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Setting the Stage

The United States Air Force became an independent military service equal to the Army and Navy in 1947. It had existed as an air division of the Army since 1907, when the War Department created the Aeronautical Division to study the military potential of aircraft. In 1909, six years after the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, the Army purchased its first airplane.

For several years the military believed that airplanes were best used as support for ground troops. Advances in airplane and weapons technology during World War I and World War II, however, proved that air power could play a major role in national defense. By 1947, the newly-established Air Force had to meet the challenges of the modern age, including the threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. To do so, it would require well-trained and educated officers.

In 1954, the Federal Government authorized the creation of the United States Air Force Academy. It was to serve as the undergraduate educational institution of the Air Force in the same tradition as the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. These institutions, established in 1802 and 1850 respectively, had produced the nation's top military leaders for generations. The Air Force Academy quickly rose to the challenge and produced highly-trained officers qualified to lead the Air Force during the early Cold War, a time when the nation's defense policies relied heavily on air power.

 

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