The United States Air Force was originally a part of the US Army when created by the United States War Department in 1907. It wasn’t until 40 years later that the National Security Act of 1947 created the independent United States Air Force.
Over the last 70 years, the USAF has played an important part in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force has also consistently been on the cutting edge of aeronautical research, with experimental aircraft that continues to amaze and inspire the world.
Trace the history of the United States Air Force over the last 70 years in the 70 photos below and take pride in the world’s largest and most technologically advanced air forces.
W. Stuart Symington, first Secretary of the Air Force and Gen. Carl Spaatz, first Air Force Chief of Staff at a press conference announcing the new organizational set-up for the Department of the Air Force, 1947. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-29 cockpit showing the pilot and co-pilot stations. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-29s drop bombs on North Korean targets early in the conflict. (U.S. Air Force photo)
An Air Force H-5G fitted with two stretchers prepares to evacuate a wounded soldier, July 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)
78758 AC–Supplies for Embattled UN Troops-Flying in close formation with other transport planes near Chungju, a C-119 Flying Boxcar of the US Far East Air Force’s Combat Cargo Command drops tons of rations and gasoline to UN troops waiting on a snow-covered battlefield a few hundred feet below. More than 300 tons of supplies were airdropped. (USAF Photo)
RB-26Cs carried cameras in the nose and in the fuselage behind the wings. (U.S. Air Force photo) ER.1999.103
This striking photograph of the lead bomber was made from a B-29 Superfort of the Far East Air Forces 9th Bomber Group on the 150th combat mission the 19th Bomber Grou has flown since the start of the Korean War. February 1951
Korea, July 1951. Loading rockets on F-51s of 18th Fighter Bomber Wing. 80497 AC. Note SAAF Mustangs in distance.
Under constant guard by Air Police at a U.S. Air Force installation on Okinawa, reassembly of the MIG-15 is completed on the flight line. After careful ground testing, the Russian-built fighter was flown by five U.S. Air Force pilots during a week of extensive tests. October 1953. U.S. Air Force Photo
Gun camera photo of MIG 15 taken during areal combat somewhere over Korea
The Bell Aircraft Company X-2 (46-674) drops away from its Boeing B-50 mothership in this photo. Lt. Col. Frank “Pete” Everest piloted 674 on its first unpowered flight on August 5 1954. He made the first rocket-powered flight on November 18, 1955. Everest made the first supersonic X-2 flight in 674 on April 25, 1956, achieving a speed of Mach 1.40. In July, he reached Mach 2.87, just short of the Mach 3 goal.
This inflight photograph of the X-2 (46-674) shows the twin set of shock-diamonds, characteristic of supersonic conditions in the exhaust plume from the two-chamber rocket engine.
On Aug. 16, 1960, Col. Kittinger stepped from a balloon-supported gondola at the altitude of 102,800 feet. In freefall for 4.5 minutes at speeds up to 714 mph and temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, he opened his parachute at 18,000 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A UH-1 gunner manning a GAU-2 minigun that fired 7.62mm ammunition. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Crewmen load the gun pod for an F-4C aircraft at a base in South Vietnam. May 1967.
An F-4D from the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, armed with two GBU-10s. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Aerial refueling permitted tactical aircraft to operate in the northern part of North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)
F-105 crews played a key role in ROLLING THUNDER. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A USAF HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter picks up a pilot from the water while performing its mission as a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam. National Museum of the USAF
Thirsty F-105 Thunderchiefs receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker on their way to targets in North Vietnam, December 1965. The KC-135 was the USAF’s first all-jet tanker. (U.S. Air Force photo)
F-100D of the 352nd Tactical Fighter Squadron dropping a napalm bomb near Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. Super Sabres could carry an impressive array of weapons, including high explosive bombs, napalm, rockets, cluster bombs and even the guided Bullpup missile. (U.S. Air Force photo)
One of the “Big Belly” B-52Ds releasing its 60,000-pound bomb load of bombs on enemy targets in Vietnam. It could carry up to 84 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound bombs internally and 24 750-pound bombs externally on racks under the wings. (U.S. Air Force photo)
An F-15C Eagle aircraft of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing is silhouetted against the sunrise while on a combat patrol near the Iraqi border during Operation Desert Shield.
