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Air Force Academy history

The U.S Air Force Academy was established April 1, 1954, the culmination of an idea years in the making. Airpower leaders, long before the Air Force was a separate service, argued that they needed a school dedicated to war in the air, to train Airmen. After September 1947, when the Air Force was established as a separate service, this idea finally had the legitimacy of the new service behind it.

In 1948, the Air Force appointed a board, later named the Stearns-Eisenhower Board for its chairmen, to study existing military academies and the options for an Air Force academy. Their conclusions were strongly put: the Air Force needed its own school; they additionally recommended at least 40 percent of future officers be service academy graduates.

After Congress passed a bill establishing the Air Force Academy, the secretary of the Air Force appointed a commission to recommend a location. After traveling 21,000 miles and considering hundreds of sites, the commission recommended Colorado Springs as its first choice. The secretary agreed and the purchasing of the thousands of acres began. The state of Colorado contributed $1 million to the purchase of the land.

On July 11, 1955, the same year construction on the Academy began in Colorado Springs, the first class of 306 men was sworn-in at a temporary site, Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. Lieutenant Gen. Hubert R. Harmon, a key figure in the development of early plans for an Academy, was recalled from retirement by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to become the first Academy superintendent.

Two years later, Maj. Gen. James Briggs took over as the Academy's second superintendent. On Aug. 29, 1958, 1,145 cadets moved to the Academy's permanent site from Denver. Less than a year later, the Academy received academic accreditation and graduated its first class of 207 June 3, 1959. In 1964, the authorized strength of the Cadet Wing increased to 4,417. The present authorized strength is approximately 4,000.

Perhaps the most controversial event in the Academy's history was the admission of women. President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation Oct. 7, 1975, permitting women to enter the military academies. Women first entered the Air Force Academy June 28, 1976. The first class including women graduated in 1980 and included the Academy's first woman to be superintendent, retired Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson.

The Academy celebrated the 50th anniversary of its inception April 1, 2004. Three noteworthy events occurred in connection with the celebration: a 37-cent commemorative stamp was issued honoring the Academy with the Cadet Chapel strikingly portrayed; the Academy was declared a national historic landmark with a plaque installed on the Honor Court to mark the occasion; and Harmon was officially named as the "Father of the Air Force Academy," honoring the pivotal role he played in its planning and establishment. Further anniversaries were marked during the next four years, culminating with the 50th anniversary of the first commencement at the Academy in 2009.

The Academy provides the Air Force with a corps of officers dedicated to upholding the high standards of their profession. The Air Force in turn provides a proving ground for these officers, and sent back to its Academy dedicated staff members to educate and train future leaders. Fifty years after the first class entered, the Academy has graduated more than 50,000 officers intent on serving their country.

See also: Air Force Academy Heritage Pamphlet (.pdf, 352k)

(September 2018)