This chronology commemorates the golden anniversary of the establishment of the United States Air Force (USAF) as an independent service. Dedicated to the men and women of the USAF past, present, and future, it records significant events and achievements from 18 September 1947 through 9 April 1997.
Since its establishment, the USAF has played a significant role in the events that have shaped modern history. Initially, the reassuring drone of USAF transports announced the aerial lifeline that broke the Berlin blockade, the Cold War's first test of wills. In the tense decades that followed, the USAF deployed a strategic force of nuclear-capable intercontinental bombers and missiles that deterred open armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War's deadly flash points, USAF jets roared through the skies of Korea and Southeast Asia, wresting air superiority from their communist opponents and bringing air power to the support of friendly ground forces. In the great global competition for the hearts and minds of the Third World, hundreds of USAF humanitarian missions relieved victims of war, famine, and natural disaster. The Air Force performed similar disaster relief services on the home front. Over Grenada, Panama, and Libya, the USAF participated in key contingency actions that presaged post-Cold War operations.
In the aftermath of the Cold War the USAF became deeply involved in constructing a new world order. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, USAF flights succored the populations of the newly independent states. Blazing across the Iraqi skies, Desert Storm's aerial assault paved the way for the liberation of Kuwait and established the leadership of the United States in an emerging global coalition. Since then, the USAF has shielded Iraqi Kurds, relieved populations on the verge of starvation, supported the restoration of democracy in Haiti, and reestablished the authority of United Nations peacekeepers in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Tremendous technological changes have accompanied the USAF's first 50 years. Supersonic jets swiftly succeeded the propeller-driven relics of World War II, only to be replaced by faster and more complex progeny. In-flight refueling extended the range and capabilities of tactical and strategic aircraft. Advanced imaging systems installed in high-altitude jets, unpiloted drones, and orbiting satellites have enhanced the effectiveness of aerial reconnaissance. The advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile introduced a new and more terrible dimension to strategic deterrence. Over the same period the USAF advanced into space, as its people launched the first satellites, explored the moon, and crewed space shuttles.
The USAF's first 50 years also spanned a period of profound change in the society of the United States— change that has influenced the service's composition and policies. Opportunities for professional advancement have opened to all. Participating in the full range of military specialties, minorities and women now occupy some of the highest command positions. The diverse composition of the modern USAF, coupled with open opportunity, has paid off in greater internal cohesion and effectiveness and the fresh perspectives required to successfully pursue global engagement far into the twenty-first century.
Taken individually, each entry in this volume marks a single, notable moment in the evolution of an illustrious heritage. In the aggregate, the entries tell a remarkable story of a powerful military institution's adaptation to 50 years of political, technological, and social change.
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