Military Aviation


In 1903 the Wright brothers laid the ground work for the future formation of the Air Force when they flew their first airplane. It carried two men and flew at about 40 miles per hour.

The first flight for the Signal Corps, US Army was in 1909.

The Air Force is the youngest of all U.S. military services. Its birth date is September 18, 1947. On that day, the National Security Act became law. Signed by President Harry Truman, it set up the National Military Establishment, which was renamed the Department of Defense (DOD) in 1949.

The DOD was divided into three equal branches. The former War Department became the Department of the Army. The Navy Department became the Department of the Navy, which included the Marine Corps. And a brand-new branch was created---the Department of the Air Force.

The head of the Department of Defense is a civilian---the secretary of defense. Each of the three branches is also headed by a civilian secretary. The first secretary of the Air Force was Stuart Symington, who had been an assistant secretary of war and who later became a U.S. senator from Missouri. The highest-ranking military officer in the Air Force is the chief of staff. The first chief of staff was General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, a World War II veteran.

All American military forces are commanded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). This group meets weekly in Washington, D.C. It includes a chairman and vice chairman, the chiefs of naval operations, the commandant of the Marine Corps, and the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force. These six people advise the president in decisions about the military. The president is commander in chief of all the military forces.

The job of the United States Air Force (USAF) is to protect the United States from any threat by air and to defeat aggressors. Along with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, the Air Force is pledged to preserve the peace and security of the United States and to defend it if necessary.

Air Force Headquarters is located in the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., as are the headquarters for all the military services. Headquarters sets policy, reviews programs, plans and budgets, and distributes resources to all Air Force units. It is the center of all Air Force activities.

The Air Force includes more than 500,000 servicemen and women on active duty. In addition, there are more than 250,000 men and women in the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. The Air Force Reserve has its headquarters at Robins Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia and has units all around the country. Its members are not on active duty, but they stay in training and can be called into service in an emergency. Some reserve units of the Air Force, as well as the Army and Navy, were activated during the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991.


For years, one of the main jobs of the Air Force and other services was to counter the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. But in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. At that time, the Air Force began a streamlining project.

Changes in technology have also changed the way the Air Force will operate in the future. "Global reach---global power" might be thought of as its new slogan.

In this new "leaner, meaner" Air Force, these are the major commands:

AIR COMBAT COMMAND, Langley AFB, Virginia, is in charge of fighters and bombers.

AIR MOBILITY COMMAND, Scott AFB, Illinois, controls most of the tanker force and airlift planes.

AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE COMMAND, Kelly AFB, San Antonio, Texas, combines intelligence operations once scattered among other commands.

AIR FORCE MATERIAL COMMAND, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, makes sure that Air Force units everywhere have the supplies they need. It buys, stores, supplies, and transports anything the Air Force needs anywhere, including about 890,000 airplane parts.

AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND, Peterson AFB, Colorado, is in charge of Air Force space programs. It was created in 1982. The Space Command works with
NASA on U.S. space projects, including the operation of the space shuttle. And it is responsible for early warning of an enemy air attack. It also keeps track of weather and communications satellites as well as "space junk," pieces of rockets or satellites left in orbit. The ICBM missles are under the Space Command.

AIR FORCE SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, Hurlburt Field, Florida, has as its motto "Air Commandos--Quiet Professionals." Its mission is to organize, train, equip, and educate special operations units of the Air Force. This would such unconventional warfare as dealing with terrorism.

AIR TRAINING COMMAND, Randolph AFB, Texas, recruits and trains airmen and officers for the Air Force. Since it was created in 1943 during World War II, it has trained more than ten million people! Anyone who joins the Air Force will at some time be trained by this command. It provides, among other things, basic military and officer training(at Lackland AFB, Texas), reserve officer training(headquarters Maxwell AFB, Alabama), and technical training in nearly 350 different fields at six centers in Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, and Texas. This command also runs a fifty-two-week pilot training program at five bases in Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas; navigator school at Mather AFB, California; and space training for specialists at Lowrt AFB, Colorado.

AIR UNIVERSITY, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, sees to the higher education of Air Force officers at various locations around the country. It may be thought of as the Air
Force officers at various locations around the country. It may be thought of as the Air Force Academy's graduate school.

PACIFIC AIR FORCE, Hickam AFB, Hawaii, provides the U.S. Pacific Command with everything it needs for air combat.

UNITED STATES AIR FORCES IN EUROPE, Ramstein AFB, Germany, provides the U.S. European Command with what it needs for air combat.

The thirty-four Field Operating Agencies include such units as the Air Weather Service, the Civilian Personnel Management Center, and the Air Force Reserve. The three Direct Reporting Units are the Air Force District of Washington, the Air Force District of Washington, the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, and the United States Air Force Academy.

The basic fighting unit of the Air Force has always been and continues to be the "wing". A wing is stationed at one base and has one commander. Some wings operate only one kind of aircraft, such as fighters or bombers. Others are composite wings. They might have, for example, fighters, tankers, and special-mission craft. They are designed to get to trouble spots in a hurry anywhere in the world, another example of "global reach--global power."

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