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Air Force marks decades of domination, innovation for 70th birthday

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Initially part of theUnited States Army, the U.S. Air Force was formed as a separate branch of the military on Sept. 18, 1947 under theNational Security Act of 1947. Today year marks the 70th anniversary of the branch’s creation. (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

By Rindi White

Sept. 18 marks 70 years of airpower and innovation by the U.S. Air Force, an event that will be marked by gala events, a tour by the U.S. Air Force Academy Band, a 70th birthday reception and a dinner at the Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

The anniversary marks the date the United States Air Force was established, but the air-driven branch of the U.S. military predates its official birthday by 40 years.

The U.S. Army’s air arm began as a small aeronautical division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1907. The division oversaw “all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects,” according to the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Two years later, two men made their first ascent in a Signal Corps balloon and qualified as the first Army pilots.

The first airplane testing for military use occurred in August 1908 in Fort Meyer, Virginia. The plane crashed a month later, killing a lieutenant who was flying with renowned pilot Orville Wright. A year later, the Army accepted its first plane and, within four years had a fleet of 11 aircraft and was training aviators for the 1st Aero Squadron, the first military unit of the U.S. Army devoted exclusively to aviation. Now called the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the unit has remained continuously active.

Airmen held a growing role in the Army over the next several decades and played an important part in bombing raids and air combat during World War I. What was then the Air Service became the Air Corps in 1926, with 919 officers and more than 8,700 enlisted men, 60 pursuit planes, 169 observation planes and other aircraft. Randolph Field in Texas was dubbed the “West Point of the Air” and was dedicated in 1930. Other expansion followed over the course of the 1930s and, in advance of a second world war, President Roosevelt expanded the Air Corps to a force of 10,000 aircraft, 7,500 of which were combat aircraft. By 1945, more than 2.2 million men and women were in the Army’s air forces with 63,715 aircraft.

When the U.S. Air Force was created in 1947, there were 318,744 airmen in the Air Force, but they quickly demonstrated they were well-trained and ready to fight. Gen. Carl Spaatz, the first Air Force Chief of Staff, outlined the direction of the new military branch when he said, “We’d better be prepared to dominate the skies above the surface of the earth or be prepared to be buried beneath it.”

It didn’t take long for the sky-domination to begin. Not quite a month after the U.S. Air Force was created, Capt. Chuck Yeager, then 24, broke the sound barrier in an experimental rocket-propelled Bell Aircraft XS-1. The Air Force has continued to break barriers and launch into new territory ever since. It sets the standard for adapting new, advanced technology, often making discoveries that have given the United States an edge over other nations. From laser-guided bombs to Global Positioning System satellites, faster and more agile fighter jets to heavy-lifting cargo haulers, precision-guided munitions to unmanned aircraft and more, the Air Force has embraced new technology and evolved to fit changing national and global demands.

The U.S. Air Force has put together a comprehensive celebration of its history, along with tributes to 12 heroes — including the first woman in the Air Force, Staff Sgt. Esther Blake, and MSgt. Israel Del Toro, the first airman with a 100 percent disability (after the Humvee he was riding in drove over an IED) allowed to re-enlist. Visit the page at http://static.dma.mil/usaf/70 to see more. Check the Events tab for celebrations in your community to mark the Air Force’s 70th birthday.

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