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United Kingdom: Civil Air Ensign

Last modified: 2023-07-03 by rob raeside
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[Civil Air Ensign] by Martin Grieve

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Description and use of the flag

One British ensign less often seen is the Civil Air Ensign. This was intended to be flown at airports and from landed British aircraft as an equivalent of the Red Ensign for merchant ships. Its field is light blue (strictly the shade known in the UK as 'air force blue' as it is used in the ensign of the Royal Air Force) with a dark blue cross, fimbriated white, overall. The Union Flag is in the canton. I believe both Australia and New Zealand have variations with their southern crosses on it (the Australian one had the southern cross at quite an unusual angle). Could any of our antipodean members comment on whether theirs are still used much?
Roy Stilling
, 15 December 1995

I can report that the UK Civil Air Ensign is indeed still in use. It can be seen flying everyday outside Manchester Airport's Fire Section. I'll keep my I open for other places I spot it.
Steve Dooley, 22 June 2000

The flag was seen flying outside the headquarters of British Airways at half mast after the Concorde crash in Paris. British Airways flies this flag as well as the Union flag on a mast outside Waterside, the HQ every day.
Jonathan Marriott, 15 July 2001

It is also flown at London's Heathrow Airport at the entrance to the BA engineering base and at the British Airways Headquarters - Waterside - in Harmondsworth (near Heathrow).
Ian D Chick, 13 June 2002

The Civil Air Ensign now flies over Airport House, Purley Way, Croydon. Airport House is the former terminal building of Croydon Airport, London's major Airport from 1920 -1939.
Frank Anderson, 19 May 2003

From a newspaper clipping:
15 Sep 1931: "The first Civil Air ensign to be flown in London was hoisted yesterday by the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce, the well-known airwoman. The new flag, the design of which has been approved by the King, has a pale blue background with a deep blue cross edged with white in the center, a Union Jack figures in the top left corner. She holds the view that women are becoming increasingly interested in aviation."
Nancy Wilson, 14 October 2003

In Oxford, United Kingdom yesterday evening, a hot air balloon was observed trailing not from the basket, but somewhere around about the ring, what looked as if it was probably a wire with a weight on the end with two flags flying from it: a very large United Kingdom Civil Air ensign and, immediately below it, a much smaller Cross of St George. Balloons are a common occurrence in Oxford, but this was an unusual occurrence in that it was the first time I have seen a flag flying from a balloon, and I have never seen this flag flying on an actual object moving through the air before.
Colin Dobson, 7 August 2004

Is flying the UK Civil Air Ensign from a balloon is actually legal? After all, the Order in Council of 1931 stipulated that it may be flown at airports, "from an airship in flight" and from a stationary aircraft on the ground, however, a hot-air balloon is not (unless one is stretching the law to breaking point) 'an airship' as meant by the Order?
Christopher Southworth, 7 August 2004

In Britain a number of balloons have been registered as civil aircraft (with five-letter codes starting with the letter G), and I believe such registered balloons have every right to fly the Civil Air Ensign.
Miles Li, 7 August 2004

Dimensions of the flag

The dimensions given in Das Grosse Flaggenbuch (1939) for the Civil Air Ensign:

Flag 180 by 360 units.
Dark blue cross 18 units.
White fimbriation: 6 units.
Height of the light blue parts: 75 units.
Length of the Union Jack: 165 units
St. George cross: 15 units.
White fimbriation around St. George cross: 5 units.
St. Andrews cross (incl. St. Patrick cross): 15 units.
St. Patricks cross: not given [but when compared with the Union Jacks in other flags: 5 units for the visible red part, 2.5 units for the fimbriation at one side].
Mark Sensen, 17 June 2000

The dimensions given here match the dimensions of a 10 breadth flag (7 ft 6 in x 15ft), expressed in units of half an inch.
David Prothero, 24 June 2000

Construction Sheet

[Civil Air Ensign] by Martin Grieve

The colour of the field is the same as that of the RAF Ensign which is officially described as "Air Force Blue". However, the Ministry of Defence (in BR20) illustrates both the this and the Air Force Ensign in light blue with a definite turquoise bias - which is most definitely not 'Air Force Blue' as I know it?
Christopher Southworth, 24 November 2003

I used the colour to PMS 549c, then after exporting the gif, opened it in Photoshop. The closest web-safe blue is RGB 102-153-153. This translates as "ocean green" in Corel - not that really means anything.
Martin Grieve, 8 December 2003

Initial Proposals

In 1929 Imperial Airways' flying-boats, when moored, flew the Union Jack, a House Flag, and the Royal Mail Pennant. After being told that only warships were allowed to fly the Union Jack on water, Imperial Airways approached the Air Ministry for a flag that could be used instead of the Union Jack. Designs with a Union Jack canton that were considered:
  1. A dark blue St Andrews cross 1/10th wide, fimbriated white 1/50th on a sky blue field.
  2. A dark blue St George's cross 1/5th wide, fimbriated red 1/25th on sky blue.
  3. Same not fimbriated.
  4. Standard width (4/30ths) dark blue St George's cross on sky blue.
  5. Selected design. 1/10th cross with 1/30th fimbriation.
  6. Standard width red St George's cross on sky blue.
  7. Standard width St George's cross split red and white on sky blue. White next to the canton and lower fly, red next to the upper fly and lower hoist.
A few more suggestions were made when the paper-work was passed around various offices; a Union Jack with a sky-blue border; an ensign quartered red and blue; an ensign with red 2nd quarter, blue 3rd quarter and white 4th quarter, Design No 1 with the lower hoist arm removed and the other two arms coming to a point at the corner of the canton; Design No 5 with wings in the lower fly.

The flag was instituted by an Order in Council on 11th August 1931. "An ensign called the Civil Air Ensign is the proper national colour to be flown by aircraft and air transport undertakings and at aerodromes." It was promulgated by a Notice to Airmen issued in September.

At the time there were two Royal Air Force regulations about flags on aircraft.
K.R. para.156(3). The ensign will be flown at the stern of all His Majesty's Airships when in the air.
156(7). The ensign will not be flown by flying-boats except when at moorings in foreign waters.
From AIR 2/3370, Civil Aviation Flag, in the Public Record Office.

In 1940/41 British Overseas Airways, ran a flying-boat service from Poole in the South of England to Lagos in Nigeria. One of the stops was on neutral territory in Portugal, and an application was made to fly the Civil Air Ensign from the stern of their launches that attended the flying-boats on the River Tagus. This was refused by the Admiralty who said that they should fly the Red Ensign at the stern but could fly the Civil Air Ensign at the bow or from the yard arm.
ADM 1/19970.
David Prothero, 24 June 2000

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