September 18, 2022, marks the 75th birthday of the United States Air Force. This branch of the United States military was established through the National Security Act, though officials realized the strategic value of air power long before.
During the Civil War, military balloons provided an eagle-eye view of the battlefield and helped military leaders conduct reconnaissance missions and direct fire over enemy territory. In 1907, the US Army Signal Corps created the Aeronautical Division and contracted with the Wright Brothers to deliver Aeroplane No. 1. Still in its infancy when WWI began, military aviation quickly expanded. In 1918, the government removed aviation from the Signal Corps and established the US Army Air Service. By the time WWI ended, the Air Service had nearly 200,000 officers and men, 45 squadrons, and 740 planes. Following WWI, the Army Reorganization Act in 1920 created the Air Service, and the Air Corps Act of 1926 established the Army Air Corps.
As the United States entered WWII, the Army Air Forces supplanted the Army Air Corps in 1941. By 1942, the Army Air Forces fell under a single command that rapidly expanded to include 16 air forces, 2.4 million officers and men, and some 80,000 aircraft. Nearly 30,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps during WWII. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was created in September 1942 to allow female pilots who worked as civilians attached to the Army Air Forces to ferry planes, fighters, bombers, and transports within the United States. They also trained male airmen. In 1943, they became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), an organization that broke ground for later USAF female pilots.
Two years after WWII ended, the National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of the Air Force, and on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born. As an official branch of the military, the USAF began to diversify. During WWII, most personnel in the Army Air Force were white males. Still, the success of the Black WWII fighter pilots from the 332d Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen) in Italy helped pave the way for racial integration in the USAF. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 abolishing segregation in the armed forces.
President Truman also signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. It allowed women to serve in limited roles in the USAF. In 1976, women were accepted into the USAF on an equal basis with men. Jeannie Marie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot in the USAF in 1993. She later commanded a combat fighter wing.
Today, as the USAF celebrates 75 years, they continue to adapt to rapid technological changes to make America the leader in airpower. The Air Force’s five core missions include air 1- superiority, 2- global strike, 3- rapid global mobility, 4- intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and 5- command and control.
If you would like to learn more about the critical role played by the USAF and its predecessor organizations in defense of the nation, explore these and other related collections today on Fold3®: