U. S. A. F.


United States Air Force


Air National Guard
Air Force Reserves
Air Force Auxilliary (Civil Air Patrol)
Major Commands
Air Combat Command
Air Education and Training Command
Air Force Materiel Command
Air Force Reserve Command
Air Force Space Command
Air Force Special Operations Command
Air Mobility Command
Pacific Air Forces
United States Air Forces in Europe
(proposed) Air Force Cyberspace Command
Field Operating Agencies
Direct Reporting Units
Separate Operating Agencies
Major Commands
Numbered Air Forces
Operational Commands
The Pentagon
Air Force Academy
Airman Battle Uniform
Awards, Decorations and Badges
Awards and Decorations
History and Traditions
Aircraft of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and coalition counterparts stationed together at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in southwest Asia, fly over the desert. April 14, 2003. Aircraft include KC-135 Stratotanker, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-117 Nighthawk, F-16CJ Falcon, British Tornado GR4, and Australian F/A-18 Hornet.
Aircraft of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and coalition counterparts stationed together at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in southwest Asia, fly over the desert. April 14, 2003. Aircraft include KC-135 Stratotanker, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-117 Nighthawk, F-16CJ Falcon, British Tornado GR4, and Australian F/A-18 Hornet.

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerospace branch of the United States armed forces and one of the seven uniformed services. Previously part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947.[1] The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world, with about 15.000 aircraft in service and about 352,000 personnel on active duty, 72,000 in the Ready Reserve, and 102,000 in the Air National Guard.[2]

Since World War II, the USAF and its predecessors have taken part in military conflicts throughout the world. The USAF is currently planning a massive Reduction-in-Force (RIF). Because of budget constraints, the USAF will reduce the service's current size by 40,000 full time equivalent positions by 2010. This amounts to roughly 35,000 active duty positions and will be added to the reserves. [3]

According to the National Security Act of 1947 (61 Stat. 502) which created the Air Force, "In general the United States Air Force shall include aviation forces both combat and service not otherwise assigned. It shall be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained offensive and defensive air operations. The Air Force shall be responsible for the preparation of the air forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war except as otherwise assigned and, in accordance with integrated joint mobilization plans, for the expansion of the peacetime components of the Air Force to meet the needs of war."

The stated mission of the USAF today is to "deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests — to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace".[4]

Not all of the United States' military combat aircraft are operated by the USAF. The United States Army operates its own helicopters, mostly for support of ground combatants. The Navy is responsible for the aircraft operating on its aircraft carriers and Naval air stations, and the Marine Corps operates its own combat and transport aircraft. The Coast Guard also maintains transport and search-and-rescue aircraft, which may be used in a combat and law enforcement role. All branches of the U.S. military operate helicopters.



The United States Air Force became a separate military service on September 18, 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.[6] The Act created the United States Department of Defense, which was composed of three branches, the Army, Navy and a newly created Air Force.[7] Prior to 1947, the responsibility for military aviation was divided between the Army (for land-based operations) and the Navy, for sea-based operations from aircraft carrier and amphibious aircraft. The Army had created the first antecedent of the Air Force in 1907, which through a succession of changes of organization, titles, and missions advanced toward eventual separation 40 years later. The predecessor organizations leading up to today's U.S. Air Force include the following:

  • Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps (August 1, 1907 to July 18, 1914)
  • Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps (July 18, 1914 to May 20, 1918)
  • Division of Military Aeronautics (May 20, 1918 to May 24, 1918)
  • U.S. Army Air Service (May 24, 1918 to July 2, 1926)
  • U.S. Army Air Corps (July 2, 1926 to June 20, 1941) and
  • U.S. Army Air Forces (June 20, 1941 to September 18, 1947)

World War I and between wars

U.S. aircraft cockade, or roundel, of late World War I
U.S. aircraft cockade, or roundel, of late World War I

In 1918, upon the United States' entry into World War I, the first major U.S. aviation combat force was created when an Air Service was formed as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Major General Mason Patrick commanded the Air Service of the AEF; his deputy was Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. These aviation units, some of which were trained in France, 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 AEF Air Service were Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke.

Concurrent with the creation of this combat force, the U.S. Army's aviation establishment in the United States was removed from control of the Signal Corps and placed directly under the United States Secretary of War. An assistant secretary was created to direct the Army Air Service, which had dual responsibilities for development and procurement of aircraft, and raising and training of air units. With the end of the First World War, the AEF's Air Service was dissolved and the Army Air Service in the United States largely demobilized.

In 1920, the Air Service became a branch of the Army and in 1926 was reorganized into 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 bombers, 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. Though intended to demonstrate the ability of the Air Corps to defend the nation's coasts, the mission also indicated the emerging doctrine within the Air Corps of the supremacy of strategic bombing.

In 1935, as a result of recommendations from two civilian review boards, the next advancement toward independence for the Air Force occurred when all flying units, which heretofore had been distributed to various ground commands, were grouped together as an aerial task force under one air commander as the General Headquarters, Air Force. The Air Corps, headed by the Chief of the Air Corps, continued as before but now held responsibility only for supply, airfields, and training, in effect splitting the Air Force into two parts. Both components were commanded by major generals (Frank Andrews and Oscar Westover, followed by Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold).

