On Sept. 18, the United States Air Force will become 72 years old. Yet while this anniversary represents more than seven decades of the Air Force operating as a single organized entity, its history as one of the premier air powers in the world began at the turn of the twentieth century.
President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on July 26, 1947, which officially established the Department of the Air Force, and on Sept. 18 of the same year the first Secretary of the Air Force, W. Stuart Symington, would be sworn in and officially cement the creation of the new department.
The Act reads that the purpose of organizing the U.S. Armed Forces was, “To provide a comprehensive program for the future security of the United States; to provide three military departments: the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; to provide for their coordination and unified direction under civilian control and to provide for the effective strategic direction and operation of the Armed Forces under unified control.”
Yet the Air Force’s original foundation was set 40 years prior in 1907, when the U.S. Army Signal Corps established a small Aeronautical Division to “take charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects.” This fateful decision was made only four years after the Wright Brothers successfully completed the first-ever airplane flight in 1903.
After that decision, it wasn’t until two years later that the U.S. Army manufactured its first aircraft in 1909 and in 1913 the first Army unit devoted exclusively to aviation, the 1st Aero Squadron, was formed, a unit which continues to operate today as the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron.
The need for air supremacy and a more organized flying force became apparent during World War II, and this need was backed up by the establishment of major air bases such as Tinker. Now home to the largest air logistics center in the Air Force Materiel Command, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Tinker was established in 1941 and has since continued to play a central role by serving as one of the largest depots in the Air Force.
Between the purchase of its first aircraft and the establishment of Tinker AFB, the Air Force went through several designations as the Aeronautical Section, Signal Corps (1909); Aviation Section, Signal Corps (1914); United States Army Air Service (1918); United States Army Air Corps (1926) and United States Army Air Forces (1941).
Now in its 72nd official year, the purpose of forming the U.S. Air Force remains as central to U.S. security as it did at the time of the National Security Act’s establishment.