Background: The award was established on 3 June 1918 shortly after the formation of the Royal Air Force as the third-level military decoration. The DFC was awarded to officers and Warrant Officers for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. Since WW2, the award has been open to army and naval aviation officers and from 1993, may be awarded to all ranks following the review of military honours that discontinued the Distinguished Flying Medal. It is estimated that 1,100 DFCs were awarded in WW1, with 70 first bars and 3 second bars being awarded. During WW2 a total of 20,354 DFCs were awarded with approximately 1,550 first bars and 45 second bars being awarded. Many historians consider that the DFC was awarded more than any other gallantry award during the period of the war. Honorary awards were made on 964 occasions to aircrewmen from other non-Commonwealth countries.

Design: The decoration is a cross flory and is 2⅛ inches wide. The horizontal and bottom bars are terminated with bumps, the upper bar with a rose. The obverse features aeroplane propellers, superimposed on the vertical arms of the cross, and wings on the horizontal arms. In the centre is a laurel wreath around the RAF monogram, surmounted by the Imperial Crown. The reverse features the Royal Cypher in the centre and the year of issue is engraved on the lower arm. The decoration is issued named. The ribbon was originally white with purple broad horizontal stripes, but it was changed in 1919 to the current white with purple broad diagonal stripes.

Bars: A bar is awarded for a subsequent act of valour that would have merited a second award of the DFC. A bar is worn across the ribbon for holders of the DFC who received a second award. When the ribbon alone is worn a silver rosette is worn centrally on the ribbon. A recipient of three DFCs would wear 2 bars on the ribbon and 2 rosettes on the ribbon.