During World War I, aviation technology developed rapidly; however, the Army's reluctance to use the new technology began to make airmen think that as long as the Army controlled aviation, development would be stunted and a potentially valuable force neglected. Air Corps senior officer Billy Mitchell began to campaign for Air Corps independence. But his campaign offended many and resulted in a court martial in 1925 that effectively ended his career. His followers, including future aviation leaders "Hap" Arnold and Carl Spaatz, saw the lack of public, congressional, and military support that Mitchell received and decided that America was not ready for an independent air force. Under the leadership of its chief of staff Mason Patrick and, later, Arnold, the Air Corps waited until the time to fight for independence arose again.

World War II

U.S. aircraft roundel primarily of the interwar years to early World War II
U.S. aircraft roundel primarily of the interwar years to early World War II
1943 USAAF raid on ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt, Germany.
1943 USAAF raid on ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt, Germany.

The Air Force came of age in World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the lead, calling for a vastly enlarged air force based on long-range strategic bombing. Organizationally it became largely independent in 1941, when the Army Air Corps became a part of the new U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), and the GHQ Air Force was redesignated the subordinate Combat Command. In the major reorganization of the Army by War Department Circular 59, effective March 9, 1942, the newly created United States Army Air Forces gained equal voice with the Army and Navy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and complete autonomy from the Army Ground Forces and the Services of Supply. The reorganization also eliminated both Combat Command and the Air Corps as organizations (the latter became a combat arm until 1947) in favor of a streamlined system of commands and numbered air forces for decentralized management of the burgeoning Army Air Forces.

The reorganization merged all aviation elements of the former air arm into the Army Air Forces. Although the Air Corps still legally existed as an Army branch, the position of Chief of the Air Corps was left vacant, and the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps was dissolved. AAF leaders tried to completely eliminate the term "Air Corps."[citation needed] However, people in and out of AAF who remembered the prewar designation often used the term "Air Corps" informally, as did the media.[8]

Carl A. Spaatz took command of the Eighth Air Force in London in 1942; with General Ira Eaker he supervised the strategic bombing campaign. In late 1943, Spaatz was made commander of the new U.S. Strategic Air Forces, reporting directly to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Spaatz began daylight bombing operations using the prewar doctrine of flying bombers in close formations, relying on their combined defensive firepower for protection from attacking enemy aircraft rather than supporting fighter escorts. The doctrine proved flawed when deep-penetration missions beyond the range of escort fighters were attempted, because German fighter planes overwhelmed U.S. formations, shooting down bombers in excess of "acceptable" loss rates, especially in combination with the vast number of flak anti-aircraft batteries defending Germany's major targets. American fliers took heavy casualties during raids on the oil refineries of Ploieşti, Romania, and the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt and Regensburg, Germany, and it was the loss rate in crews and not materiel that brought about a pullback from the strategic offensive in the autumn of 1943.

The Eighth Air Force had attempted to use both the P-47 and P-38 as escorts, but while the Thunderbolt was a capable dog-fighter it lacked the range, even with the addition of drop tanks to extend its range, and the Lightning proved mechanically unreliable in the frigid altitudes at which the missions were fought. Bomber protection was greatly improved after the introduction of North American P-51 Mustang fighters in Europe. With its built-in extended range and competitive or superior performance characteristics in comparison to all existing German piston-engined fighters, the Mustang was an immediately available solution to the crisis. In January 1944 the Eighth Air Force obtained priority in equipping its groups, so that ultimately 14 of its 15 groups fielded Mustangs. P-51 escorts began operations in February 1944 and increased their numbers rapidly, so that the Luftwaffe suffered increasing fighter losses in aerial engagements beginning with Big Week in early 1944. Allied fighters were also granted free rein in attacking German fighter airfields, both in pre-planned missions and while returning to base from escort duties, and the major Luftwaffe threat against Allied bombers was severely diminished by D-Day.

In the Pacific Theater of Operations, the USAAF provided major tactical support under General George Kenney to Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific theater. Kenney's pilots invented the skip-bombing technique against Japanese ships. Kenney's forces claimed destruction of 11,900 Japanese planes and 1.7 million tons of shipping.

The USAAF created the Twentieth Air Force to employ long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers in strategic attacks on Japanese cities. The use of forward bases in China (needed to be able to reach Japan by the heavily-laden B-29's) was ineffective because of the difficulty in logistically supporting the bases entirely by air from its main bases in India, and because of a persistent threat against the Chinese airfields by the Japanese army. After the Mariana Islands were captured in mid-1944, providing locations for air bases that could be supplied by sea, Arnold moved all B-29 operations there by April 1945 and made General Curtis LeMay his bomber commander (reporting directly to Arnold, who personally commanded Twentieth Air Force until July). LeMay reasoned that the Japanese economy, much of which was cottage industry in dense urban areas where manufacturing and assembly plants were also located, was particularly vulnerable to area attack, and abandoned inefficient high-altitude precision bombing in favor of low-level incendiary bombings, aimed at destroying large urban areas. Tokyo suffered a firestorm in which over 100,000 persons died. At the same time the B-29 was also employed in wide-spread mining of Japanese harbors and sea lanes. Neither Arnold and General Carl Spaatz wanted to use the atomic bomb, but were ordered by Secretary of War Henry Stimson and President Harry Truman to use the new weapon against Japan during the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Cold War and war in Korea

In practice, the U.S. Army Air Forces was virtually independent of the Army during World War II, but it demanded full independence. It gained it, over the continuing objections of the Navy, when the United States Department of the Air Force was created by the National Security Act of 1947. It became effective September 18, 1947 when the first secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, took office.

Conflict over post-war military administration, especially with regard to the roles and missions to be assigned to the Air Force and the U.S. Navy, led to an incident called the "Revolt of the Admirals" in the late 1940s.

After World War II, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union began to deteriorate, and the period in history known as the Cold War began. The United States entered an arms race with the Soviet Union and competition aimed at increasing each nation's influence throughout the world. In response, the United States expanded its military presence throughout the world. The USAF opened air bases throughout Europe, and later in Japan and South Korea. The United States also built air bases on the British overseas territories of British Indian Ocean Territory and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

The first test for the USAF during the Cold War came in 1948, when Communist authorities in Eastern Germany cut off road and air transportation to West Berlin. The USAF, along with the Royal Air Force (RAF), supplied the city during the Berlin airlift, using C-121 Constellations and the C-54 Skymasters. The efforts of the USAF and British RAF saved the city from starvation and forced the Soviets to back down in their blockade.

During the Korean War, the Far East Air Forces (FEAF) were among the first units to respond to the invasion by North Korea, but quickly lost its main airbase at Kimpo, South Korea. Forced to provide close air support to the defenders of the Pusan pocket from bases in Japan, the FEAF also conducted a strategic bombing campaign against North Korea's war-making potential simultaneously. General Douglas B. MacArthur's landing at Inchon in September 1950 enabled the FEAF to return to Korea and develop bases from which they supported MacArthur's drive to the Korean-Chinese border.

When the Chinese People's Liberation Army attacked in December 1950, the USAF provided tactical air support. The introduction of Soviet-made MiG-15 jet fighters caused problems for the B-29s used to bomb North Korea, but the USAF countered the MiGs with its new F-86 Sabre jet fighters. Although both air superiority and close air support missions were successful, a lengthy attempt to interdict communist supply lines by air attack failed and was replaced by a systematic campaign to inflict as much economic cost to North Korea and the Chinese forces as long as war persisted, including attacks on the capital city of Pyongyang and against the North Korean hydroelectric system.

Vietnam War

The USAF was heavily deployed during the Vietnam War. The first bombing raids against North Vietnam occurred in 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. In 1965, a sustained bombing campaign began, code-named Operation Rolling Thunder. This campaign's purpose was to destroy the will of the North Vietnamese to fight, destroy industrial bases and air defences, and to stop the flow of men and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while forcing North Vietnam into peace negotiations. The USAF dropped more bombs in all combat operations in Vietnam during the period 1965-68 than it did during World War II,[9] and the Rolling Thunder campaign lasted until the U.S. presidential election of 1968. Although heavily damaging the North Vietnamese economy, the overall operation was a failure.

The USAF also played a critical role in defeating the Easter Offensive of 1972. The rapid redeployment of fighters, bombers, and attack aircraft help the South Vietnamese Army repel the invasion. Operation Linebacker demonstrated to both the North and South Vietnamese that even without significant U.S. Army ground forces, the United States could still influence the war. The air war for the United States ended with Operation Linebacker II, also known as the "Christmas Bombings." These helped to finalize the

Combat operations since 1975

The USAF modernized its tactical air forces in the late 1970's with the introduction of the F-15, A-10, and F-16 fighters, and the implementation of realistic training scenarios under the aegis of Red Flag. In turn it also upgraded the equipment and capabilities of its Air Reserve Components (ARC) by the equipping of both the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve with first-line aircraft. Expanding to 40 fighter wings and drawing further on the lessons of the Vietnam War, the USAF also dedicated units and aircraft to Electronic Warfare (EW), Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), and Joint Special Operations.

The USAF provided attack, airlift, and combat support capability for operations in Iran in 1980, Grenada in 1983, Libya in 1986, and Panama in 1989. Lessons learned in these operations were applied to its force structure and doctrine, and became the basis for successful air operations in the 1990s and after September 11, 2001.

Gulf War

4th Fighter Wing (Provisional) fighters during the 1991 Gulf War
4th Fighter Wing (Provisional) fighters during the 1991 Gulf War

The USAF provided the bulk of the Allied air power during the Gulf War in 1991, flying alongside aircraft of the U.S. Navy and the RAF. The F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter's capabilities were shown on the first night of the air war when it was able to bomb central Baghdad and avoid the sophisticated Iraqi anti-aircraft defenses. The USAF, along with the U.S. Navy and the RAF, later patrolled the skies of northern and southern Iraq after the war to ensure that Iraq's air defence capability could not be rebuilt.

Bosnia and Kosovo

The USAF led NATO action in Bosnia in 1994 with air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs. This was the first time that USAF aircraft took part in military action as part of a NATO mission. The USAF led the strike forces as the only NATO air force with the capability to launch significant air strikes over a long period of time.

Later, the USAF led NATO air strikes against Serbia during the Kosovo War. NATO forces were later criticised for bombing civilian targets in Belgrade, including a strike on a civilian television station, and a later attack which destroyed the Chinese embassy.

Afghanistan and Iraq

In 2001, the USAF was deployed against the Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Operating from Diego Garcia, B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer bombers attacked Taliban positions. The USAF deployed daisy cutter bombs, dropped from C-130 Hercules cargo planes, for the first time since the Vietnam War. During this conflict, the USAF opened up bases in Central Asia for the first time.

The USAF was deployed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Following the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the USAF took over Baghdad International Airport as a base. USAF aircraft are used to provide support to Coalition and Iraqi forces in major operations to eliminate insurgent centers of activity and supply in north and west Iraq.

Humanitarian Operations

The primary source for the humanitarian operations of the USAF is the United States Air Force Supervisory Examination Study Guide (2005)

Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949

The Soviet blockade of Berlin closed off all surface access to the city of Berlin. If left unchallenged the Soviet Union would have permanent control of all of Berlin. In the

Operation Safe Haven I and II, 1956-1957

Military Air Transport Service's (MATS) 1608th Air Transport Wing from Charleston AFB, South Carolina and 1611th Air Transport Wing from McGuire AFB, New Jersey airlifted over 10,000 Hungarian refugees to the United States. President Eisenhower approved asylum for the refugees who fled Hungary after Soviet forces crushed an anti-communist uprising there.

Operations Babylift, New Life, Frequent Wind, and New Arrivals, 1975

Following the fall of Cambodia and South Vietnam to Communist forces, transports from 11 Air Force wings and other units airlifted over 50,000 refugees to the United States. These airlifts constituted the largest aerial evacuation in history. Air Force units also moved 5,000 relief workers and more than 8,500 tons of supplies.

Operation Provide Comfort, 1991

Following the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein attacked the Kurdish population in northern Iraq. In response to the unfolding human tragedy, Air Force transports in support of the operation provided more than 7,000 tons of blankets, tents, food, and more to the displaced Kurds and airlifted thousands of refugees and medical personnel.

Operation Sea Angel, 1991

An airlift of 3,000 tons of supplies to Bangladesh following a Typhoon.

Operation Provide Hope, 1992-1993

Provided 6,000 tons of food, medicine, and other cargo to republics of the former Soviet Union.


The Air Force is managed by the Department of the Air Force lead by the Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF), and consisting of the Air Staff and field units.


The Headquarters (HQ) of the SECAF includes the Secretary, Under Secretary, Assistant Secretaries, General Counsel, the Inspector General, Air Reserve Forces Policy Committee, and other offices and positions established by law or the SECAF. The Office of the SECAF has responsibility for acquisition and auditing, comptroller issues (including financial management), inspector general matters, legislative affairs, and public affairs.

The current Secretary of the Air Force is Michael Wynne.

Air Staff

Flag of the U.S. Air Force
Flag of the U.S. Air Force

The Air Staff primarily consists of military advisors to the CSAF and the SECAF. This includes the Chief of Staff, Vice Chief of Staff, and Assistant Vice Chief of Staff, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF), four deputy chiefs of staff (DCS), the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, The Judge Advocate General, the Chief of the Air Force Reserve, and additional military and civilian personnel as the SECAF deems necessary.

The current Chief of Staff of the Air Force is General T. Michael Moseley.

The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force is the senior enlisted person in the Air Force. Currently, the position is held by Chief Master Sergeant Rodney J. McKinley.

Subordinate Commands and echelons

The Department of the Air Force subordinate commands and echelons are the Major Commands (MAJCOMs), field operating agencies (FOA), and direct reporting units (DRU).

Major Commands

The USAF is organized on a functional basis in the United States and a geographical basis overseas. A major command (MAJCOM) represents a major Air Force subdivision having a specific portion of the Air Force mission. Each MAJCOM is directly subordinate to HQ USAF. MAJCOMs are interrelated and complementary, providing offensive, defensive, and support elements. An operational command consists (in whole or in part) of strategic, tactical, space, or defense forces; or of flying forces that directly support such forces. A support command may provide supplies, weapon systems, support systems, operational support equipment, combat material, maintenance, surface transportation, education and training, or special services and other supported organizations.

The USAF experienced its last major reorganization of commands in 1992. On July 5, 2006, the USAF stood up the Air Force Network Operations (AFNETOPS) Command at Barksdale Air Force Base; on November 2, 2006, it was announced that this organization would be transformed into a new major command, the Air Force Cyberspace Command.[10] The USAF is currently organized into ten MAJCOMS (8 Functional and 2 Geographic), with the Air National Guard component reporting to Headquarters, United States Air Force (HQ USAF). [11]

Major Command and Commanders Location of Headquarters
Air Combat Command (ACC) - General Ronald E. Keys Langley Air Force Base, Virginia
Air Education and Training Command (AETC) - General William R. Looney III Randolph Air Force Base, Texas
Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) - General Bruce Carlson Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) - Lieutenant General John A. Bradley Robins Air Force Base, Georgia
Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) - General Kevin Chilton Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) - Lieutenant General Michael W. Wooley Hurlburt Field, Florida
Air Mobility Command (AMC) - General Duncan J. McNabb Scott Air Force Base, Illinois
Air Force Cyberspace Command (AFCC) - Lieutenant General Robert J. Elder Jr. Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) - General William T. Hobbins Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) - General Paul V. Hester Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii
Major Direct Reporting Units (DRUs) and Commanders Location of Headquarters
U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) - Lieutenant General John F. Regni Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs), Colorado
Air Force District of Washington (AFDW) - Major General Robert L. Smolen Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.
Air National Guard (ANG) - Lieutenant General Craig R. McKinley The Pentagon, D.C.

Field Operating Agencies (FOA)

Main article: List of United States Air Force Field Operating Agencies

Field operating agencies (FOA) are a subdivision of the Air Force and report directly to a HQ USAF functional manager. FOAs perform field activities beyond the scope of any of the major commands. Their activities are specialized or associated with an Air Force wide mission.

Numbered Air Forces (NAF)

Main article: List of Numbered Air Forces of the USAF

The NAF is a level of command directly under a MAJCOM (Major Command). NAFs are tactical echelons that provide operational leadership and supervision. They are not management headquarters and do not have complete functional staffs. Many NAFs are responsible for MAJCOM operations in a specific geographic region or theater of operations. A NAF is assigned subordinate units, such as wings, groups, and squadrons.


U.S. roundel. Lower side of starboard wing, upper side of port wing and on each side of the fuselage.
U.S. roundel. Lower side of starboard wing, upper side of port wing and on each side of the fuselage.
Low-visibility roundel
Low-visibility roundel
Main article: List of Wings of the USAF
Main article: Origin of USAF wings

The wing is a level of command below the NAF. A wing has approximately 1,000 to 5,000 personnel. It is responsible for maintaining the installation and may have several squadrons in more than one dependent group. A wing may be an operational wing, an air base wing, or a specialized mission wing. It is usually commanded by a Colonel or Brigadier General.

Operational Wing

An operational wing is one that has an operations group and related operational mission activity assigned to it. When an operational wing performs the primary mission of the base, it usually maintains and operates the base. In addition, an operational wing is capable of self-support in functional areas like maintenance, supply, and munitions, as needed. When an operational wing is a tenant organization, the host command provides it with base and logistics support.

Air Base Wing

Some bases which do not have operational wings or are too large or diverse for one wing will have an Air Base Wing (ABW). The ABW performs a support function rather than an operational mission. It maintains and operates a base. An air base wing often provides functional support to a MAJCOM headquarters.

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 aircraft. Squadrons are composed of two or more flights.

Independent Groups

Main article: List of USAF Groups

The last level of independent operation is the group level. When an organization is not part of the primary mission of the base it will be made an independent group. They may report to a wing (the 23rd Fighter Group at Pope AFB belongs to the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB) or they may be completely independent (the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess AFB). They may also be organized as an expeditionary unit, independent but too small to warrant a wing designation. The organization of the independent group is usually similar to the operations group, but with a few squadrons or flight from the support side added to make the organization more self-sufficient, but not large enough to become a wing.

Operational Organization

The above organizational structure is responsible for the peacetime Organization, Equipping, and Training of aerospace units for operational missions. When required to support operational missions, the National Command Authority directs a Change in Operational Control (CHOP) of these units from their peacetime alignment to a

Aerospace Expeditionary Task Force

CHOPPED units are referred to as "forces". The top-level structure of these forces is the Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force (AETF). The AETF is the Air Force presentation of forces to a COCOM for the employment of Air Power. Each COCOM is supported by a standing Warfighting Headquarters (WFHQ) to provide planning and execution of aerospace forces in support of COCOM requirements. Each WFHQ consists of a Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR), and AFFOR staff, and an Air Operations Center (AOC). As needed to support multiple Joint Force Commanders (JFC) in the COCOM's Area of Responsibility (AOR), the WFHQ may deploy Air Component Coordinate Elements (ACCE) to liaise with the JFC.

Commander, Air Force Forces

The Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR) is the senior Air Force officer responsible for the employment of Air Power is support of JFC objectives. The COMAFFOR has a special staff and an A-Staff to ensure assigned or attached forces are properly organized, equipped, and trained to support the operational mission.

Air Operations Center

The Air Operations Center (AOC) is the COMAFFOR's Command and Control (C²) center. This center is responsible for planning and executing air power missions in support of JFC objectives.

Air Expeditionary Wings/Groups/Squadrons

The AETF generates air power to support COCOM objectives from Air Expeditionary Wings (AEW) or Air Expeditionary Groups (AEG). These units are responsible for receiving combat forces from Air Force MAJCOMs, preparing these forces for operational missions, launching and recovering these forces, and eventually returning forces to the MAJCOMs. Theater Air Control Systems control employment of forces during these missions.

Core values

In 1995, the Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall and the Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald R. Fogleman approved the following core values for the United States Air Force:[12]

  • Integrity First.
  • Service Before Self.
  • Excellence In All We Do.

The Air Education and Training Command along with the USAF Academy are responsible for teaching these principles throughout the Air Force.


The vast majority of Air Force members remain on the ground. There are hundreds of support positions which are necessary to the success of a mission.

The classification of an Air Force job is the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC). They range from flight combat operations such as a gunner, to working in a dining facility to ensure that members are properly fed. There are many different mechanic type jobs. There are members in computer specialties, medical specialties, public relations, hospitality, law, drug counseling, mail operations, security forces, and search and rescue specialties.

Perhaps the most dangerous Air Force jobs are pararescue, combat control, combat weather, and tactical air control party, who deploy with special forces units to call in air strikes and set up landing zones in forward locations. Most of these are enlisted positions.

Nearly all enlisted jobs are "entry level," meaning that the Air Force provides all training. Some enlistees are able to choose a particular job, or at least a field before actually joining, while others are assigned an AFSC at Basic Training. After Basic Military Training, new Air Force members attend a technical training school where they learn their particular AFSC. Second Air Force, a part of Air Education and Training Command is responsible for nearly all technical training.

Training programs vary in length; for example, 3M0X1 (Services) has 31 days of tech school training, while 1C2X1 (Combat Control) is 35 weeks long with 10 separate courses. Some AFSCs have even longer training.

Boeing B-52 strategic bomber taking off
Boeing B-52 strategic bomber taking off


Main article: List of military aircraft of the United States

The United States Air Force has over 7,500 aircraft commissioned as of 2004. Until 1962, the Army and Air Force maintained one system of aircraft naming, while the U.S. 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.

Current aircraft of the USAF:

  • A-10A/C Thunderbolt II
  • AC-130H/U Spectre/Spooky II
  • An-32 (leased)
  • AT-38B Talon
  • B-1B Lancer
  • B-2A Spirit
  • B-52H Stratofortress
  • C-5A/B/C/M Galaxy
  • C-9A Nightingale
  • C-12C/D/F Huron
  • C-17A Globemaster III
  • C-20A/B/C Gulfstream III
  • C-20H Gulfstream IV
  • C-22B
  • C-25A
  • C-26B
  • C-29A (HS.125-800)
  • C-32A (Air Force Two)
  • C-37A Gulfstream V
  • C-38A Astra
  • C-40B
  • C-41A
  • C-47T
  • C-130E/H/J Hercules
  • C-135C/E/K Stratolifter
  • Cessna 150M
  • CN-235-100
  • CV-22B Osprey
  • E-3B/C Sentry
  • E-4B
  • E-9A
  • EC-137D Stratoliner
  • F-15A/B/C/D Eagle
  • F-15E Strike Eagle
  • F-16A/B/C/D Fighting Falcon
  • F-22A Raptor
  • F-35 Lightning II
  • F-117A Nighthawk
  • HC-130H/N/P
  • HH-60G Pave Hawk
  • KC-135E/R/T Stratotanker
  • KC-10A Extender
  • LC-130H
  • MC-130E/H Combat Talon II
  • MC-130N/P Combat Shadow
  • MH-53J/M Pave Low III/IV
  • NB-52H 'Mother Ship'
  • NC/C-21A Learjet
  • NC-130A/E
  • NC-135B/E/W
  • NCH-53A Sea Stallion
  • NT-39A/B Sabreliner
  • OA-10A Thunderbolt II
  • OC-135B
  • M/RQ-1A/B Predator
  • RQ-4A Global Hawk
  • RC-135S/U/V/W
  • T-1A Jayhawk
  • T-6 Texan II
  • T-37B Tweet
  • (A)T-38A/B/C Talon
  • T-41D
  • TC-18E
  • TC-135S/W
  • TE-8A
  • TG-3A
  • TG-4A
  • TG-7A
  • TG-9A
  • TG-10B/C/D
  • TG-11A
  • TG-15A/B
  • TU-2S
  • U-2R/S Dragon Lady
  • UC-26C
  • UV-18A/B Twin Otter
  • UV-20A Chiricua
  • UH-1N Iroquois
  • VC-9C Nightingale
  • VC-25A (Air Force One)
  • VC-137C (Former Air Force One)
  • WC-130H/J
  • WC-135C/W

Gallery of images


Mess Dress

Examples of officer (left) and enlisted Mess Dress (right).
Examples of officer (left) and enlisted Mess Dress (right).

The Mess Dress Uniform is used for formal occasions such as Dining ins, the annual Air Force Ball and weddings. The uniform consists of dark blue waist-length tuxedo coat and matching trousers with silver buttons, miniature medals, blue bow-tie and cummerbund, and shoulder boards and silver wrist braids for officers. No cover (hat) or name-tag is worn with the Air Force Mess Dress Uniform. When wearing the blue tie and cummerbund, the uniform is considered equivalent to black-tie formal wear. For white-tie occasions, a white bow-tie and waistcoat are worn.

Service Dress

Current Service Dress uniforms:  Officer on the left, enlisted on the right. Taken from AFI 36-2903
Current Service Dress uniforms: Officer on the left, enlisted on the right. Taken from AFI 36-2903

Prior to 1993, all Air Force personnel wore Air Force Blue uniforms very similar in appearance to that of the U.S. Army.

