John M. White

The United States Air Force Academy

Mar 31, 2023

In January of 1905 two young inventors from Dayton, Ohio sent a proposal to provide the US government with a heavier-than-air flying machine. Many doubted that Wilbur and Orville had actually invented a workable airplane.

However, the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications examined the Wright's proposal despite the fact that the role in warfare for airships, gliders, and airplanes was not at all clear.

Only hot air ballons had proved of any value back in the battle of Fleurus in 1794. But during the Civil War, balllons had been used by the Signal Corps which procured and operated them for the US Army.

It wasn't until 1892 before the Signal Corp formed a permanent ballon section, and the use of ballons during the war with Spain in 1898 was undistinguished.

During that same year Samuel P. Langley had been contracted to build a hevaier-than-air flying machine.

After a number of experiments Langley finally had built his heavier-than-air steam powered design called a Langley Aerodrome.

Langley's steam powered Aerodrome No. 5 sitting in the Smithsonian following two successful flights on May 6, 1896.

Langley's steam powered Aerodrome No. 5 sitting in the Smithsonian following two successful flights on May 6, 1896.

Unfortunately, while demonstrating the Langley Aerodrome to the Signal Corps on December 8, 1903, the short flight ended with a spectacular dive into the Potomic River.

Nine days later, on December 17, 1903 at 10:35 am in the morning, Orville Wright pilots the Wright Flyer 120 feet down the beach at Kittyhawk, NC.

That same day they flew the Wright Flyer three more times getting a feel for the controls and extending the distance flown until on the fourth flight they flew 852 feet in 59 seconds.

The Wright Flyer Dimensions:

  • Wingspan: 40 feet 4 inches
  • Length: 21 feet 1 inch
  • Height: 9 feet 4 inches
  • Empty weight: 605 pounds
  • Gross weight: 750 pounds

Wilbur Wright alongside Orville's first successful flight of their Wright Flyer on december 17, 1903.
Wilbur Wright alongside Orville's first successful flight of their Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903.  

Manned aircraft flight then accellerated through World Wars One and Two with huge leaps in technology and aircraft performance.

The United States Air Force

On August 1, 1907, the air service branch of the United States Army Signal Corps was created, and consisted of one officer, Capt. Charles deForest Chandlere, two enlisted men, Cpl. Ward and PFC Barrett, along with several kite ballons.

In September of 1908 they acquired the first official airplane from the Wright Brothers for a cost of $ 25,000.

Wold War I provided the early aviators with a change to prove their daring in combat. A volunteer flying unit under the French Flag, the Lafayette Escadrille, demonstrated to the United States the capability of American pilots in aerial warfare.

Pilots like Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Luke became household heroes as they became combat aces in the air war during World War I.

The period between the two world wars provided more inovations and achievements in improvements in aircraft design leading to new records in flight endurance and aircraft capabilities.

By 1926 the Air Service was redesignated as the U.S. Army Air Corps and slowly grew to 15 groups and three air wings by 1938.

In 1947 the U.S. Army Air Corps became a separate branch known as the U.S. Air Force.

The Air Force Academy

On April 1st, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law an Act of Congress to establish the United States Air Force Academy "for the instruction and preparation for military service of selected persons who shall be known as Air Force cadets."

Secretary of the Air Force Talbot appointed a commission to select a location for the new Air Force Academy.

580 locations were proposed and, after review, the choices boiled down to three suitable sites: Alton, Illinois, Lake Geneca, Wisconsin, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In the end a site on the eastern slope of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado was chosen. In consisted of 18,455 acres at an elevation of 7,528 feet above sea level.

The future location of the North Gate, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The future location of the North Gate, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The first class consisting of 306 men constitued the Class of 1959, and they began their training at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colorado on July 11th, 1955.

The first class of cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Class of 1959, are sworn in at Lowry Air Force Base, 11 July 1955.
The first class of cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Class of 1959, are sworn in at Lowry Air Force Base, 11 July 1955. 

The architectural firm of Skidmore, Oings & Merrill of Chicago, Illinois was selected to design the new Air Force Academy. It features a modernistic style with an asymmetrical arrangement of buildings within a rectangular area.

The buildings were raised on stilts and included the generous use of glass.

The unveiling of the architectural model of the US Air Force Academy campus on May 14, 1955.
The unveiling of the architectural model of the US Air Force Academy campus on May 14, 1955. 

 The Air Force Academy under construction looking to the northwest.
The Air Force Academy under construction looking to the northwest.

One of the most striking buildings on campus is the Cadet Chapel pictured below:

An evening picture of the Cadet Chapel on the U.S. Air Force Academy campus.
An evening picture of the Cadet Chapel on the U.S. Air Force Academy campus. 

Admissions

To be eligible to enter the U.S. Air Force Academy, each candidate must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States (unless nominated by an official of a country invited by the Department of Defense.)
  • Be unmarried with no dependents
  • Be of good moral character
  • Be at least 17, but less than 23 years of age by July 1st of the year of entry
  • Meet high leadership, academic, physical and medical standards

In addition to the normal application process, all candidates must secure a nomination to the academy, normally by a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative.

Each member of Congress and the Vice President can have five appointees attending the Air Force Academy at any time.

Alumini of the U.S. Air Force Academy are referred to as the Long Blue Line.

The class of 2023 consists of 1,150 cadets who, over the next four years, will 

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here:: Subscribe here.

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

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