Important Military Organizations: United States Air Force

Figure 1.--

Although Americans invented the airplane (1903). The U.S. Army Air Corps was not a major factor in World War I and even had to use British and French planes (1917-18). Despite work in the 1930s, when the United States was propelled into World War II by the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor, air chiefs and air crews were shocked to find its fighters were badly outclassed by its Axis adeversaries and its bombers unable to carry out its missions without fighter protection. The same was true of the Navy air arm in the Pacific. The American naval victory at Midway (June 1942) brought time in the Pacific. Than during the following the rapidly expanding U.S. Air Forces and Navy began receiving high performance aircraft that decisively change the ballance in the air, giving the United States command of the air that it has never lost despite the best efforts of the Germans and Soviet Union. The decisive turning point in Europe was the appearance of the P-51 Mustang, an Anglo-American creation. Axis leaders launched the War believing that they could destroy cities and their own cities were untouchable. Hitler warned foreign journalists tourng the ruinS of Warsaw (Octobwe 1939), I can do the same to any European city". And he attempted to do just that to London (1940). The Japanese did the same in China. U.S. Air Forces by the end of the War, however, had turned Axis cities, including Berlin and Tokyo, into vast heaps of rubble and charred wastelands. The key to America;s success as been the country's vibrant free market which created companies like Boeing, Grumann, Lockeed, Northamerican and many more which created aircraft of unparalled performance and provided the indusrial capacity to produce them in numbers. The U.S. Air Force has also played a key role in the Cold War beginning with Berlin Airlift (1948-49) and preventing a North Korean victory in Korea (1950). The U.S. Air Force then providedpart of the nuclear shield as well as the tactical dominance helping to discourage a Soviet invasin of Western Europe. Today Ameican cruise missles and dromes are playing a ket role in the War against Islamic terror.

First Aircraft

The airplane despite strenous efforts in Europe was invented by two bicycle mechanics in Dayton Ohio without any government support (1903). The Wrights attempted to make money, keeping their invention secret, but the cat was soon out of the bag and the aviation scene shifted to Europe where armies had huge budgets.

World War I

Even so, the air forces that entered World War I were unprepared for combat and pilots too to brining pistols and shotguns up with them on early missions (1914. This changed very rapidly in the skies over northern Fance and Belgium--the legendary Western Front. America was so unprepared when it entered the War (1917) that it had to use British and French weapons, inclUding aircraft.

Inter-War Era

The War ended before America could begin supplying the Army Air Corps with American-built aircraft. Funding for the military was very limited during the Inter-War Era, but a range of aircraft types were built in small numbers. These contracts and the growing commercial aviation industry (a combination of air mail cotracts and passanger service) gave America the foremost aeronautics industry in the world. The large distances between American cities as well as the greater afflence of the United States provided more impetus for civil aviation than in Europe.

World War II

More but still limited funding became available with the rise of the NAZIs in Europe and President Roosevelt's recognition of the dangers posed. As the possibility of war increased, the President decided to apply technology rather than massed infantry fo rmations as in World War I. Thus funding became somewhat more available. The public and Congress were less atuned to the dangers from Europe. A range of air craft appeared the wave including the legendary Boeing B-17. Advances were also made with fighters, but nothing matched the German ME-109 (1936) or the British Spitfire (1939). The Army Air Corps chiefs were unaware of how badly they had lagged behind, in part because the American public were so opposed to War that coopertion with the British was limited. In addition, Primeminister Chamberlain was more interested in preventing war than preparin for it. It was, however, in the Pacific that the defincncies in Ameriacan fighters were first exposed. The legendary Mitusbishi Zero dominated the skies fo most of 1942 until American industry began to produce more capable aircraft for both the Army Air Corps and Navy. American Air Chiefs believed that the heavily armed B-17 could fight its way through to targets in the Reich. This proved to be a serious misjudgement and American air crews suffered dreadful losses after the Around the Clock Campaign was launched with the British (January 1943). Only with the arrival of the P-51 Mustang (an Anglo-American creation) did the Air War swung decisively for the Allies. And in the Pacific after the sezure of the Marianas, the long-range B-29 brought War to the Japanese Home Islands.

Cold War

Even before the War in Europe was over, American, British, and Soviet teams were scouring the Reich for aviaton and military technology initiating a competition that would be at the heart of the Cold War. American fighters dominated the skies over Europe.


The F-86 Sabre arrived just in time to take on the MIG-15. The two planes were very evenly matched, but the American pilots were better trained. he Air Force claimed a better than 10 to 1 kill rate, although some sources have called this ratio into question.


Vienam was a different matter. Air Force chiefs concluing that dog fights were athing of the past equipped the F-4 Phantom with missles (not yet fully effective) and without guns. The result was basically a 1 to 1 kill rate, in part because of the strong North Vietnamese air defenses. Pilots coming back from Vietnam helped bring back dog-fighting skill training. And even the most modern fighters now have guns.

Fighter Training

Vietnam veteran and F-4 pilot Col. Gail Peck helped create Constant Peg to ensure that American pilots were skilled enough to out fly and out fight any adversary, including those equipped with advanced Soviet aircraft. This became the premier fighter training program in the world. One of the problems was sourcing Soviet aircraft. The program was kept secet until years after the Soviet Union disappeared (2006). "The live combat arena, with real bullets and missles, often brings a change in pilot behavior and a potentialbreakdown in the ability of the engaged pilot to maintain the needed intensity and dscipline. Bad luck, fear, loss of a flight member in a shoot-down or any combination of circumstaMnces can result in a performance breakdown for a 'green' aviator. Even if everything goes exactly right, the excitement of first observing an enemy aircraft in an aerial dogfight can turn the almost perfectly trained pilot into a target. Fighter pilots call it 'Buck feaver' and strike a corollary with learning to hunt deer. As the deer is centered up in the rifle sight, the gun stars to shake, the hunter hesitates, and suddenly the advantage is lost. And this happens in spite of the fact that the dear isn't even equipped to shoot back." [Peck]

War on Terror

The War on terror and assymetrical warfare have ushered in the pilotless drone which appears to be the wave of the future.


Peck, Gaillard R. Jr. America's Secret Mig Squadron: The Red Eagles of Project Constant Peg (2012), 352p.


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Created: 5:31 AM 5/18/2013
Last updated: 5:31 AM 5/18/2013