The current U.S. Air Force Service Dress Uniform, which was adopted in 1993 and standardized in 1995, consists of a three-button, pocketless coat, similar to that of a men's "sport jacket" (with silver "U.S." pins on the lapels), matching trousers, and either a service cap or flight cap, all in Shade 1620, "Air Force Blue." This is worn with a light blue shirt (Shade 1550) and Shade 1620 herringbone patterned necktie. Enlisted members wear sleeve insignia on both the jacket and shirt, while officers wear metal rank insignia pinned onto the coat, and Air Force Blue slide-on epaulet loops on the shirt. Air Force personnel assigned to honor guard duties wear, for dress occasions, a modified version of the standard service dress uniform, but with silver or white trim on the sleeves and trousers, with the addition of medals, sword belt, wheel cap with silver trim and AF Symbol, and a silver shoulder cord.[13]

The service dress uniform pictured is a modification of the original version envisioned by Merrill McPeak, which featured no epaulets for any rank, and silver braid loops on the lower sleeves denoting officer rank. This style of rank insignia for officers, while used by British Royal Air Force officers and air force officers of other commonwealth nations, is the style of the U.S. Navy service dress uniform. For this reason and others, the insignia was immensely unpopular and many senior Air Force Generals commented that the uniforms of the Air Force now looked identical to those of airline pilots. The McPeak uniform was abolished in 1999 and remains the shortest issued military insignia series in the history of the United States armed forces. Epaulets were put back on the coat for metal rank insignia but the compromise uniform continued to be unpopular, primarily from its civilian-style cut. Several additional changes were made to make the jacket seem more military in appearance.

On May 18, 2006, the Department of the Air Force unveiled two prototypes of new service dress uniforms, one resembling the stand-collar uniform worn by U.S. Army Air Corps officers prior to 1935, called the "Billy Mitchell heritage coat," and another, resembling the Army Air Force's Uniform of World War II and named the "Hap Arnold heritage coat". If the stand-collar coat is selected, it will be the first stand-collar "everyday" uniform to be issued since the 1930's (the Navy's male dress white and the U.S. Marine Corps' dress blue uniform stand-collar coats are worn for formal occasions only). [14]

Utility Uniform

Airman in Battle Dress Uniform
Airman in Battle Dress Uniform
Airman Battle Uniform
Airman Battle Uniform

For combat and work duty, ground crews wear the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), which will be phased out in favor of the Airman Battle Uniform.[15] The Airman Battle Uniform will be issued to Airmen deploying as part of AEFs 7/8 in Spring 2007. In October 2007, they will be issued to Basic Trainees, and will be available for purchase at AAFES outlets by the rest of the Air Force in June 2008.[16]

The expected mandatory wear date for the Airman Battle Uniform is October 2011.[17]

Pilots, air crews and missile crews, wear olive green or desert tan one-piece flight suits made of Nomex for fire protection.

Women's Uniforms

Women's service dress uniforms are similar in color and style to the men's service dress uniforms, but can also include additional articles including a skirt, stockings, and women's style garrison cap.

Currently, women wear the same utility uniforms as men; either the BDU or the flight suit, both of which come in unisex sizes.

Desert Uniforms

Deployed Airmen in Desert Camouflage Uniforms stopped enroute at Shannon Ireland Airport
Deployed Airmen in Desert Camouflage Uniforms stopped enroute at Shannon Ireland Airport

When serving in a desert climate (such as the Persian Gulf region), Air Force personnel wear tan colored uniforms rather than the customary green. These uniforms consist of the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU), and the tan nomex flight suit for aircrew members.

PT Uniform

Air Force members wearing the new PT Uniform
Air Force members wearing the new PT Uniform

The Air Force designed a new PT uniform that became mandatory for wear in October 2006. The uniform consists of shorts, t-shirt, jacket and pants. The shorts are AF blue with silver reflective stripes on the leg, a key pocket attached to the inner liner and an ID pocket on the outside of the lower right leg. The t-shirt is a moisture wicking fabric with reflective Air Force logos on the upper left portion of the chest and across the back. The jacket is blue with silver reflective piping and a reflective chevron on the back. The pants are blue with silver piping and reflective stripes.

Awards and badges

See also: Military badges of the United States
  • Awards and decorations of the United States Air Force
  • Badges of the United States Air Force
  • Astronaut Badge
  • Pilot Badge
  • Navigator Badge
  • Aircrew Badge
  • Flight Surgeon Badge
  • Occupational Badge
  • Medical Badge
  • Religious Pin
  • Air Force Fire Protection Badge
  • Security Police badge
  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal
  • Obsolete badges of the United States military

Grade Structure

Officer Grade Structure of the United States Air Force
General of the Air Force General


Lieutenant General

(Lt Gen)

Major General

(Maj Gen)

Brigadier General

(Brig Gen)



Lieutenant Colonel

(Lt Col)





First Lieutenant

(1st Lt)

Second Lieutenant

(2d Lt)

General General General General General Colonel Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Lieutenant
special O-10 O-9 O-8 O-7 O-6 O-5 O-4 O-3 O-2 O-1
Non Commissioned Officer Grade Structure of the United States Air Force
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force


Command Chief Master Sergeant Chief Master Sergeant as a First Sergeant Chief Master Sergeant


Senior Master Sergeant as a First Sergeant Senior Master Sergeant


Master Sergeant as a First Sergeant Master Sergeant


Technical Sergeant


Staff Sergeant


Chief Chief Chief/1st Sergeant Chief 1st Sergeant Sergeant 1st Sergeant Sergeant Sergeant Sergeant
E-9 E-9 E-9 E-9 E-8 E-8 E-7 E-7 E-6 E-5
Enlisted Grade Structure of the United States Air Force
Senior Airman


Airman First Class




Airman Basic


Airman Airman Airman Airman
E-4 E-3 E-2 E-1
no insignia

For cadet rank at the U.S. Air Force Academy, see United States Air Force Academy Cadet Insignia.


