The U.S. Air Force is Seventy Years Old


Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 

The United States Air Force will celebrate the seventieth anniversary of its founding on September 18, 2017. Seventy years of aviation history is hard to imagine, there is no way we could portray all of the individual and/or group efforts that have stood out for these past seven decades… thus we offer a timeline of just a few notable events and actions that have helped make the USAF a highly visible force in both war and peace. These choices in this timeline are arbitrary, and do not focus on any specific area of knowledge or technical merit. Rather, this is just a small snapshot of some events that will form a framework to see some of the aircraft and some service members’ accomplishments along the way.  At the end, check out our slide show of Air Force aircraft throughout the years too!

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B-2A Spirit accompanied by F-15C Eagles at RIAT, 2017

9/18/1947: W. Stuart Symington becomes the first Secretary of the U. S. Air Force, as the new military branch is officially known.
10/1/1947 First flight of the North American F-86A


General Chuck Yeager speaking during the 50th anniversary celebration of the sound barrier being broken

10/14/1947: Captain “Chuck” Yeager breaks the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 over Muroc Dry Lake, California.
6/26/1948: First known as Operation Vittles, the Berlin Airlift began on this day with a C-47 delivering the first of 277,804 flights by all nations.

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 Warbird Beech T-34A

12/2/1948 First flight of the Beech 45 – the prototype of the Beech T-34A Mentor which the Air Force would begin to receive in 1953.


Warbird F-86 Sabres

3/4/1949 The F-86 Sabre begins operations with the USAF.
3/2/1949 B-50 Lucky Lady II performs the first nonstop around-the-world flight to/from Carswell AFB.
1949 Convair’s B-36 makes its first flight.
6/27/1950: Lt. William Hudson and SSgt Nyle Micky record the first North Korean air to air kill while flying a USAF F-82G Twin Mustang. One day later, Lt Bryce Poe II completes the U.S.’s first jet aerial reconnaissance flight in an RF-80.
5/4/1950 Northrop YRB-49A Flying Wing makes its first flight, but the USAF would later cancel its development.
10/8/1950 First air to air jet vs jet combat ends as a USAF F-80 downs a Chinese MiG-15.


Boeing B-52H

3/1/1951, USAF signs a letter of intent for Boeing B-52 bombers.
7/27/1953 Korean War armistice goes into effect.
5/25/1953 North American YF-100 goes supersonic on its first flight.


Convair F-102A at Stewart AFB, NY

10/24/1953 First flight of the Convair F-102A.
1/7/1954 XF-104 Starfighter makes first flight.

9/1/1954 USAF Air Defense Command established.

8/23/1954 Lockheed YC-130 flies for the first time.


Preserved Boeing RB-47H, Eglin AFB

10/24/1956 Last B-47 bomber of 2032 built, is handed over to the Air Force.
12/12/1957 A USAF F-101A Voodoo interceptor flown by Major Adrian Drew, reaches 1207.6 MPH, a new speed record.
3/7/1957 First Flight of the F-100F.
8/22/1957 The first production Douglas C-133 is delivered to the USAF.
9/16/1958 First flight of the prototype of the North American T-39A is made.

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Beale AFB – based T-38A

3/10/1959 First flight of Northrop’s T-38A.
7/30/1959 Northrop F-5 prototype exceeds Mach 1 on its initial flight.


Warbird F-100F Super Sabre

8/7/1959 Two F-100Fs became the first-ever jet fighters to fly over the North Pole.
8/26/1959 An Air Force VC-137, with president Eisenhower aboard, ushers in the Air Force 1 jet age.


Warbird B-25 Mitchell

5/21/1960 Last B-25 Mitchell, a staff transport, is retired.
8/1/1960, first operational B-58 Hustler is accepted at Carswell AFB.
6/9/1961 The Military Air Transport Service accepts its first Boeing C-135A.


Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint

10/30/1961 A modified Air force KC-135A, under the “Big Safari” program, collected information from a massive Soviet nuclear explosion test, which led to the RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft a few years later.

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Boeing B-52H

10/26/1962 The last of 744 B-52s, an –H version, is delivered.

6/30/1962 The nation’s armed forces assign new type IDs to various aircraft as the tri-service ID system is adopted.


McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, Oregon ANG

11/20/1963 The first two Air Force F-4 Phantom IIs are accepted.
8/7/1963 YF-12A interceptor makes its first flight.


Second C-141A built, later known as an NC-141A

12/17/1963 First flight of the Lockheed C-141A.

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 On Mark Engineering A-26K Counter Invader – here as a warbird at the TICO Air Show in the 1990s.

5/30/1964 First flight of the much modified A-26K/A-26A by On Mark Engineering.
12/22/1964 First Flight of the SR-71 Blackbird.
9/21/1964 First flight of the XB-70A Mach 3 bomber.


Ramstein AFB-based F-4E Phantom II

8/7/1965 First YF-4E first flight.
4/12/1966 First B-52 bombing strikes occur in Vietnam.
12/29/1967 The last B-47 in SAC is retired.
10/3/1967 USAF Major “Pete” Knight flies the X-15A2 to Mach 6.72 at Edwards AFB.


C-5A Galaxy

3/2/1968 First C-5A is rolled out.


Cannon AFB, NM-based F-111D

5/15/1970 First flight of the General Dynamics F-111D
5/10/1972 First flight of the Fairchild YA-10.


Early F-15C Eagle wearing a Bitburg, Germany tail code

7/27/1972 First flight of the F-15A Eagle.
4/10/1973 First flight of Boeing’s T-43A trainer version of the B-737-200.


F-16 D Fighting Falcon in an Aggressor color scheme

2/2/1974 First official flight of the YF-16.
10/24/1974 An Air Force C-5A air launches an ICBM over the Pacific Ocean.


