Following independence on 9 November 1953 the Royal Cambodian Air Force was established with French support on 1 April 1954. Backed by the French Air Force in Kampuchea, as the Kingdom of Cambodia was called in those days, the air arm had gained some flying experience on four MS.500 Criquet aircraft for training based at Kratie. A DC-3 Dakota was presented by the French. The government subsequently bought a Cessna 170 and two Cessna 180. The new air arm ordered seven Toyo-built Fletcher FD-25A Defender two-seat and FD-25B single-seat aircraft from Japan in January 1954. The main base of the Royal Khmer Aviation was established at Pochentong, near Phnom Penh and during 1954 Cambodia ordered seven Morane Saulnier MS.733 Alcyon three-seat basic trainers from France. A follow-on order was placed for eight Alcyons for delivery in late 1955.
Additional types obtained from France during 1955 included one Cessna 170 and three more MS.500 Criquet. A number of US aircraft were obtained during 1956-57, including eight Cessna L-19 Bird Dogs, 14 T-6G Texans plus five Douglas C-47 and two de Havilland L-20 (DHC-2) Beavers with which to equip a small transport element. The increasing conflict in Vietnam lead to the acquisition of the first helicopters for the Cambodian Air Force with eight Sud Alouette IIs and two Alouette IIIs from France in 1960. The first jet trainers were supplied by France with the delivery of four Fouga CM170 Magisters in September 1961.
Prince Sihanouks leaning to the US lead to the delivery of 16 North American T-28Ds in August 1962. In March 1963 the US donated four Cessna T-37Bs to back the Alcyons of the air academy and two Sikorsky H-19s.
Change of policy turned the Americans away and help was sought in Russia, resulting in the delivery of two IL-14s, three An-2s and an Mi-4. In November 1963, the first of three MiG-17 arrived, together with one MiG-15UTI and one Yak-18. A follow on batch of nine MiG-17s came a year later. Backing was also sought in Peking and by the end of 1964, China supplied additional MiG-15UTI and six MiG-17s followed by five An-2s in 1965. Further help consisted of Chinese engineers constructing a new runway at Siem Riep.
French support came in March 1964 with six Dassault Flamant aircraft and four ex FAF Douglas AD-1 Skyraiders. One year later 10 more of these attack aircraft were presented by the French to augment the first batch and three defected South Vietnamese examples. In the late sixties the remaining 15 Alcyon trainer were replaced by 16 Gardan GY-80 Horizons.
In 1969 the USA started bombing suspected Communist base camps in Cambodia. Shortly after Prime Minister Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown by an Army coup in 1970, American and South Vietnamese troops invaded the country to root out Vietnamese Communists. General Lon Nol took power and declared the state as Khmer Republic and Sihanouk exiled to China. A total of 11 new Gardan GY-80 Horizon trainers were taken in service but the Khmer Air Force was in a poor state of operational capability.
The Cambodian Air Force was backed now again with US assistance and under operation 'Flycatcher' the service was modernised. It started in 1971 with the delivery of six Australian and four USAF C-47s. Among other additions were an alleged batch of some 17 Fairchild C-123K Providers, a squadron of Cessna T-41D Mescalero and 34 Bell UH-1Hs.
The 1970 invasion managed to push Cambodia's indigenous leftist guerrillas, the Khmer Rouge ('Red Khmer' in French) into the country's interior. Savage fighting soon engulfed the entire country, ending only when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975. Subsequently the Khmer Republic was renamed Kampuchea. The collapse of the Cambodian government saw the fleeing of more then 100 aircraft to Thailand.
Khmer Rouge forces captured the US ship 'Mayaguez', prompting US retaliatory action which resulted in the successful re-possession of the ship and its crew. In attacks by the US Navy as many as 17 T-28s were destroyed thereby neutralising the Khmers air power in August 1975. The Air Force ceased almost to exist with the majority of aircraft destroyed or having fled to Thailand.
Support for this regime came from China and 16 crated Shenyang F-6 were delivered in 1977. Six were assembled and formed the first combat squadron of the Khmer Rouge Air Force at Kompong Chang. At the end of 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. Much of the Khmer Rouge Air Force equipment was carried of to Vietnam.
The Air Force was reformed in 1979 and help was sought again in Russia. During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge, armed and financed by China and Thailand (and with indirect US support), fought a guerrilla war against the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh.
In 1986 the Air Force bought 22 second-hand Russian MiG-21s to form Unit 701 at Pochentong. The MiGs serials consist of four digits starting with 71 (reflecting the date when Pol Pot was ousted; 7 January 1979). Operations with the MiGs didn't last long as help from Russia stopped in 1989 and the lack of spare parts and support finally grounded the MiGs with the last flight on 17 June 1992.
A Helicopter Squadron was formed in 1992 with a number of Mi-8 and Mi-17. After the UN monitored general elections of 1993 Norodom Sihanouk was re-instated as king. The present name of Royal Cambodian Air Force was adopted and a new roundel was introduced. After all the changes of government each time a new flag and roundel were introduced but they all had in common a variation of the Angkor temple. Two Harbin Y-12 and three BN-2 Islander were taken in service to back the three former Kampuchea Airlines An-24RV and Beech 200 of the VIP Squadron in 1993. To fulfil the need of training its own pilots six Tecnam P92 Echo 3 trainers were ordered in Italy. After delivery they formed the newly established Reconnaissance Squadron in 1995.
In 1996 a deal was made with Israeli Aircraft Industries for the overhaul of 12 MiG-21s and part of the deal was the acquisition of six overhauled Aero L-39C Albatros'. These Czech built trainers were delivered to Cambodia in 1996-97. The World Bank and especially the US cut direct foreign aid to Cambodia in mid 1997 after Hun Sen ousted coalition partner Prince Norodom Ranariddh. This also affected the RCAF deal with Israel as already four MiG-21s were sent to the IAI Lahav division and Cambodia was unable to pay for the work. Also in 1997 the VIP Squadron was taken out of the Air Force and put under governmental control in the Council of Ministry and took with it the Beech 200, Ce402 and Ce421. France donated two AS350B Ecureuils, an AS365 Dauphin, a Falcon 20 and a Fokker F28 for VIP transport. All this left the Air Force with the regular transport aircraft of two An-24RV, two Harbin Y-12 and two Islanders and they formed the Transport Squadron. In 1998 the Ministry of Defense obtained two Mi-26 helicopters flown by pilots of the Helicopter Squadron. Eventually these helicopters were transferred to the Air Force.
In February 2000 a MiG-21bis (7102) and MiG-21UM (7114) returned from Israel after being overhauled. Due to lack of money and skilled personnel it is doubtfull if these planes have flown since. In 2012 and 2013 after many years and with assistance from China the Air Force was able to get new equipment with the delivery of two MA60 transport aircraft and twelve Z-9 helicopters.
All the aircraft of the Air Force are based at PhnomPenh Airbase, formerly known as Pochentong airbase. Other air bases like Battambang, Siemreap, Kompongsom, Kampongchnang, Kohkong do not enjoy based aircraft.
For this country as a special we present the historic order of battle. For easy reference in the box on top of the page we have split the overview in historic relevant order: