United States Air Force
The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aviation branch of the United States armed forces. The mission of the USAF is "to defend the United States through the control and exploitation of air and space."
There are three components of the USAF:
The Secretary of the Air Force is Dr. James G. Roche. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force is General (Gen) John P. Jumper. The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force is the senior enlisted person in the Air Force. In 2002 the position was held by Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) Gerald R. Murray.
The USAF is organized into nine major commands (MAJCOMS), reporting to Headquarters, United States Air Force:
Numbered Air Forces
Air Forces within the major commands:
Wings are composed of several groups with different functional responsibilities. Groups are composed of several squadrons, each of which has one major responsibility or flying one type of airfcraft. Squadrons are composed of two or more flights.
Other Air Force organizations
For a detailed history, see United States Air Force--History.
In December 1906, the U.S. military began its relationship with aviation by authorizing Army Specification #486, which called for the creation of an aircraft for military usage. Just three years earlier, the Wright Brothers first experienced heavier-than-air flight, and they signed a contract with the Army on February 10, 1908.
In 1912, an Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps was created.
In 1917, upon the United States' entry into World War I, the U.S. Army Air Service was formed as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Major General Patrick Mason commanded the AEF air forces; his deputy was Major General Billy Mitchell. The Air Service provided tactical support for the U.S. Army, especially during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensives. Among the aces of the Air Service were Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Luke.
In 1926 the Air Service was reorganized as a branch of the Army and became the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC). During this period, the USAAC began experimenting with new techniques, including air-to-air refueling and the development of the B-9 and the Martin B-10, the first all-metal monoplane bomber, and new fighters. In 1937, the B-17 Flying Fortress made its first appearance. In a spectacular feat of navigation, three B-17s intercepted the Italian passenger liner Rex at sea.
In 1941, the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Force and the GHQ Air Force was redesignated the Air Force Combat Command. In the major military reorganization effective March 9, 1942, the newly designated Army Air Forces gained equal voice with the Army and Navy.
In Europe, the USAAF began daylight bombing operations, over objections of the Royal Air Force planners on the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The US strategy involved flying bombers together, relying on the defensive firepower of a close formation. The tactic was only successful in part. American flyers took tremendous casualties during raids on the oil refineries of Ploiesti, Romania and the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt and Regensburg, Germany. When the P-51 Mustang, with its increased range, was introduced to combat, American combat losses dropped, and operations during Big Week in late winter of 1944 caused the Luftwaffe to lose experienced pilots.
In the Pacific theater, the USAAF used the B-29 Superfortress to launch attacks on the Japanese mainland from China. One of the major logisitical efforts of the war, "flying the Hump" over the Himalayas, took place. To carry both a bomb load and fuel and to bomb at high altitude through the jet stream affected the B-29's range. As soon as airbases on Saipan were captured in 1944, General Curtis LeMay changed strategy from high-level precision bombings to low-level incendiary bombings, aimed at destroying the distributed network of Japanese industrial manufacturing. Many Japanese cities suffered extensive damage. Tokyo suffered a firestorm in which over 100,000 persons died.
The United States Department of the Air Force was created when President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947. It became effective September 18, 1947, when Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson administered the oath of office to the first secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington.
In 1948, Communist authorities in Eastern Germany cut off road and air transportation to West Berlin. Military Airlift Command supplied the city during the Berlin airlift, using C-121 Constellation and the C-54 Skymaster. The Royal Air Force also played a significant role in flying tonnage into the city with Avro Yorks, Avro Tudors and Douglas Dakotas.
The Korean War saw the Far Eastern Air Force losing its main airbase in Kimpo, South Korea, and forced to provide close air support to the defenders of the Pusan pocket from bases in Japan. However, General Douglas B. MacArthur's landing at Inchon in September 1950 enabled the FEAF to return to Kimpo and other bases, from which they supported MacArthur's drive to the Korean-Chinese border. When the Chinese People's Liberation Army intervened in December, 1950, the USAF provided tactical air support. The introduction of the Soviet-made MiG-15 caused problems for the B-29s used to bomb North Korea, but the USAF countered the MiGs with the F-86 Sabre.
The USAF played a significant role in the preparations for the 1991 Gulf War, and the use of USAF, U.S. Naval, and other Coalition air power damaged the Iraqi infrastructure and combat abilities for six weeks, before the ground phase of the war began.
After the war, the USAF took the lead role in maintaining "no-fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The United States Air Force currently employs a designation and naming system to identify all aircraft type with distinct names. Until 1962, both the Army and Air Force maintained one system, while the US Navy maintained a separate system. In 1962, these were unified into a single system heavily reflecting the Army/Air Force method. For more complete information on the workings of this system, refer to United States Department of Defense Aerospace Vehicle Designations.
A full list of Air Force badges is displayed through the article Military badges of the United States