  • From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force had initiated Project Blue Book, an investigation into UFOs.[18][19]
  • The United States Air Force does not have an official motto, but there are numerous unofficial slogans such as "No one comes close" and "Un Ab Alto" [One Over All]. For many years, the U.S. Air Force used "Aim High" as its recruiting motto; more recently, they have used "Cross into the blue" and "Do Something Amazing". Each wing, group, or squadron usually has its own motto(s). Information and logos can usually be found on the wing, group, or squadron websites. [20]

Notes and References

  1. ^ 80 P.L. 235, 61 Stat. 495 (1947); Air Force Link, (2006)Factsheets: The U.S. Air Force. Retrieved April 7, 2006.
  2. ^ Air Force Link(2006). [1]. Retrieved December 11th 2006; Personnel End Strength
  3. ^ Air Force Print News, (2006). Force shaping necessary for AF budgetary management. Retrieved June 8, 2006.
  4. ^ Air Force Link, (2005). Air Force releases new mission statement. Retrieved December 8, 2005.
  5. ^ The primary source for the history of the USAF prior to 1947 is Winged Shield, Winged Sword: A History of the United States Air Force Vol. I (1997) ISBN 0-16-049009-X , an Air University publication
  6. ^ U.S. Intelligence Community (October 2004). National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved April 14, 2006.
  7. ^ U.S. Department of State(2006). National Security Act of 1947. Retrieved April 14, 2006.
  8. ^ AAFHA (2002). Was It the Air Corps or Army Air Forces in WW II?. Retrieved December 18, 2006.
  9. ^ DoD release January 1968, cited in CIA estimate of damage to North Vietnam infrastructure
  10. ^ Air Force Public News, (2006). [2]. Retrieved November 24, 2006.
  11. ^ Eighth Air Force Public Affairs, (2006). Air Force officials consolidate network ops. Retrieved July 10, 2006.
  12. ^ USAF Academy, (2006). United States Air Force Core Values. Retrieved September 5, 2006.
  13. ^ Department of the Air Force (2002). DRESS AND APPEARANCE OF AIR FORCE PERSONNEL. Retrieved April 14, 2006.
  14. ^ Air Force News. New service dress prototypes pique interest. Retrieved May 18, 2006.
  15. ^ Air Force Link, (2006). Airman Battle Uniform finalized, ready for production. Retrieved March 17, 2006.
  16. ^ Air Force Link, (2006).Battle Uniform available to deploying Airmen this spring. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  17. ^ Air Force Link, (2006).Battle Uniform available to deploying Airmen this spring. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  18. ^ Department of the Air Force (1977). UFO Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  19. ^ Department of the Air Force (June 1995). Unidentified Flying Objects and Air Force Project Blue Book. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  20. ^ (2006). US Air Force Mottos. Retrieved 4 June 2006.

References to U.S. Army predecessors of today's U.S. Air Force are cited under their respective articles.

See also

Portal:Military of the United States
Military of the United States Portal
Portal:United States Air Force
United States Air Force Portal
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
United States Air Force
  • Air Force Association
  • Air Force Combat Ammunition Center
  • Air National Guard
  • Aviation Nation
  • Ranks and Insignia of NATO
  • Comparative military ranks
  • Civil Air Patrol (US Air Force Auxiliary)
  • Air Force Medical Service
  • List of air forces
  • List of U.S. Air Force bases
  • List of Famous Airmen
  • List of active United States military aircraft
  • List of military aircraft of the United States
  • Air Force Specialty Code
  • USAF Aeronautical Ratings
  • United States Air Force Academy
  • UFO - USAF role: Project Bluebook and related projects.

Further reading

  • John T. Correll, The Air Force and the Cold War (2002), short official history of USAF
  • Correll, John T. "The EAF in Peace and War." Air Force Magazine 85:24-31 July 2002 on WW1
  • Craven, Wesley and James Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces In World War II official history. (1948-55; also reprinted)
    • Volume One: Plans and Early Operations January 1939 to August 1942
    • Volume Two: Europe: Torch to Pointblank August 1942 to December 1943
    • Volume Three: Europe: Argument to V-E Day January 1944 to May 1945
    • Volume Four: The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan August 1942 to July 1944
    • Volume Five: The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki June 1944 to August 1945
    • Volume Six: Men and Planes
    • Volume Seven: Services Around the World
  • Futrell, Robert F. The United States Air Force in Korea; 1950–1953 (1983).
  • Futrell, Robert F. Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1984 (2 vols., Air University) vol 1, vol 2 comprehensive history of doctrine
  • Alfred Goldberg. A History of the United States Air Force, 1907-1957 (ISBN 0-405-03763-5) (1972)
  • Maj Roger F. Kropf, "The US Air Force in Korea: Problems That Hindered the Effectiveness of Air Power," Airpower Journal (spr 1990)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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