What is the Air Force Known for in the Modern Military World?

By Danielle DeSimone

As the most powerful air force in the world, the U.S. Air Force is a military branch to be reckoned with. But why was the Air Force created and what is the Air Force known for in the modern military world? Here are 8 facts about the Air Force and its history.

1. The Air Force Has Over 300,000 Active-Duty Airmen in Its Ranks.

Notably, nearly one third of all female service members are in the Air Force, compared to 22% of men.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force/Trevor Cokley

Air Force cadets march in formation in October 2020 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

2. The Air Force Used to Be a Part of the Army.

First known as the Army Air Corps, this subset of the U.S. Army later in 1941 became known as the Army Air Forces (AAF). When the U.S. entered World War II, it became apparent how crucial a separate air force branch was to the military, as air combat became a much larger and more important aspect of warfare.

Photo credit National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

Men of the all-African American 477th Bombardment Group pose in front of a North American B-25 Mitchell. The 477th trained pilots who would become the legendary World War II aviators known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Following the end of the war, the U.S. Air Force was officially established on September 18, 1947.

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3. The Air Force Provides Transportation for the President of the United States.

“Air Force One” is not a specific plane, it is the name used to designate any Air Force aircraft carrying the U.S. president. In recent years, presidents have flown in a Boeing 747-200B series aircraft.

Photo credit DVIDS/Donna L. Burnett

“Air Force One” is the name given to any U.S. Air Force aircraft used to transport the president of the United States.

4. The Branch is Famous for Tracking Santa Claus.

The Air Force tracks Santa’s movements on Christmas Eve across the globe through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Photo credit DVIDS/Sgt. Jeff Fitzmorris

Pictured here on Dec. 24, 2019, service members and volunteers come together each year at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., to answer phone calls from children all across the country, requesting status updates on Santa Claus’ location.

The tradition began in 1955, when a young child accidently called the unlisted phone number of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, believing she was calling Santa Claus after seeing a promotion in a local newspaper. The commander on duty that night quickly realized the mistake and reassured the child that the Air Force would ensure Santa’s safe journey. NORAD continued the tradition in the following decades and today, children can follow Santa Claus’ journey online or call NORAD on Christmas Eve to receive reports on Santa’s up-to-date location.

5. The Air Force is Known for Breaking the Sound Barrier

At the young age of 24, U.S. Air Force pilot Capt. Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier – that is, fly faster than the speed of sound. The feat was accomplished over the Mojave Desert in California in 1947. Flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet, Yeager’s Bell X-1 aircraft exceeded 662 mph, the sound barrier at that altitude.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force

Chuck Yeager, an Air Force pilot who was the first person to ever break the sound barrier, poses in front of the Bell X-1 aircraft, which he flew in to perform the feat. As with all aircraft assigned to him, Yeager named the plane “Glamorous Glennis” after his wife.

Yeager was already an accomplished fighter pilot who served in World War II at the time; he would go on to break several other records, fly over 360 different kinds of aircraft and also serve in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars throughout his 34 years of service.

Photo credit DVIDS/Joseph Barker

An Air Force F-16 jet breaks the sound barrier during a fly-over at the 2021 Miami Air and Sea Show.

6. The Air Force is Known for Being Professional Storm Chasers in the Modern Military World

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, aka the “Hurricane Hunters,” is the only Air Force unit tasked with the mission of collecting data from the inside of a storm and flying into the eye of hurricanes.

Photo credit DVIDS/Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo

Service members read data during a Hurricane Hunter mission into Hurricane Dorian.

These storm chasers, who are part of this all-Reserve unit, are crucial to gathering intel on weather that could impact U.S. military operations, as well as protect the general American public from incoming, dangerous weather systems.

7. The Air Force is Known for Its Military Flying Team

Maj. Zane Taylor, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” slot pilot, flies over Indianapolis Motor Speedway in close proximity to other members of his squadron in 2020. | Photo credit U.S. Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Andrew D. Sarver

The U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds is the branch’s air demonstration team. Much like the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds display both the incredible abilities of both Air Force pilots and their aircraft at air shows and flyovers across the nation.

8. The Air Force’s Mission Extends Beyond Protecting the Skies

Aside from flying in combat, the Air Force also protects the U.S. from cyber warfare, with an entire U.S. Air Force Cyber War Fare Wing dedicated to protecting critical systems and software that are crucial to the Air Force and U.S. operations.

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