RF-4C Phantom reconnaissance aircraft from the 152nd Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Reno, Nev., prepare for a mission during Operation Desert Shield.
A U.S. Air Force F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter aircraft from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender aircraft from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing during Operation Desert Shield. The Nighthawk is en route to Saudi Arabia.
Munitions specialists from the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing, England Air Force Base, La., load 30mm rounds of ammunition into an A-10A Thunderbolt II attack aircraft for its GAU-8/A Avenger cannon prior to a sortie in support of Operation Desert Storm.
An air-to-air view of two U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and a Royal Saudi Air Force F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft during a mission in support of Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft are armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
A boom operator for a KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a B-52 Stratofortress during air operations for Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. (Department of Defense Photo/Senior Airman Chris Putnam)
An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm.
U.S. Air Force F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft fly over burning oil field sites in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force archive photo)
A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft assigned to the 58th Tactical Fighter Squadron banks to the right following refueling during Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft is armed with four AIM-7 Sparrow missiles on the fuselage, an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the left wing and an AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile on the right wing.
U.S. Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter aircraft from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing are lined up on the flight line with canopies raised following their return from Saudi Arabia where they took part in Operation Desert Storm.
The SR-71B Blackbird, flown by the Dryden Flight Research Center as NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. Notice the dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly the airplane.
A self-portrait of Brian Shul in full flight suit gear within the cockpit of the SR-71 Blackbird.
A US Air Force (USAF) F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter aircraft flies over Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada (NV), during the joint service experimentation process dubbed Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02)
A-10 provides top cover for troops in Iraq
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft deploys countermeasure flares Nov. 12, 2008, over Afghanistan. The aircraft is assigned to the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon approaches a 908th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10A Extender to be refueled over Afghanistan, Oct. 2, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller) (Released)
HERAT, AFGHANISTAN – U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan Tourville adjusts the contrast of PAS 13 thermal weapons sight mounted on a M240-B crew serve weapon in Herat, Aug. 19, 2009. Specialist Tourville is a member of the Herat Regional Mentor Team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Marc I. Lane)(Released)
U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, drop 2,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions on a cave in eastern Afghanistan, Nov. 26, 2009. The 335th is deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller) (Released)
A C-130 takes off on a dirt landing strip in Qalat, Afghanistan August 14, 2011. The C-130 transported Army passengers and cargo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri/Released)
A U.S. Air Force Globemaster III airdrops supplies on Forward Operating Base Lane, Afghanistan, July 21, 2011.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Stephen Swift, a loadmaster with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, performs pre-flight checks and engine start-up at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, May 4, 2012. The C-17 is one of two aerial resupply platforms utilized by the U.S. Air Forces Air Mobility Division. In 2011 the AMD directed the dropping of over 58,000 bundles comprising more than 80 million pounds of critical supplies to personnel in austere combat outposts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Greg C. Biondo)
A pair of specially painted F-117 Nighthawks fly off from their last refueling by the Ohio National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing.
An A-10 Thunderbolt II is refueled Aug. 18, 2011, over Southern Afghanistan. The most prominent feature of the A-10 Thunderbolt II is the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling-gun cannon. This weapon is capable of firing 3,900 rounds a minute and can defeat an array of ground targets, including tanks. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
Lt. Col. Brian Burger fires off a flare while banking into a high-angle firing position during a training exercise over Razorback Range at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, Ark., June 4, 2012.
