One hundred and fifteen years ago today, the U.S. War Department created what eventually became known as the Air Force.
Air Force Day was officially established on this day (August 1) in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman “in recognition of the personnel of the victorious Army Air Forces and all those who have developed and maintained our nation’s air strength.”
With the announcement, Truman was marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment in 1907 of what was then known as the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army.
Because the Air Force was originally part of the Army, the celebration of the first Air Force Day was staged by the Army Air Forces rather than the U.S. Air Force.
Truman Provides Reminder to Americans
World War II had ended in 1945, and Truman and other governmental officials wanted to make sure the American public was aware of the large role the Air Force had played in the Allies’ victory over the Axis powers.
The original pronouncement read in part that the Air Force Day celebration was a need to increase “both official and public awareness of the priority of importance of air forces in any system of national security.”
Truman stated, “The great strategic fact of our generation is that the United States now possesses live frontiers – the frontiers of the air – and that the oceans are no longer sure ramparts against attack.”
His message to the nation continued. “I remind all of our citizens that the air power of the nation is essential to the preservation of our liberty, and that the continued development of the science of air transportation is vital to the trade and commerce of a peaceful world.”
Air Force Gains Unique Identity
This increased awareness of the crucial nature of air superiority brought the Department of Defense closer to establishing what we now know as the U.S. Air Force.
Just seven weeks later – on September 18 – the National Security Act of 1947 was passed. That made the U.S. Air Force a separate but equal member of the United States Armed Forces. And that’s why September 18 is now considered the Air Force’s birthday.
Now with a unique identity, the Air Force established its own uniforms, command structure and organization. Tactical commanders no longer reported to superiors with no flying experience.
But the Army was not quite ready to relinquish all its air activities. They used helicopters in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and eventually weaponized helicopters. In 1983, the Army Aviation Branch was born.
Balloons Got It All Started
For those who like to dig deeper into the past, the original “seed” of the Air Force might have been planted in 1861. That’s when the Union Army Balloon Corps was created for reconnaissance.
During World War I, balloons were used for observation purposes. Including submarine spotting.
Eventually, balloons were replaced by propeller aircraft, fixed-wing aviation and helicopters.
The Army Signal Corps, the Division of Military Aeronautics and the Army Air Service controlled U.S. aeronautic and aviation activities prior to and during World War I. The Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces were in charge prior to and during World War II
6 Core Missions
One of eight U.S. uniformed services, the Air Force has six core missions. They are air supremacy, global integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.
In addition to conducting independent air operations, the Air Force provides air support for land and naval forces, and aids in the recovery of troops.
According to 2017 statistics, the Air Force operates well over 5,000 military aircraft and 400-plus ICBMs.
There are approximately 330,000 active-duty airmen, 170,000 civilian personnel, nearly 70,000 reserve airmen and more than 107,000 National Guard airmen.
The U.S. Air Force has been involved in numerous wars, conflicts and humanitarian operations through the years.
Military operations have included the Mexican Expedition in 1916-17, World Wars I and II, and the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
Others include Operation Eagle Claw, the Iran hostage rescue attempt in 1980; Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada in 1983; Operation El Dorado Canyon, the bombing of Libya in 1986; and Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama in 1989-90.
In addition, there was Operation Southern Watch, the 1992-2003 Iraq no-fly zone; Operation Deliberate Force, the NATO bombing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995; Operation Desert Fox, the bombing of Iraq in 1998; and Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Libyan no-fly zone in 2011.
As mentioned, the U.S. Air Force has also been involved in a number of humanitarian efforts.
They include the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, also known as Operation Vittles; Operation Safe Haven in 1956-57, following the Hungarian Revolution; and Operation Babylift in 1975, evacuating children from South Vietnam.
Others include Operation Provide Comfort, defending Kurdish refugees fleeing northern Iraq; and Operation Sea Angel, relief efforts following the Bangladesh cyclone, both in 1991.
Plus Operation Provide Hope, delivering medical equipment to former Soviet republics during their transition to capitalism in 1992-93; Operation Unified Assistance, a response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004; and Operation Unified Response, following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Air Force Day is now celebrated as part of Armed Forces Day in May, but August 1 will always be remembered as the original Air Force Day and the branch’s original creation in 1907.