It wasn’t an easy birth. The Air Force left the Army and become an independent service of the Defense Department on September 18, 1947, when the National Security Act of 1947, signed by President Harry S. Truman that July, went into effect. The act created the new Department of Defense from the old War and Navy Departments and created the Air Force (as well as the Central Intelligence Agency). The changes came after months of often contentious wrangling within the military, with both the Army and the Navy (which included the Marines) determined to retain their own air arms. Stuart Symington became the Air Force’s first secretary and Carl Spaatz assumed the role of the service’s first chief of staff.
The 75 years since then have been a time of continuous change. The newly born Air Force was still flying mostly propeller-driven aircraft in 1947 and continued to do so during the Korean conflict, even as jets like the North American F-86 Sabre began taking the vanguard. In fact, the technological advances in the Air Force over the past 75 years have been breathtaking—and include the high-flying Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird that became a vitally important eye in the sky, the stealth aircraft (Lockheed F-117 and Northrup Grumman B-2) developed to evade radar, and unmanned drones that receive their commands from thousands of miles away.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the hard work of the men and women in Air Force uniforms who remain dedicated to preserving and protecting the United States, whether they are flying Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers for refueling operations, making mission-sustaining supply flights in lumbering Lockheed C-5 Galaxies, keeping their fellow airmen alive and healthy as medics or performing the myriad (and often unsung) jobs necessary to keep the Air Force functioning. As the service’s motto says, they intend to “Aim high: fly-fight-win,” something the Air Force has been doing for three-quarters of a century now.
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this article first appeared in AVIATION HISTORY magazine