Today marks the 66th Birthday of the modern United States Air Force.
The USAF has its roots in the US Army’s Signal Corps when it formed an Aeronautical Division in 1907 only 3 ½ years after the Wright brothers flew the first powered airplane in Kitty Hawk, NC. The Aeronautical Division accepted delivery of its first airplane from the Wright brothers in 1909, and the 1st Aero Squadron was formed at the end of 1913.
When the US entered WWI, joining forces with the Allies, the major combatants had developed aircraft industries far superior to those of the US. Responding to criticism, President Wilson created the Army Air Service under the War Department in 1918. Although the US lacked competitive aircraft, it sent many pilots to serve in Europe, mostly flying French-built planes. These fine men distinguished themselves and were honed into a formidable striking force. The Air Service lost most of the people it had gained and planes in a rapid demobilization right after the war ended.
The British recognized the importance of air power and established the Royal Air Force in 1918, but despite the voices of visionaries, the US did not do likewise and instead made the Air Service a combat unit of the Army. After Hitler launched WWII in 1939, the renamed Army Air Force began a steady growth of personnel and planes and became an equal to the Army’s Ground Forces. Expansion continued after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The AAF oversaw mobilization of the nation’s aviation industry and deployment of the largest air armada of all time.
By the end of WWII, quantity and quality of elite AAF units dominated the skies over both Germany and Japan, all by paralyzing their war economies. It was on September 18, 1947 that the wartime achievements and future potential won the US Air Force its independence as a full partner with the Army and the Navy.
The USAF remembers the lessons and achievements of the past as well as honoring the memory, sacrifices and contribution of those who succeeded in building what is now the world’s only truly global air and space force!
Stuart Symington became the first Secretary of the Air Force in 1947 and within a month, test pilot Chuck Yeager flew the Bell XS-1 past the speed of sound, launching the new Air Force into the supersonic era.