The United States Air Force performs its military operations using
aircraft and missiles. In peacetime, it works with other military
and civilian agencies to develop and improve aircraft, rockets,
and missiles, and explore outer space. In wartime, the Air Force has many jobs: to seek and destroy enemy targets and supplies, survey enemy territory and gain strategic information, and support ground and naval forces of the other armed services in battle.
The Air Force operates many different kinds of aircraft. Most are jets, although they also use propeller-driven helicopters. Bombers, such as the B-52, FB-111, and the Stealth, are designed to drop explosives over enemy territory. They are also equipped to launch missiles. Fighters, such as the F-15, the F-16, and the F-111, are also equipped with missiles and can attack other aircraft as well as ground targets. The F-15 and F-111 can fly at two-and-a-half times the speed of sound (Mach 2.5). Other aircraft include transport planes, which carry equipment and personnel; tankers, which can refuel other planes in flight; and observation planes.
Many important weapons have been developed by the Air Force. Among them are the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with a range of about 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers). Missiles are categorized by their launch sites and target locations: air-to-air (AAM), air-to-surface (ASM), or surface-to-surface (SSM).
The entire Air Force is divided into separate units that are
under the supervision of the secretary of defense, the secretary
of the Air Force, and the Air Force chief of staff. Each unit
(or major command) is responsible for certain special tasks.
The Air Force Communications Command (AFCC) operates and maintains the complex communications system; and the Electronic Security Command (ESC) provides intelligence and security support to other units.
The Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) buys, transports, maintains, and repairs equipment; and the Air Force Space Command (AFSC) researches, develops, and obtains new aircraft and equipment.
The Air Training Command (ATC) recruits and trains more than 400,000 people each year. It also oversees the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in civilian colleges and universities; and the Air University (AU) provides military education and continuing education for commissioned and noncommissioned officers and Department of Defense personal.
The Alaska Air Command (AAC) provides the fist line of defense for North America; the Military Airlift Command (MAC) transports combat forces and supplies to strategic positions; and the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)maintains air security from the West Coast of the United States to the East Coast of Africa.
The strategic Air Command (SAC), the Air Forces largest command, provides the nuclear capabilities to prevent an attack on the United States.
The Tactical Air Command (TAC) provides the mobile strike force that transports the general purpose forces anywhere in the world. TAC is responsible for working with the other branches of the Armed Forces in matters that require a co-operative effort.
The U.S. Air Force in Europe (USAFE), the air component of the United States European Command, provides technical assistance to the air forces of allied nations in Europe.
|Women can serve in any job in the Air Force except those involving combat. The requirements for enlistment and commissioning are the same as for men. For enlistment, women must be between the ages of 17 and 28 and pass a qualifying test; for commissioning, women must be college graduates and not yet 30 years of age. There are approximately 75,000 women now serving in the Air Force.|
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|1861||Air service was introduced to the Army by a balloon ascent at Washington, D.C.; the first military reconnaissance flights in a balloon took place in Virginia.|
|1892||A balloon section was attached to the Signal Corps telegraph units.|
|1902||An Army balloon unit was organized at Fort Myer, Va.|
|1903||Orville Wright piloted the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.|
|1907||Army set up an Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.|
|1909||The Army bought its first plane from the Wright brothers.|
|1914||Aviation section of the Signal Corps took charge of aviation operations.|
|1917||The First Aero Squadron arrived in France in World War I.|
|1921||Brigadier General William Mitchell sank a battleship in an air bombing demonstration.|
|1924||First round-the-world flight was completed by Air Service fliers.|
|1926||Congress established the U.S. Army Air Corps.|
|1935||General Headquarters Air Force was established; this was the first use of the term "Air Force."|
|1941||War Department set up the Army Air Forces.|
|1945||An Army Air Forces B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima.|
|1947||The U.S. Air Force was created as a separate service; Captain Charles E. Yaeger piloted an X-1 rocket-powered research aircraft through the sound barrier.|
|1948||The Berlin Airlift began.|
|1950||U.S. Air Force was ordered into action in Korea; this marked first test of American jets in combat.|
|1954||Congress authorized establishment of U.S. Air Force Academy.|
|1957||Air Force successfully fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile.|
|1959||U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, graduated its first class.|
|1963||Exercise Big Lift: Air Force moved an Army division of over 15,000 men in 196 aircraft from United States to Europe in about sixty hours.|
|1965 1973||U.S. Air Force participated in the Vietnam War, the longest in its history.|
|1976||Women cadets were admitted to U.S. Air Force Academy.|
|1983||U.S. Air Force participated in the rescue of Americans during the invasion of Grenada.|
|1986||U.S. Air Force engaged in a limited air strike against two Libyan military installations in response to terrorist attacks by Libya.|