The U.S. Air Force is Seventy Years Old

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The RAF Red Arrows lead the USAF Thunderbirds in an Anniversary salute to the U.S. Air Force in the U.K. this year 

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!


Early USAF Fighters… F-51D and F-47D (warbirds)

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 recounts the breaking of the sound barrier at the 50th anniversary celebration at Edwards AFB

 10/14/1947: Captain “Chuck” Yeager breaks the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 over Muroc Dry Lake, California. (Above photo taken at the 50th Anniversary of the breaking of the sound barrier at Edwards AFB, 1997)
6/26/1948: First known as Operation Vittles, the Berlin Airlift’s details were worked out between the RAF and USAF, as they work together to transport supplies into the U.S.’s zone of the city of Berlin, Germany.


North American F-86s (warbirds)

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.

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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

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.

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Lockheed C-130H

 8/23/1954 Lockheed YC-130 flies for the first time.
10/24/1956 Last B-47 bomber of 2032 built, is handed over to the Air Force.
12/26/1956 Convair’s F-106A makes its first flight.


McDonnell F-101B (From the AFFTC museum collection at Edwards AFB)

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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Northrop T-38A Talon

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

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North American F-100F Super Sabre (warbird) 

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.
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.
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.


Oregon Air National Guard F-4C Phantom II

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


Lockheed NC-141A Starlifter

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


Lockheed SR-71A

 12/22/1964 First Flight of the SR-71 Blackbird.
9/21/1964 First flight of the XB-70A Mach 3 bomber.
4/12/1966 First B-52 bombing strikes occur in Vietnam.


Boeing RB-47H at the Eglin AFB Armament Museum

 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.
3/2/1968 First C-5A is rolled out.

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Fairchild A-10C at Eielson AFB

 5/10/1972 First flight of the Fairchild YA-10.
4/10/1973 First flight of Boeing’s T-43A trainer version of the B-737-200.


General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcon

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.


Rockwell B-1B

 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.
3/23/1977 First E-3A Sentry arrived at Tinker AFB.

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Lockheed C-141B at Westover ARB

 3/24/1977 First C-141B flies.

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Air Force Heritage Flight F-16C block 50 Wild Weasel and QF-4E

1/6/1979 388th TFW Hill AFB accepts its first F-16.


Boeing B-52H Stratofortress

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

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

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Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk makes a rare daylight appearance during a Red Flag exercise

 6/18/1981 First flight of the F-117

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Lockheed U-2S/(ex-TR-1 identification)

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

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Northrop B-2A Spirit at Nellis AFB

 7/17/1989 First Flight of the B-2A.
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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EC-135G used for Looking Glass flights, at Westover AFB

 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.


Boeing VC-25A

8/23/1990 First VC-25A delivered to the 89th MAW for Presidential transport.


Lockheed C-5A Galaxy was used extensively during the build-up to operation Desert Storm

 1/18/1991 Operation Desert Storm is launched.
2/28/1990 Desert Storm ends by a declared cease fire.

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McDonnell Douglas/Boeing C-17A Globemaster III

 9/15/1991 First flight of the C-17A.
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.
12/17/1993 First B-2A arrived at Whiteman AFB.
5/3/1994 Last B-52G is retired.


Boeing E-8C JSTARS

 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 at the Air Force 50th Anniversary show at Nellis AFB

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


Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk

2/28/1998 First flight of an RQ-4 Global Hawk.
2/17/1999 First C-130J is delivered to 403rd Wing at Keesler AFB.

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Raytheon T-6A Texan II

 5/23 2000 First T-6A delivered.
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.
1/2005 First flight of an A-10C.
6/9/2005 Final KC-135R delivered, 420 in total have been modified.


Bell/Boeing CV-22 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.


Cessna T-37C

 3/21/2008 Final T-37 training sortie completed.
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 T-43 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.


Lockheed MC-130E

 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 F-35A Lightning II

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


McDonnell Douglas F-4E that was based at Ramstein AFB, Germany

12/21/2016 The final flights of the remaining QF-4Es at Holloman AFB retires the Phantom II from USAF service.
9/4/2017 Last C-20Bs are retired after almost 30 years of service.

Here’s a 70 photo slide show with other aircraft of the USAF… how many of these can you identify??

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