The Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), originally the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF), is the voluntary active duty reserve element of the Royal Air Force, providing a primary reinforcement capability for the regular service. It consists of paid volunteers who give up some of their weekends, evenings and holidays to train at one of a number of squadrons around the United Kingdom. Its current mission is to provide trained personnel in support of the RAF.
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force owes its origin to Lord Trenchard's vision of an elite corps of civilians who would serve their country in flying squadrons in their spare time. Instituted by Order in Council on 9 October 1924, the first Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were formed the following year. The pilots of AAF squadrons were generally formed from particular social circles, in comparison to those of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) which had been trained in the RAF and left but were obliged to return to service if required.
By March 1939, 21 flying squadrons had been formed, the 20 surviving units being incorporated into the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war. The squadrons were equipped with a variety of operational aircraft which included Hurricanes and Spitfires. The squadrons scored a number of notable successes before and during the Second World War: the first flight over Mount Everest, the first German aircraft destroyed over British territorial waters - and over the mainland, the first U-boat to be destroyed with the aid of airborne radar, the first kill of a V-1 flying bomb; the first to be equipped with jet-powered aircraft, and the highest score of any British night fighter squadron. In the Battle of Britain, the AAF provided 14 of the 62 Squadrons in RAF Fighter Command's Order of Battle and accounted for approximately 30% of the accredited enemy kills. The losses caused during the Battle of Britain were replaced by drafting in regular and RAFVR pilots.
The Tactical Air Force squadrons were chosen to carry out several successful ultra low-level raids on key 'pin-point' targets in occupied Europe. The Balloon Squadrons also played their part, downing and deterring many hostile aircraft and were accredited with the destruction of 279 V1 flying bombs.
The Auxiliary Air Force was also responsible for the anti-aircraft Balloon defences of the UK, At the outbreak of war in 1939 there were about 42 Squadrons operating Barrage ballons, with the number of Squadrons peaking at about 102 in 1944.
These achievements were honoured by the prefix "Royal" conferred by King George VI in 1947. Twenty of the pre-war squadrons were reformed postwar as fighter units. Events post WWII heralded a time of great danger for the UK. The onset of the Cold War with the Communist Bloc leading to the Berlin Air Lift and ultimately the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. During all these crises the RAuxAF fighter squadrons, the five newly formed Air Observation Post (AOP) squadrons and other RAuxAF units, played their part in the UK's air defence and participated in many NATO air exercises. In 1951, at the height of the Korean War, all 20 RAuxAF fighter squadrons (representing one third of Fighter Command strength) were called up for three months full-time service. They were required for home defence in place of regular squadrons earmarked for deployment to Korea. In the event RAF fighter squadrons were not needed in Korea, but the RAuxAF squadrons were retained for intensive refresher training at their home bases.
The 10 March 1957 saw the disbandment of all the 20 RAuxAF Force fighter squadrons, the five post-war AOP squadrons and the Light Anti-Aircraft ground-based squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. In the following two years or so, the Auxiliary Fighter Control Units associated with them were also disbanded. On the 16 March 1960, the Air Commodore-in-Chief and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, invited the Squadron Commanders and Flight Commanders of all the disbanded Royal Auxiliary Air Force units to a Reception at Buckingham Palace. (All were given a letter from the Air Commodore-in-Chief and this is reproduced below.)
The renaissance of the RAuxAF began in 1979 with the formation of three Regiment Field Sqns, and continued with a Movements Sqn in 1982, and, following lessons learned during the Falklands conflict; an Aeromedical Evacuation Sqn in 1983. A more recent addition, in 1987, was an auxiliary element (The Grampian Troop) formed within a regular RAF Regiment Rapier Air Defence Squadron. Another step forward was taken in 1986, with the raising of four Defence Force Flights with the role of ground defence of key points on air bases. In 1984, the RAuxAF's Diamond Jubilee was marked by the award to the Service of its own badge, which forms the basic motif of the Sovereign's Colour for the Royal Auxiliary Force presented by Her Majesty the Queen in 1989. The words of the badge motto COMITAMUR AD ASTRA - Latin "We go with them to the stars".