic unit of guided missiles, such as surface-to-air missiles. These ground flights may carry out operational roles (such as air traffic control, airfield defence or firefighting), engineering roles (such as aircraft or ground systems maintenance), medical, dental, and legal units, or purely administrative roles - such as finance, infrastructure or human resource management.

American usage

The United States Air Force (USAF) has two types of flights. A numbered flight is a unit with a unique base, wing, group, or Numbered Air Force mission, such as training or finance, though not large enough to warrant designation as a squadron. Numbered flights are uncommon, and are usually only found in basic training facilities. An alphabetic flight is an operational component of a flying or ground squadron, not an independent unit; alphabetic flights within a squadron normally have identical or similar functions and are normally designated A, B, C and so on within the squadron. Flights in the USAF are generally authorized to have between 20 and 100 personnel, and are normally commanded by a company-grade officer (lieutenant or captain) and/or a flight chief, usually a senior noncommissioned officer with the rank of master sergeant or senior master sergeant. In Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile units of the U.S. Air Force, a flight is composed of ten unmanned launch facilities remotely controlled by a manned launch control center, containing two personnel. Five of these flights make up one missile squadron. The Air Force has a total of 45 ICBM missile flights. The aviation units of the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard, U.S. Army, and U.S. Army helicopter units also have flights.


  1. Joubert de la Ferté, Sir Philip (1955). The Third Service. London: Thames and Hudson. pp. 14, 15. 

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