contributed by Liz Zaczek, senior staff writer
As the United States Air Force turns 73 years young on September 18, 2020, here’s 15 interesting facts to help celebrate this branch of the military and help you amaze your friends and family with your knowledge.
- The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.
- The Air Force used to be part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the U.S. Army Air Force. The National Defense Act of 1947 created an independent Air Force.
- The letters at the beginning of the names of Air Force aircraft translate the type of plane. B stands for Bomber, C for Cargo and F for Fighter.
- A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome their new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof and making noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome the group for refreshments.
- Every year, Airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches throughout the month of March to honor Air Force legend, WWII and Vietnam veteran, and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.
- Morgan Freeman, Johnny Cash, George Carlin, Willy Nelson and Jimmy Stewart were all members of the Air Force. Stewart, an Oscar winning actor, flew missions in both WWII and the Vietnam War and rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve while still maintaining his acting career.
- Two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.
- Since Christmas Eve 1955, the Air Force is responsible for the most important mission EVER – – tracking Santa Clause as he delivers presents around the world. A newspaper ad that day displayed a phone number where children could call Santa. That phone number was for the US Air Defense Command and the colonel on duty instructed his team to give anyone who called Santa’s “location”. The tradition grew and the station takes calls from 200 countries. In today’s internet age, children (and children at heart) around the world can track Santa thanks to NORAD from their home computers.
- An “ace” is a pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft. The top jet ace in U.S. Air Force history is Joseph C. McConnell, a “Triple ace” who shot down 16 MiG fighters during the Korean War over a four month period, bagging three on his last combat mission of the war. His record still stands.
- Air Force weather specialists are part of the special forces. They go through Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Air Force Basic Survival School, Air Force Water Survival Training, Air Force Underwater Egress Training, Combat Control School at Pope Field, North Carolina, and Special Tactics Training at Hurlburt Field. They work primarily with Air Force and Army Special Operations Forces but can also be attached to Marine MARSOC and Navy SEAL teams.
- The Air Force built a supercomputer out of Sony Playstations. The Air Force Research Lab built a supercomputer called the Condor Cluster to analyze HD satellite imagery. The supercomputer is made up entirely of 1760 Playstation 3’s. It’s the 33rd most-powerful computer in the world.
- In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager became the first to break the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, kicking off a race of pilots who competed to do the next big thing, eventually leading to outer space and a man on the moon. Yeager’s accomplishment even made it to the big screen as part of the plot of the movie, “The Right Stuff” with actor Sam Shephard portraying Yeager.
- Air Force One is not the plane, technically it’s the radio call name for any US Air Force plane carrying the President of the United States. Since the middle of the 20th century, it has been standard practice to refer to specific planes that are equipped to transport the Commander-in-Chief. Today, this name refers to one of two highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000. The Air Force designation for the aircraft is VC-25A.
- The F-117 Nighthawk is the world’s first stealth fighter jet and owes some of its aerodynamics to the flight of the bumblebee. The idea behind stealth aircraft was theorized by a Soviet mathematician, who in the 1960s found that the strength of a radar return wasn’t related to the object’s size, but instead related to the edge configuration of the object. The F-117’s first flight took place in 1981 – the same year the Space Shuttle flew its first orbit around earth.
- Wondering how the military celebrates the Air Force birthday? You may not need to do more than look up at the sky, depending on the time of day and location. Over the years Air Force celebrations include air demonstrations by the Thunderbirds precision combat air demonstration squadron, military “tattoo” airshow events that feature a variety of aircraft in the air and on the ground. There are also parties with promotion and retirement ceremonies that coincide with the Air Force birthday. In milestone years, there may even be parades and local events celebrating Air Force contributions to the local community.
Celebrating the Air Force’s birthday on a personal level can be as simple as thanking a service member or vetern of the Air Force for their service, flying the U.S. flag outside a residence or local business or giving to an Air Force-specific charity or Veteran Service Organization.