An F-15E Strike Eagle receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker Sept. 23, 2014, over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant targets in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Released)
A U.S. Air Force Airman from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron jumps out of the back of a MH-47 Chinook helicopter at Wynnehaven Beach, Fla., April 9, 2013. The 23rd STS partnered with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) to conduct personnel recovery training using alternate infiltration and exfiltration techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
The Thunderbirds perform the ‘Delta Opener’ during the Wings and Waves Air Show Oct. 12, 2014, at Daytona Beach, Fla. The Thunderbirds are the Air Force’s precision flying demonstration team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez/Released)
A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard participates in flare training off the Ventura County coast. The flares are used as count measures to confuse and redirect heat seeking missiles when they are flying in uncontrolled airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dave Buttner/Released)
C-17 Globemaster IIIs deploy flares over the Nevada Test and Training Range during the U.S. Air Force Weapons School’s Joint Forcible Entry Exercise 14B Dec. 6, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas Spangler/Released)
Maj. Blaine Jones demonstrates various Thunderbirds’ maneuvers during a training sortie Dec. 10, 2014. The United States Air Force Thunderbirds conduct daily training flights to prepare for the upcoming 2015 show season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Couillard/Released)
Two F-15E Strike Eagles wait to receive fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker Jan. 23, 2015, on their way to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in support of Red Flag 15-1.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 80th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, takes off at Jungwon AB, South Korea, during Buddy Wing 15-6 on July 8, 2015.
Two HC-130J Combat King IIs sit on the flightline in preparation for cargo unload at Diyarbakir Air Base, Turkey, Sept. 28, 2015. The aircraft deployed to Diyarbakir AB in an effort to enhance coalition capabilities and support personnel recovery operations in Syria and Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush)
An F-22 pilot from the 95th Fighter Squadron based out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., gets situated in his aircraft prior to taking off from Amari Air Base, Estonia, Sept. 4, 2015, during a brief forward deployment.
An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 33rd Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, performs a rope-ladder recovery with Airmen from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron during an amphibious operations exercise Sept. 22, 2015, off the west coast of Okinawa, Japan.
Several C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, help U.S. Army and British paratroopers perform a static line jump at Holland Drop Zone in preparation for Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise 15-01 at Fort Bragg, N.C., April 11, 2015.
A P-51 Mustang flies over Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., during a military tattoo Sept. 16, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant)
A Beechcraft twin-engine aircraft performs a routine at sunset during the Sound of Speed Air Show above the Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, Mo., Aug. 26, 2016. The air show was hosted by the Missouri Air National Guard’s 139th Airlift Wing to thank the surrounding community for its support. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson)
Air Force pararescuemen from the 31st Rescue Squadron and HH-60 Pave Hawks from the 33rd Rescue Squadron rescue simulated survivors during exercise Keen Sword 17 on Nov. 9, 2016, near Okinawa, Japan. KS17 involved U.S. forces and the Japan Self-Defense Forces from all components of both militaries, training to conduct bilateral operations in support of the defense of Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis)
An F-16 Fighting Falcon with the 18th Aggressor Squadron prepares to take off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, shortly after sunrise Jan. 24, 2016, in transit to Kadena Air Base, Japan, to participate in training exercises. More than 150 maintainers from the 354th Fighter Wing will keep the aggressors in the air and prepare Airmen, Sailors and Marines for contingency operations along with coalition partners in the Pacific theater. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)
An F-22 Raptor performs a heritage flight during the 2017 Heritage Flight Training Course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Feb. 9, 2017. The program was established in 1997, allowing certified civilian pilots and Air Force pilots to perform flights together. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle)
Aircrew members assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron prepare to land a CV-22 Osprey Jan. 7, 2016, at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M. The aircraft landed to pick up Command Sgt. Maj. William Thetford, the U.S. Special Operations Command senior enlisted adviser, during his visit to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel Martinez)
An F-15E Strike Eagle receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker during a mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Sept. 6, 2017. The Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems give the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France fly together over Death Valley, Calif., April 17, 2017. The Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France are two of the oldest aerial demonstration teams in the world. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)
U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds conduct a flyover during the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles football game at the FedEx Field in Hyattsville, Md., Sept. 10, 2017. The game was dedicated to the men and women of the Air Force in celebration of the service’s 70th birthday. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jannelle McRae)