By Mike Case

The Air Force’s origins can be traced to the earliest days of military aviation in the U.S. First known as the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the precursor to the Air Force was organized in 1907.

As part of the U.S. Army, it went through a few name and organizational changes until finally, on September 18, 1947, the Air Force was officially established as an independent and separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

To celebrate the 72nd Air Force birthday, here are 10 facts you’ll want to put on your radar:

Samuel Pierpont Langley’s tandem float bi-plane. | Photo credit Library of Congress

1. Langley Air Force Base is the oldest continuously active Air Force base in the world.

Named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, an early aviation pioneer who flew unmanned powered aircraft models as early as 1896 (the Wright Brothers first manned powered flight was in 1903), Langley Air Force Base was opened in 1916. In 2010, Langley Air Force Base merged with Ft. Eustis to become Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

2. The Air Force’s first major operation was the Berlin Airlift.

From June 1948 to May 1949, the Air Force led the effort to deliver food and other supplies to the cut-off citizens of Berlin which had been blockaded by the Soviet Union.

Photo credit Air Force Museum/DVIDS

This photo, from the Berlin Airlift, shows a C-54 Skymaster on the tarmac at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany.

On Easter Sunday of 1949 alone, the Air Force delivered 13,000 tons of essential cargo including, according to official USAF history, the equivalent of “600 railroad cars of coal.”

3. The parade uniforms worn by the Air Force Academy cadets were designed by famous early Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille.

Photo credit Air Force Photo

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets march in formation during the Founder’s Day Parade.

4. The Air Force Academy’s mascot is, appropriately, the fast and agile falcon.

Aurora is the Academy’s official and oldest mascot. She is a White Phase Gyrfalcon, a falcon species that is extremely rare in the wild. | Photo credit Air Force/Joshua Armstrong

The 1959 class of cadets (the first to enter the academy) choose the name “Mach 1” for the Air Force’s first living falcon mascot. Several falcons have served as the academy’s living mascot, one of which has even been bird-napped. The falcon, named Aurora, suffered injuries due to the incident. Fortunately, after a brief convalescence, the bird was able to return to duty.

5. Numerous notable people have served with the Air Force, including:

  • Chuck Yeager, World War II fighter ace and the first pilot to break the sound barrier
  • “Sully” Sullenberger, “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot
  • Eileen Collins, astronaut and the first female commander of a Space Shuttle

Other former Airmen might surprise you, like:

Bob Ross. | Photo credit DoD

  • Willie Nelson, legendary country singer
  • Morgan Freeman, Academy Award-winning actor
  • Robin Quivers, radio personality
  • Hunter S. Thompson, writer and journalist
  • Bob Ross, PBS painting icon

According to legend, Ross got his first taste of painting while attending a painting class at a USO center while he was stationed in Alaska in 1963.

6. Starting in 1947, the Air Force investigated unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings as part of Project Blue Book.

There was even a questionnaire and procedure for reporting UFOs. Project Blue Book ended in 1969, but don’t worry; in 2007, the Pentagon started studying UFO sightings again under the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification program.

A crew prepares to off-load cargo from a C-5M Super Galaxy. | Photo credit DVIDS/Tech. Sgt. Nicholas A. Priest

7. The largest aircraft operated by the Air Force is the C-5m Super Galaxy.

This plane can carry over 280,000 pounds of cargo, and it has doors in the nose and aft so it can be simultaneously unloaded and loaded. The Super Galaxy can also fly for an incredible 5,500 miles while carrying 120,000 pounds before it needs to be refueled.

8. The Air Force’s distinctive close air support aircraft, the A-10, is affectionately nicknamed the “Warthog.”

However, its official name is the Thunderbolt II, named after the WWII fighter plane, the P-47 Thunderbolt (which was, in turn, nicknamed the “Jug”). Introduced in 1975, the A-10 is expected to serve until at least 2028.

Photo credit DVIDS/Airman 1st Class Giovanni Sims

A P-47 Thunderbolt and two A-10C Thunderbolt IIs fly.

9. Did you know the Air Force operates a tugboat?

Yes, you read that right. The tugboat, called the Rising Star, is based in Thule, Greenland. It operates about three months a year (while its port is free of ice), and supports the ships that supply the military’s northernmost base – Thule Air Base. The rest of the year its pulled up on the beach.

Pararescuemen rappel from helicopter. | Photo credit DVIDS/Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie

10. Air Force pararescuemen, better known as PJs combat force trained and equipped to rescue downed pilots and other military personnel under hostile and dangerous conditions.

The motto is “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” All PJs are trained in special weapons, tactics and parachute operations, such as high altitude low opening (HALO) jumps. All PJs are also highly trained medics and rescue swimmers.