The year 2022 marks another military milestone, this time a celebration of the birth of the United States Air Force a mere 75 years ago.
Officially recognized on September 18, 1947, this now-essential military institution was the last official military forces created in America until the U.S. Space Force was created in 2019.
Still, the history leading up to its formation runs as far back as the pre-WWI days.
As we celebrate the creation of America’s impressive Air Force this September, history buffs and patriots can look back on the little-known history of this institution in this brief history of the U.S. Air Force!
U.S. Army Signal Corps Aeronautical Division
Before 1907, the U.S. military used various balloons and airships in military operations, as the use of planes was still a long way off into the future.
Although there were only a few of these flying machines around for use, the U.S. Army Signal Corps created an aeronautical division under which to organize and control all matters pertaining to their use.
This aeronautical division of the Signal Corps, which was experimenting on the first actual airplanes by 1908, was the humble beginning of what today is known as the U.S. Air Force, the division that oversees all military activities taking place in the air.
Growth of the Aviation Section of the Aeronautical Division
Working together with the famous Wright brothers and other scientists, the Signal Corps and its Aeronautical Division eventually approved the design for the first military airplane in August of 1909, then called Airplane #1.
After seeing promise in the development of what were then 9 military planes, Congress awarded $125,000 to the Signal Corps for Army aeronautics development four years later.
This funding was the beginning of the further development of military aircraft and the training of pilots that would eventually be used for war and defense purposes.
The original Airplane #1 is still in existence and now hangs on display in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum for all to see.
The Growth of the U.S. Air Service
With the continued development of planes and pilots, the 1st Aero Squadron was formed, becoming the first unit of the U.S. Army dedicated solely to aviation.
Renamed and still called the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the squadron became the first air combat unit in 1916 when it was sent as part of the Punitive Expedition at the Mexican border.
While this was going on, Congress continued the progression of the Aeronautical Division, replacing it with the Aviation Section in 1914, which was comprised of 60 captains, 260 enlisted, and was directed to oversee all U.S. military aircraft including planes and balloons.
Though there were only 23 airplanes in use at the time that WWI broke out in 1914, by March of 1916 Congress had assigned more than $14M for aeronautical development and land purchases for airfields to further develop the Air Service.
Additional squadrons were assembled and by 1917, there were more than 24 of them, including balloon units and squadrons performing duties in Mexico and the Philippines.
With growth continuing and more squadrons as well as more planes planned, the Air Service was then transferred to the Bureau of Aircraft Production and the Division of Military Aeronautics, both agencies making up the Aviation Section, Signal Corps.
By the end of WWI and after completing 150 bombing missions, the Air Service consisted of 185 squadrons with 44 more planes under construction, 86 balloon companies, and thousands of enlisted working in these and other related departments.
The Air Service Becomes The Air Corps
Though these numbers were reduced post-war and construction was slowed to what Congress considered satisfactory to maintain national security in the age of the warplane, all tactical air units of the Air Service were eventually placed under the U.S. Army Corps control through The Army Reorganization Act of 1920.
Then in 1926, the Air Corps Act of 1926 once again reorganized the Air Service and turned it into what closely resembled the modern Air Force of today.
The Air Corps continued to grow, official training centers were opened, and by the time the U.S. entered WWII, the Air Corps was revered as one of the most important and influential parts of the country’s military.
National Security Act and the Birth of the USAF
As the military continued to expand its Air Corps and set up air bases throughout the world during WWII, an independent structure for these forces was simultaneously being established in America for when the planes all came home.
Numbered air forces came into existence in 1941 as the growth and control of each force were placed under different districts in the War Department.
By 1942, another military reorganization broke the entire U.S. military into three groups - Army Ground Forces, Services of Supply (renamed Army Service Forces), and Army Air Forces.
The change dissolved the Air Corps and other associated offices of command, once again grouping all tactical air forces under the title of the Army Air Force.
After demobilization following the end of WWII and yet another reconsideration on how to organize the country’s tactical air teams, three new air commands were created in 1946:
- The Strategic Air Command
- The Air Defense Command
- The Tactical Air Command
The National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of the Air Force, which then created the United States Air Force (USAF) as the official name of the nation’s tactical air force as well as an outline for how American military forces were to be used to protect national security.
The name U.S. Air Force, which was officially recognized on September 18, 1947, has become one of America’s most important military installations, ready to protect this nation from threats of all kinds.
Although the Air Force is “only” 75 years old, its long, complex history is an interesting story for all to appreciate!
Learn More About Military Planes at the Museum of the American G.I.
Throughout its history from Airplane #1 to today’s advanced fighter jets, the Air Force in its various incantations has developed and flown all kinds of planes.
Come and honor the United States Air Force and the other branches of our military with us this fall at the Museum of the American G.I.!
See a restored WWII OQ-2A Radio Controlled Target Unit, the first drone mass-produced for military use as a training target by the Air Corps, a restored Vietnam War Air Patrol Bell AH-1F Cobra helicopter, and a growing collection of other war vehicles and weaponry.
Visit our website to learn more about our events and collections as well as how to get tickets!
Happy Birthday U.S. Air Force - Celebrating 75 Years of Faithful Duty!