As opposed to all other USAF enlisted and officer ranks, airman basic has no rank insignia affiliated. The lack of uniform insignia for airman basic is the reason for the nickname "slick-sleeve"; all other enlisted Air Force ranks wear stripes and chevrons on their uniform sleeves.
When the U.S. Air Force was split from the U.S. Army on July 26, 1947, it inherited the U.S. Army's enlisted ranks; the lowest U.S. Air Force enlisted rank became "private" (falling immediately below private, E-2), which wore no rank insignia.
In March 1952, the Air Council and United States Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg adopted a number of changes to the U.S. Air Force enlisted rank structure that had been recommended by studies made in 1950 and 1951. On April 24, 1952, Air Force Regulation 39-36 was published, changing the name of the lowest enlisted U.S. Air Force rank to "basic airman"—whose holders still bore no insignia—immediately below the new "airman third class".
On February 5, 1959, the new Air Force regulation governing the titles of enlisted ranks was released; the only change being direction that the title for E-1 was changed from "basic airman" to "airman basic".
Under normal circumstances, airmen basic are eligible for promotion to airman (E-2) after six months' time in grade (TIG). However, individuals enlisting for six years are promoted from AB to airman first class (A1C) upon completion of either technical training (or 20 weeks thereof) or the indoctrination course for combat control or pararescue.
In accordance with AFI 36-2502, Airman Promotion Program, all promotions from AB require that an airman's immediate commanding officer approve the promotion in writing before he or she may assume it.
a US Army private E-1; a US Air Force airman basic; a police recruit; 'slick' because he has no stripes on his sleeve
This instruction defines the enlisted force structure, establishes enlisted leadership and development levels, specifies responsibilities of each enlisted rank within the structure, establishes official terms of address for Air Force enlisted personnel, describes special SNCO positions, and standardizes duty titles.
This instruction implements Air Force Policy Directive 36-25, Military Promotion and Demotion. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 apply to all Air Force (AF) active duty enlisted.