The youngest of all five services, the United States Air Force, was born on September 18, 1947. The U.S. Air Force became its own branch of the military when President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947.
The National Security Act of 1947 created what would later be renamed the Department of Defense, which encompassed four of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force). Let’s take a look at the history of the Air Force.
The Air Force Origins
The Air Force was originally part of the Army. Air operations were divided between land and sea operations prior to 1947. Military aviation operations belonged to the Army for land-based efforts and belonged to the Navy and Marines for sea-based aviation efforts.
The Army created the first aeronautical divisions on August 1, 1907. At the time, it was called the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps. On July 18, 1914, it became the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. On May 20, 1918, air operations then became Division of Military Aeronautics, followed by Air Service, U.S. Army on May 24, 1918. Following that, it was shifted to the U.S. Army Corps on July 2, 1926, and then the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 20, 1941, until September 17, 1947. These reorganization efforts, over time, advanced the separation of what would become the United States Air Force from the Army.
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During World War I, upon the United States entry into the war in 1917, the first major air force combat team was created as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Concurrent with the Air Service combat force teams creation, the United States aviation was removed from the Signal Corps control and was placed directly under the control of the United States Secretary of War. After World War I ended, the Army Air Service was mostly demobilized while the AEF’s combat team dissolved.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Americans were fascinated by aviation. Flight by plane was new and exciting, and with all things new, the people were divided. Some pushed for innovation and stronger airpower, while others were more conservative and against the idea of building up airpower.
In the spring of 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt called for 50,000 planes a year during mobilization during World War II, and was very energetic about expanding the role of the Air Corps. This was the time when the Air Force came of age.
Just four years after the Wright brothers conducted the first airplane flight in North Carolina, in 1907, the U.S. Army Corps created the Aeronautical Division that would be in charge of everything relating to military ballooning and any other type of aircraft and flying machines.
The Air Force Comes of Age During World War II
During World War II, there was a major reorganization with the Air Force. In 1941, they became largely independent, the Army Air Corps becoming part of the United States Army Air Forces (AAF). And in 1942, the Army Air Forces gained an equal voice on the Joint Chief of Staff next to Army and Navy, as well as complete autonomy from the Services of Supply and Army Ground Forces. At this point, they were operating independently in everything except their name. With the National Security Act of 1947, the United States Department of the Air Force was created amidst continuing objections by the Navy, who feared the change would take away their air power.
Airpower was put to the test during World War II. The main objectives of using airpower were to gather intelligence, as a way to deliver troops to the battlefield, as well as a way to utilize weapons like the atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that brought the war to its end with the surrender of Japan. Airpower was a critical component of the success and strength of the United States military and still is to this day.
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General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell has to be noted when it comes to the inception of the United States Air Force as its own separate entity. Often regarded as the father of the Air Force, General Mitchell was instrumental in bringing the need for airpower to the forefront of the conversation. He was a controversial man, being court martialed and arrested because of his outspokenness about the negligence of military leaders for not prioritizing airpower over land power and battleships. He stated that only aircraft could bring down other aircraft.
General Mitchell was convicted of insubordination for his comments to the press about leaders not doing their job or caring about air safety, and he used that experience to elevate his advocacy for an individual and autonomous air service. He chose to resign rather than serve a 5-year suspension. Regardless of the outcome of his military career, he was posthumously promoted to Major General by President Harry Truman, had a military aircraft named after him, and was inducted into the International Hall of Fame.
Air Force Birthday
In 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was promoted to Chief of Staff. Working in conjunction with General Carl Spaatz, who became the new commander of the Army Air Forces, Eisenhower set in motion plans to create a separate Air Force without the need for legislation. The separate Air Force was made up of a variety of commands, including:
- Air Defense Command
- Air Force Center
- Air Technical Service Command
- Air Training Command
- Air Transport Command
- Air University
- Strategic Air Command
- Tactical Air Command
Stuart Symington became the first Secretary of the Air Force on September 18, 1947, while Spaatz became the United States Air Force first Chief of Staff eight days later. At this time all Army Air Force bases were renamed to Air Force bases. New uniforms and new insignia were issued, and a new command structure was put in place the prioritized and recognition of the special training and experience that was required to be a successful Air Force pilot and commander.
The Air Force Ball
The Air Force doesn’t always celebrate with a ball directly on its birthday. The Air Force Ball is just like any other military ball where the dress is formal, speeches are made to commemorate the history and traditions of the United States Air Force, as well as honoring and recognizing those who have served in a capacity that goes above and beyond.
One great way that the Air Force can celebrate that other branches might have a hard time topping is the ability to create air shows. Many have seen the Thunderbirds performing, flying high and fast through the sky in unique formations. They also have a variety of air shows, on the ground and in the sky, where people can see the different aircraft and offer their thanks to those who are serving in the U.S. Air Force.
The United States Air Force is one of the most technologically advanced and powerful air forces in the world. The Air Force may be the youngest of the military branches to celebrate its birthday each year on September 18, but they’ve worked hard to become their own separate service of the military. Airpower is a critical component of being a global military superpower and investing in and celebrating this military might is a great way to promote unity, inspire awe, and to commemorate those who have served in the Air Force, and those who worked diligently to support growth and autonomy within the United States Air Force.