Officially established in 1947, the Air Force is celebrating its seventh decade on Sept. 18. In one capacity or another, however, it’s been around since 1909, when the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division. When World War II illustrated the value of airpower, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which not only created the Air Force as an independent service, but also established a single Department of Defense with a strong Joint Chiefs of Staff with the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs.
Today’s Air Force has just more than 315,000 active duty service members, including 12,669 pilots. Familiar names who have served under it include George W. Bush, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Cash, Ronald Reagan and James Stewart.
The branch does more than just fly through the skies; very few personnel actually fly. The Air Force handles missions such as bombing runs, in-flight refueling, special rescue missions behind enemy lines, medical service in impoverished areas, airborne mapping and monitoring of targets and maintenance of aerospace systems and planes, to name just a few.
Another Air Force duty? Tracking Santa each Christmas Eve. The North American Aerospace Defense Command fire up its Santa tracker and handles calls from more than 200 countries to see where in the world is Santa.