U.S. Air Force to Celebrate 71st Birthday Tuesday

The Air Force is by far the youngest of the five branches of the United States Armed Services; turning 71 years of age on Tuesday, September 18.

That’s compared to the considerably older Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. Each of those branches was established in the 1700s.

The main purpose of the Air Force is to support the country’s security through air and space exploitation. It is a main supporter of ground forces by providing air support during missions.

The two reserve components of the Air Force are the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserves.

It All Started in 1909

The U.S. military purchased its first aircraft in 1909. But it wasn’t until 1947 that the Air Force existed as a separate and independent military service organization.

The evolution of the Air Force looks like this:

  • Aeronautical Section Signal Corps – 1909
  • Aviation Section, Signal Corps – 1914
  • United States Army Air Service – 1918
  • United States Army Air Corps – 1926
  • United States Army Air Forces – 1941

By the conclusion of World War II, it was obvious that air power had become a key factor in military operations.

A single U.S. Department of Defense was created in 1947, with chiefs designated for the Army, Navy and the recently established Air Force.

Famous Air Force Personnel

Among those who served in the U.S. Air Force at one time are:

  • Actor Jimmy Stewart
  • Singer Johnny Cash
  • Martial arts expert Chuck Norris
  • Actor Morgan Freeman
  • San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

Through the Decades

Here are a few key dates in the history of the U.S. Air Force (thanks to Military.com):

  • 1949 – The flight of the “Lucky Lady II” demonstrated the Air Force’s capability to fly non-stop around the world.
  • 1950-53 – The Air Force engaged in the first completely jet aerial combat during the Korean War. The F-86 Saberjet scored impressive aerial victories over the enemy’s MiG-15.
  • 1954 – The first B-52 Stratofortress came into the Air Force inventory and has served in every conflict since then.
  • 1960s – The development and deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) became a major component of the U.S. aerial defense capabilities.
  • 1964-73 – War in Vietnam.
  • 1970s – This decade saw the development of laser-guided bombs and TV-guided air to ground missiles. Among the aircraft systems introduced during this decade were the C-5 Galaxy, F-15, A-10, AWACS and F-16.
  • 1980s – Stealth technology was revealed with the advent of the F-117. Strategic bomber capability was increased with the deployment of the B-1.
  • 1990s – The Air Force played a major role in the swift defeat of the Iraqi military forces in the first Persian Gulf War.
  • 2000-present – The global war on terrorism brought the Air Force into Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

By the Numbers

As of 2017, the Air Force operates more than 5,300 military aircraft, over 400 ICBMs and 170 military satellites.

There are more than 318,000 active duty personnel in the Air Force. That includes over 105,000 Air National Guard personnel.

The annual budget is $161 billion and the motto is “Aim High… Fly-Fight-Win.” The Air Force is headquartered at the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.

The Air Force’s official colors are Ultramarine Blue and Golden Yellow. The Air Force also engages in humanitarian efforts.

Give ‘em Hell, Harry

I’m going to conclude with a little known fact. If someone tells you they know everything about the U.S. Air Force, ask them if they know this.

Air Force Day was established on August 1, 1947 by President Harry S. Truman. But it has not been officially observed since 1949.

Truman’s message to the nation on the occasion of the first Air Force Day included the following statement:

“I remind all of our citizens that the air power of the nation is essential to the preservation of our liberty, and that the continued development of the science of air transportation is vital to the trade and commerce of a peaceful world.”

Seventy-one years later, Truman’s words still hold true.


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