The Air Force Cross

Terms:

The Air Force Cross (AFC) is the sixth in precedence military decoration awarded to officers, and since 1993 other ranks, of the United Kingdom Armed Forces, and formerly also to officers of the other Commonwealth countries. It is granted for "an act or acts of exemplary gallantry while flying, though not in active operations against the enemy". A bar is added to the ribbon for holders who are awarded a further AFC.

The award was established on 3 June 1918, shortly after the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was originally awarded to RAF commissioned officers and Warrant Officers, but was later expanded to include Royal Navy and army aviation officers.

While consistently awarded for service while "flying though not in active operations against the enemy", the AFC was originally awarded for "valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying" with many awards made for meritorious service over a period of time, rather than a specific act of bravery. These awards were discontinued in 1993, when the criteria was narrowed to "exemplary gallantry while flying".

A bar is added to the ribbon of holders of the AFC for each further award, with a silver rosette worn on the ribbon when worn alone to denote the award of each bar.

Between 1919 and 1932 the AFC was also awarded to civilians, on the same basis as for RAF personnel. In March 1941 eligibility was extended to Naval Officers of the Fleet Air Arm, and in November 1942 to Army officers, with posthumous awards permitted from 1979.

Since the 1993 review of the honours system as part of the drive to remove distinctions of rank in bravery awards, all ranks of all arms of the Armed Forces have been eligible, and the Air Force Medal, which had until then been awarded to other ranks, was discontinued.

AFC Bar

The AFC had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries, but by the 1990s most, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had established their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours. Recipients of the Air Force Cross are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "AFC".

A bar is added to the ribbon for holders of the AFC who received a second award. The bar has an eagle in the centre and the year of the award is engraved on the reverse.

Obverse:

A thunderbolt in the form of a cross, the arms conjoined by wings, the base bar terminating with a bomb surmounted by another cross composed of aeroplane propellers, the four ends enscribed with the letters G.V.R.I. In the centre a roundel, thereon a representation of Hermes mounted on a hawk in flight bestowing a wreath. The whole ensigned by an Imperial Crown and attached to the clasp and ribbon by two sprigs of laurel.

Reverse:

The Royal Cypher above the date 1918. Since 1939, the year of award has usually been recorded on the reverse side of the lower arm.

Size:

55mm across the horizontal arms of the cross and 60mm from the top of the crown to the end of the lower arm of the cross.

Ribbon:

32mm wide, the ribbon is of equal sized 3mm diagonal stripes of red and white.

Suspension:

By an ornate suspender bar consisting of two sprigs of laurel, through the bottom of which passes a ring, attaching the suspender bar to an eyelet attached to the top of the crown on the upper arm of the cross.

Royal Warrant For This Award

From 1918 to 2017 approximately 5,360 Air Force Crosses and 193 bars have been awarded.
The number awarded to 1979 reflects the relevant entries in the London Gazette:
  1. World War I (1914–1919) - 679 crosses, and 2 first bars awarded.
  2. Inter–War (1919–1939) - 159 crosses, 10 first bars, and 3 second bars.
  3. World War II (1939–1946 ) - 2,001 crosses, 26 first bars, and 1 second bars.
  4. Post–War (1947–1979) - 2,242 crosses, 135 first bars, 8 second bars, and 8 second bars.
Thus, a total of 5,081 crosses, 173 first bars, 12 second bars were awarded between inception and 1979 alone. In addition, between 1980 and 2017 approximately 279 AFCs and eight second-award bars were awarded. A total of 87 honorary awards have been made to members of allied foreign forces, including 26 for World War I, 58 for World War II and three post-war - the latter all to members of the US Air Force.

Members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, or New Zealanders serving with allied forces, were awarded 110 Crosses and two first bars during the Second World War. Since then, thirty three Crosses and seven first bars have been awarded in the Queen's Birthday and New Year Honours awards.