Air Force Officer Ranks

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets march to their seats during the start of their commencement ceremony.
U.S. Air Force Academy cadets march to their seats during the start of their commencement ceremony. (U.S. Air Force/Andrew Lee)

Within the Air Force, officer ranks follow a clear-cut structure, divided into three categories: company grade, field grade, and general officers. Company grade officers range from O-1 to O-3. Climbing the ranks, next is field grade officers, in the O-4 to O-6 range, taking the helm of mid-level command. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy are general officers, O-7 and above, who oversee strategy.

Air Force Officer Ranks: Company Grade

Second Lieutenant (2LT) (O1) insignia

Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt)(O1)

The rank of second lieutenant is shown through a single gold bar. Proper forms of address include second lieutenant or lieutenant. Commissioned airmen sometimes may skip this rank.

First Lieutenant (1LT) (O2) insignia

First Lieutenant (1st Lt)(O2)

First lieutenants have roughly the same responsibilities as a second lieutenant, but receive higher pay and are given more responsibility.

Captain (CPT) (O3) insignia

Captain (Capt)(O3)

Captains typically are assigned to and have authority over a flight. In such a position, they are referred to as the flight commander.

Air Force Field Grade Officers

Major (MAJ)(O4) insignia

Major (Maj)(O4)

A junior field officer rank, majors in the Air Force often operate as main staff officers on brigade-sized forces.

Lieutenant Colonel insignia

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col)(O5)

The 21st rank in the U.S. Air Force, a lieutenant colonel is responsible for commanding a medical or support group, a squadron or directing ops in the operations group.

Colonel (COL) (O6) insignia

Colonel (Col)(O6)

Colonels in the Air Force serve in a number of different roles. Some command elements of a wing while others serve as heads of staff in different Air Force staff agencies.

Air Force Officer Ranks: General Officers

Brigadier General (BG) (O7) insignia

Brigadier General (Brig Gen)(O7)

Becoming a brigadier general is an arduous process. It begins with a board of general officers creating a list of candidates and ends with the president choosing those to be promoted from that pool. Brigadier generals must retire after 30 years of service or after five years in their rank.

Major General (MG) (O8) insignia

Major General (Maj Gen)(O8)

A two-star rank in the Air Force, the promotion to major general is mostly similar to the process in becoming a brigadier general.

Lieutenant General (LTG) (O9) insignia

Lieutenant General (Lt Gen)(O9)

Lieutenant generals are picked by the president from the existing pool of Air Force general officers. 

General (GEN) (O10) insignia

General (Gen)

The four-star position typically commands major areas of responsibility and holds the highest military positions in the Pentagon. 

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