Air Force Historical Research Agency   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

Documents > HGC2

Chapter 2: Organizational Emblems
A system of heraldic emblems evolved within the air arms of the allied and central powers during World War I, the first major conflict in which the newly-developed airplane became an instrument of war. On 6 April 1917, America declared war on Germany, and, shortly thereafter, Brigadier General Benjamin D. Foulois became Chief of the Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). A year later, on 6 May 1918, Foulois established the policy for insignia of aerial units, declaring that each squadron would have an official insignia painted on the middle of each side of the airplane fuselage. "The squadron will design their own insignia during the period of organizational training. The design must be submitted to the Chief of Air Service, AEF, for approval. The design should be simple enough to be recognizable from a distance." 3 

Emblem, 94th Aero Squadron

Figure 6
Emblem, 94th Aero Squadron 

Within a red circle in perspective, long axis vertical, Uncle Sam's top hat, upper portion, blue background with white stars; middle portion, red and white stripes; brim, white; sweat band, brown; inside of hat, dark blue. (approved 15 Nov 1919 as World War I emblem; canceled 6 May 1924; reinstated 9 Jul 1942.)

A famous emblem used during World War I appears in Figure 6. The 94th Aero Squadron, originally composed of former members of the Lafayette Escadrille, * became the first American air service squadron to arrive on the Western Front. The hat in the ring design was selected because it symbolized Uncle Sam throwing in with the allies against the central powers. The War Department on 18 November 1919 approved the emblems of 45 aero squadrons that served in France during World War I. 4

World War II expanded the use of Air Corps insignia, with hundreds of new emblems appearing both officially and unofficially. The War Department dictated the policy by which Army Air Forces' organizations submitted emblems for approval and rejected only a few. Many organizations failed to submit their designs for approval, however, and consequently in later years members of these organizations found no approved emblem on file. 5 When the Air Force became an autonomous military service in 1947, its leaders authorized an heraldic program that sought to avoid the widespread use of unauthorized emblems.

Army Air Forces Letter 35-46 issued on 10 September 1945 established procedures for designing and submitting emblems for approval. This letter contained policy on the design, approval, and use of organizational emblems. On 1 October 1984 the Air Force heraldic program transferred officially from the Air Force Manpower and Personnel Center at Randolph AFB, Texas, to the US Air Force Historical Research Center now, Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. At the same time, USAF historians at all command levels assumed responsibility for processing emblem requests. Currently AFI 84-105, chapter 3, provides guidance for Air Force heraldry.


NOTES: 3Edgar S. Gorrell, History of the Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces in France, 1917-1918, on microfilm Series A, Vol 9, (AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, AL pp. 85-86).
4Ltr, Maurer Maurer to TSgt E.B. Bowyer, 31 March 1964, in RS Heraldry (AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, AL).
5For example, there are numerous letters concerning unofficial World War II emblems on file in Organizational Emblem Files, (AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, AL).
*A group of American volunteers who flew for the French before the United States of America entered World War I. 

Types of Emblems
The emblem design for units must be on a circular shaped shield or disc, as illustrated in Figure 7 (See AFI 84-105, paragraph 3.4). Units with emblems on discs include named and numbered squadrons, numbered flights, and other USAF organizations that have no headquarters component. 
Emblem for Squadrons and Equivalent
Figure 7
Emblem for Squadrons and Equivalent

Those organizations in the USAF having headquarters are flag bearing organizations, known as establishments, such as groups, wings, and major commands (MAJCOM). Air Force Instruction 84-105, paragraph 3.3. specifies that a USAF flag-bearing organization should display its coat of arms (i.e., emblem design) on a modified heater-shaped shield, as shown in Figure 8. Flag-bearing organizations must order a full-size flag drawing before requisitioning an organizational flag. For more information on flag manufacture, contact Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Air Force Clothing and Textile Office, 700 Robbins Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19111-5096, Telephone DSN 444-3850 or (215) 737-3850. 

Emblems for Groups and Above (Flag Bearing Organizations)

Figure 8
Emblems for Groups and Above
(Flag Bearing Organizations)

Since the heraldry of permanent organizations are continuous, inactivation does not affect heraldry. When an organization is activated again, it should use its approved emblem. An approved emblem should not be revised unless 1) justified by a design violation, and 2) the emblem is not a CSAF approved emblem.

Only organizations that are establishments or units are authorized emblems. Air Force entities that may not request an emblem include:

Headquarters squadron sections
Alphabetical flights of a squadron
Operating locations
Named activities
Staff directorates, sections, and offices
Air Force elements
Provisional units at all echelons (See AFI 84-105, paragraph 3.2.3. for guidance on display of emblems by expeditionary organizations).

To Chapter Three  

 Inside AFHRA

ima cornerSearch

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act