B-1B Departing Nellis AFB

12/23/1974 First flight of the B-1 bomber prototype.
2/1/1975 Operation Streak Eagle breaks multiple world records with a modified F-15A.
11/29/1975 First “annual” Red Flag exercise occurs from Nellis AFB.


Boeing E-3C Sentry at Nellis AFB

3/23/1977 First E-3A Sentry arrived at Tinker AFB.
3/24/1977 First C-141B flies.
1/6/1979 388th TFW Hill AFB accepts its first F-16.

3/12-14/1980 Two B-52s from the 644th BS fly nonstop around the world in 43.55 hours, over 21,256 miles, and would win the Mackay trophy for that year.


McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender with underwing hose and reel drums

3/17/1981 First KC-10A delivered
10/2/1981 President Reagan orders 100 B-1s


Lockheed F-117A

6/18/1981 First flight of the F-117
8/1/1981 First flight of the TR-1, the updated Lockheed U-2.


Preserved F-101B Voodoo interceptor, Edwards AFB

9/21/1982 Final F-101B retired from the Air National Guard.
4/14/1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon sends two dozen F-111s to attack Libyan targets.
7/17/1989 First Flight of the B-2A.


LTV YA-7F Super Corsair at Edwards AFB

11/29/1989 First flight of a YA-7F, a supersonic version of the LTV A-7. The Air Force later cancelled the program without a major purchase.

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Boeing EC-135G Airborne Command Post

7/24/1990 Last Looking Glass flight after almost 30 years of continuous USAF airborne command post operation.
8/7/1990 Desert Shield launched, 24 F-15Cs supported by KC-10s leave the US.


The second VC-25A ordered

8/23/1990 First VC-25A delivered to the 89th MAW for Presidential transport.
1/18/1991 Operation Desert Storm is launched.
2/28/1990 Desert Storm ends by a declared cease fire.
9/15/1991 First flight of the C-17A.


Raytheon (Beech) T-1A Jayhawk

1/17/1992 First T-1A presented to Air Force at Wichita.
3/24/1992 The Open Skies Treaty signed by 25 nations.

6/1/1992 In a major reorganization, the Air Force inactivated Strategic Air
Command, Tactical Air Command, and Military Airlift Command; it
then activated Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and United States Strategic Command,

7/1/1992 Continuing its reorganization, the Air Force inactivated Air Force Logistics
Command and Air Force Systems Command; it then activated Air Force
Materiel Command to replace them.


Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit

12/17/1993 First B-2A arrived at Whiteman AFB.
5/3/1994 Last B-52G is retired.
6/11/1996 The first E-8 JSTARS is acquired.


General Dynamics F-111F

6/27/1996 The last USAF F-111s were withdrawn from service.
9/3/1996 The first RQ-1B UAV, operated by the Air Force’s 11th RS, begins operations.


Convair QF-106A

2/20/1997 The final QF-106 full scale target is shot down.
9/7/1997 First flight of an F-22.
2/28/1998 First flight of an RQ-4 Global Hawk.


Boeing C-32A

6/19/1998 First C-32A delivered the 89th Wing, Andrews AFB.
2/17/1999 First C-130J is delivered to 403rd Wing at Keesler AFB.
5/23 2000 First T-6A delivered.


Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk

4/23/2001 First trans pacific RQ-4A flight to Australia occurs.
6/22/2002 First flight of the YAL-1A, a modified B-747 carrying a laser.

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Boeing KC-135R

4/21/2003 Last PACER CRAG KC-135 update completed.
12/20/2004 20th FS deactivated at Holloman AFB, it was the last F-4 operational unit in the USAF.

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Fairchild A-10C Thunderbolt II

1/2005 First flight of an A-10C.
6/9/2005 Final KC-135R delivered, 420 in total have been modified.


Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey

3/20/2006 First production CV-22 Osprey is received by AFSOC.
5/6/2006 Final C-141 flight ends at Wright Patterson AFB to go to the Air Force museum there.
6/19/2006 First C-5M flight.
12/15/2006 First flight of the F-35.
3/21/2008 Final T-37 training sortie completed.

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Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk

4/21/2008 Final F-117 sortie made.
9/27/2008 Final MH-53 Pave Low mission flown.
7/23/2009 Final KC-135E mission flown to AMARG.
4/19/2010 First HC-130J rolled out.

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Boeing T-43A

9/17/2010 The last  T-43A is retired
2/24/2011 KC-46A development contract awarded to Boeing after previous bid award and cancellations.
6/20/2011 USAF Academy’s 557 FTS receives its first T-53A.
5/1/2012 The final C-130E in USAF service is retired.


MC-130E Combat Talon

6/22/2012 Final MC-130E flight is made.
11/19/2012 First QF-16 drone arrives for testing at Tyndall AFB.
11/29/2014 The new Air Force CSAR helicopter is designated the Sikorsky HH-60W.
11/26/2014 The first Embraer A-29A Super Tucano arrives at Moody AFB for training Afghan Air Force pilots.
1/24/2016 The first air refueling between a KC-46A and an F-16 takes place.


Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

8/2/2016 The U.S. Air Force declares that the F-35A is now combat ready.

F-35 Helmet dan mmyers copy

Essential equipment for the F-35A is a lightweight helmet that can provide transparency of the airframe from the pilot’s perspective…


One of the last four airworthy QF-4E jets before the Phantom II Phinale at Holloman AFB  

 12/21/2016 The final flights of the remaining QF-4Es at Holloman AFB retires the Phantom II from USAF service.


Gulfstream C-20B

9/4/2017 Last C-20Bs are retired after almost 30 years of service.

Here are a few dozen more photos from the U. S. Air Force’s past and present… how many of these can you identify??

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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