On September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force became its own branch, completely separate from the Army and Navy who previously shared aviation responsibilities. The National Security Act of 1947 established this branch as its own, and to this day, the Air Force is the youngest military branch at only 70 years old. For the past 70 years, and even before the branch’s creation, brave American airmen have defended air, space, and cyberspace in order to protect our freedoms. Their incredible accomplishments continue to inspire people across the country and enhance military missions. Let’s take a deeper look at the history of the Air Force.
History of the Air Force and World War I
Although the Air Force as a distinct branch had not yet been established, predecessory organizations certainly made a large and notable impact in World War I. At the beginning of the war in 1917, the Air Service of the AEF was formed as the first major combat force in US aviation. The aviation units that made up the Air Service provided the Army with needed tactical support in several major battles. Star players in the Air Service included 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. By the time World War I ended, the Air Service employed several squadrons, but most were demobilized in 1919. The units that were not demobilized became an official part of the Army just a year later, and in 1926, they were named the Army Air Corps.
Some new developments at this time included the following:
- All-metal monoplane bombers
- Martin B-10
- New fighters
- Air-to-air refueling
Civilian Air Achievements
In the 20s and 30s, debate about the strength and future of air power in the military grew heated. General Billy Mitchell forcefully advocated the increase of air power, insisting that a plane could easily sink a battleship. However, this argument proved to not only be highly unlikely in the 20s, it was downright laughable. Even so, civilians such as Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and Charles Lindbergh managed to accomplish incredible feats in airplanes, prompting the military to increase its air power due to public opinion. President Franklin Roosevelt soon became an advocate of expanding the role of airplanes in combat and even ordered that 50,000 planes be made each year.
The Air Fore and World War II
With the start of World War II, it became more necessary than ever before to dominate the skies and combat air threats. Aviation definitely proved to be an enormous influence as Japan’s air attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into the deadliest war in human history. And the US atomic bombing of Japan several years later signaled the beginning of the end.
The Air Force gained new independence in 1941 when the US Army Air Force was formed. Although the Air Force was still part of the Army, it essentially had a voice equal to the Army and Navy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Along with this new development, all aviation elements were merged into the Army Air Force. The organizations of the Air Corps and the Combat Command were dissolved. In 1943, the US used the technique of flying their bombers in close formations in their daylight bombing operations. While this might have been a good technique before the war, it now proved to be deeply flawed. German fighter planes began shooting down US planes in huge numbers, resulting in many casualties. These results influenced US leaders to reduce their strategic offensive operations later that year.
After extensive attempts to try out new planes and new operations, the Air Force finally began operations with P-51 escorts in 1944 and increased the number of these planes significantly until Luftwaffe (the German aerial warfare branch) began sustaining heavy losses. By D-Day, Luftwaffe’s threat was significantly reduced.
The Pacific Theater of Operations
Under General George Kenney, the Army Air Force provided strong tactical support in the Pacific Theater. It especially aided Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific theater by destroying around 1.7 million tons of shipping and 11,900 Japanese planes.
Advancements and the End of the War
As different allies needed huge amounts of consistent supplies, the US developed and began implementing airlift for the first time. As tension increased and the death toll rose, military forces found new strategies and developed new technology in order to finally bring the war to a close. In August 1945, US Air Force history was marked forever by the Twentieth Air Force bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This move, made in response to the Potsdam Declaration being rejected by Japan, killed an estimated 225,000 people (over the course of several months).
A New Beginning in Air Force History
In 1947, Generals Eisenhower and Spaatz made extensive plans to make the Air Force a branch independent of the Army. The Air Force would then be composed of the Air University, the Air Training Command, the Air Transport Command, the Tactical Air Command, the Air Defense Command, and the Air Force Center. Despite certain Navy objections, the National Security Act of 1947 made Eisenhower and Spaatz’s plans official. The Air Force became its own branch on September 18, 1947 – the day that the history of the Air Force began again.
With this incredible step, airfields became Air Force bases and the US Air Force finally assumed its own identity with new uniforms, new insignias, and a new organizational structure. The Air Force also took part in supplying West Berlin during the Berlin airlift. Their efforts along with those of the Royal Air Force saved many people from starvation.
The Cold War and an Expanding Air Force
The United States competed fiercely with the Soviet Union in an arms race that became known as the Cold War. Each nation expanded their power and military presence at alarming rates. It was during this time that the US Air Force saw an incredible increase as numerous air bases opened across the world, but primarily in Europe, South Korea, and Japan.
In 1948, women were allowed to join regular Air Force duty due to the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Esther McGowin Blake became the first to do so. Due to this change and the growing need for air support in additional conflicts, such as the Korean War and Vietnam War, the Air Force grew and remained at the forefront in advancing US military technology.
Facts about the Air Force
Over the course of Air Force history, the branch has certainly made many incredible achievements. Here are some additional facts you might not know about the United States Air Force:
- It was a US airman who first broke the sound barrier.
- Every year, the US Air Defense Command (part of the Air Force) tracks Santa’s travels across the world to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
- The Air Force was officially created on the same day as the CIA.
- An “ace” pilot in the Air Force has shot down at least 5 enemy aircraft.
- Two US presidents have served in the Air Force: George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
The History of the Air Force Continues
The history of the Air Force is incredible, but it’s not over yet. This branch will continue to advance and wow us in future endeavors. At Low VA Rates, we have nothing but the utmost respect for all members of the Air Force and other branches of the US armed forces. To learn more about the military and how Low VA Rates helps active-duty members and veterans, check out our blog or call us at 855-223-0705.