The Royal Air Force Roundel

Aircraft: Tucano

The Royal Air Force Roundel

RAF Roundel The origins of the Royal Air Force roundel come from the First World War. The need to be able to identify aircraft soon became apparent and orders were issued at the end of August 1914 for the Union Flag to be painted on the under-surface of the lower wings. This was satisfactory at low level but was confusing when the aircraft was higher as only the cross was visible. This was often mistaken for a German cross so the French system of concentric circles was adopted in October 1914. The main differences between the French and British systems was that the colours were reversed to read blue, white and red and the Union Flag was retained in miniature between the circles and the wing tips. This miniaturised Union Flag was also painted on the rudder.

Aircraft of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps were marked with one red ring and the Union Flag.

The Union Flag on the rudder was replaced by red, white and blue stripes in May 1915 and in June of the same year, the Roundel, or 'Target' as it was now known, was painted on the top surface of the upper wings. The Union Flag on the aircraft was abolished altogether.

   RAF Roundel inter-war design
Squadron variations on inter-war roundels. Both of these are from 25 Squadron aircraft.

Since the Second World War the red disk of British aircraft markings has had a larger diameter, measuring half again the width of either of the outer rings. The reason for this change is obscure, but it may be fair to presume a mere technicality of draughtsmanship when the white was removed before the war, as a concession to camouflage and then reintroduced after the war.

RAF Roundels from the Second World War








Fighter aircraft roundels developed throughout the Second World War.

RAF Roundel for Bombers in Second World War





Bomber and transport roundels followed roughly the same pattern.

There were variations of the Royal Air Force roundel during the War. A fourth colour, yellow, was added to the outside of the blue circle to make the roundel more visible against the newly introduced camouflage schemes. Fighter aircraft in the early years had a yellow circle of about the same thickness of the red and white circles, whereas larger aircraft such as bombers had a much thinner yellow circle around the roundel. Aircraft involved operations in the Far East carried a completely different version altogether. Here, the roundel was of two colours only - a mid-blue/grey outer ring with a white centre. These were carried to avoid confusion with Japanese aircraft which carried a red circle in the centre of a thin white outer ring.

RAF Roundel South East Asia

The South East Asia Command lost the red circle to prevent confusion with the Japanese markings.

Today, the roundel appears in three formats on RAF aircraft. Attack aircraft such as Tornados and Jaguars, Chinooks, Pumas and Merlins of the Support Helicopter Force and Hercules transports carry a two-colour roundel of dark blue outer circle with a red centre. Fighter aircraft (Tornado F3s and Eurofighters) and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft carry a 'washed out' roundel of pale blue and red whilst the traditional blue, white and red roundel can still be found on VIP aircraft (BAe 125s and BAe146s of No 32 Squadron), Tristars and training aircraft.

RAF Roundel Gulf War

The standard Gulf War roundel (left) and a local variant applied in the field (right).

RAF Roundel Modern





Modern training aircraft roundels include a white outline, whereas most front line aircraft carry a reduced visibility red and blue version.