Air Force Birthday
The official Air Force Birthday is recognized as September 18, 1947, which is the date of the passage of the National Security Act of 1947. That legislation created what would later become to known as the United States Department of Defense. This established the United States Air Force as a separate branch of military service.
The 73rd Air Force Day will be celebrated on Friday, September 18, 2020.
Before the creation of the Air Force, the military’s flying operations were handled by the U.S. Army on land and the Navy by sea. The history of this branch of service is an important part of the history of air power in the United States. Naturally, the Air Force birthday owes a great deal to Orville and Wilbur Wright who pioneered mechanized flight with their successful mission in 1903.
But the Air Force also owes a great deal to Army pioneers who, roughly four years after the Wright Brothers’ triumph at Kitty Hawk, began experimenting with using air superiority to gain tactical advantages in combat.
Balloons had long been used for observation of various kinds. When the U.S. Civil War began, ballooning was adopted as a reconnaissance tool. One example took place in 1862, the Union Balloon Corps kept watch over the Battle of Gaines’ Mill and telegraphed information to the ground as the battle unfolded.
The prospect of air power was so compelling even then that President Abraham Lincoln called a meeting with Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, an early pioneer of aeronautics to discuss how the Union Army could further its cause from the air. Lowe was later the head of the U.S. Army Balloon Corps.
The Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk
In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first mechanical, heavier-than-air flight using a gas-powered, propeller aircraft. Their first successful plane flight in history flew for 12 seconds and 120 feet before returning to land . Orville piloted the aircraft on its inaugural flight. The plane would fly 852 feet in 59 seconds later the same day. The Wright Brothers had discovered how to defy gravity. They had previously designed gliders, but this mechanized flight transformed aviation history.
Enter the U.S. Army Signal Corps
When Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was named chief of the Union Army Balloon Corps, the long march to a separate Air Force began. The Army had several units dedicated to military flying over from the year 1907 to 1914. The timeline of Army aviation includes the following pre-Air Force organizations:
Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps (August 1907 – July 1914)
Aviation Section, Signal Corps (July 1914 – May 1918)
Division of Military Aeronautics (May 1918 – May 1918)
Air Service, U.S. Army (May 1918 – July 1926)
U.S. Army Air Corps (July 1926 – June 1941)
U.S. Army Air Forces (June 1941 – September 1947)
World War One and The Court-Martial of General Billy Mitchell
The World War One era saw the creation of the U.S. Army Air Service, which would prove to be a crucial turn for the future United States Air Force. The Deputy Commander of the Air Service was Brigadier General Billy Mitchell who went on record as an extremely vocal supporter of military airpower. Mitchell became embroiled in a power struggle to assign coastal defense over to airpower rather than Navy protection.
In 1925, Mitchell went too far by publicly accusing Navy officials of criminal negligence and incompetent behavior. This resulted with the six week court-martial proceedings against Billy Mitchell as a pulpit to extol the virtues of military airpower.