James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The United States Air Force Celebrates Its 65th Birthday Today

by James M. Lindsay
September 18, 2012

F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over the Hudson River in New York. (Eduardo Munoz/ courtesy Reuters) F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over the Hudson River in New York. (Eduardo Munoz/ courtesy Reuters)

The United States Air Force (USAF) turns 65 years-old today. On September 18, 1947, Chief Justice Fred Vinson swore in Stuart Symington as the first secretary of the Air Force, officially founding a new branch of the U.S. military. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz became the USAF’s first chief of staff eight days later on September 26, 1947.

The USAF tracks its origins to a decision made just four years after the Wright Brothers conducted the world’s first airplane flight over the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps created an Aeronautical Division and put it in “charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects.” As aviation technology improved, the army’s air force grew bigger. An independent military arm became virtually inevitable after the Army Air Forces became an autonomous U.S. Army Command in 1942 and then grew substantially throughout the remainder of World War II. On July 26, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on board the presidential aircraft, the Sacred Cow, and set the creation of the USAF in motion.

Col. Brian Killough, an air force officer spending a year as a visiting military fellow in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program, kindly responded to my request for what books he would recommend to people who want to know more about the history of the USAF. He gave me five recommendations from the Air Force Historical Studies Office:

McFarland, Stephen L. A Concise History of the U.S. Air Force (2012).

Nalty, Bernard C. (ed.). Winged Shield, Winged Sword: A History of the United States Air Force, 2 volumes (1997).

Nalty, Bernard C., John F. Shiner, and George M. Watson (eds.). With Courage: The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II (2005).

Wolk, Herman S. The Struggle for Air Force Independence, 1943-1947 (1997).

Wolk, Herman S. Toward Independence: The Emergence of the U.S. Air Force,1945-1947 (1996).

A tip of the TWE cap to all the airmen and airwomen who have worn the uniform of the USAF.

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