September — it's the start of fall, the beginning of football season … and also a great time to celebrate the U.S. Air Force. Why? Well, because this branch of the military marks its 76th anniversary this year on September 18. In honor of this date, here are 10 facts about the Air Force and the daring men and women who keep the skies secure.
1. The Air Force Used to Be Part of the Army
The Air Force celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2022 — but that doesn't commemorate the day the first American aviators took to the sky. Rather, on that day in September 1947, the Air Force and Air Force Command were spun off from the Army, which had been in charge of airborne operations through both World Wars.
2. There Are 17 Air Force Bands
The Air Force Band is one of the premier military ensembles — but "one" is the wrong term. There are two main groups, joined by nine active duty bands, five in the National Guard and one deployed in Southwest Asia. These musicians are heard by six million people a year.
3. Air Force Planes Help Fight Wildfires
When wildfires recently struck California, the Air Force got the call to help with the firefighting effort. Specialized C-130 planes flew 156 missions to battle the blazes in just a single month.
4. NORAD Coordinates Air Defense — And Tracks Santa
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is an organization combining U.S. and Canadian air and space defense units. Among other things, it annually runs a popular site that lets kids bring up Saint Nick on the radar as he circles the globe.
5. Women Make Up Over One-Fifth of Air Force Members
The latest data shows that 21.4% of Air Force personnel are women. The service has trained female pilots since 1976, navigators since 1977 and fighter pilots since 1993. Among officers, this figure rises to 23.3% of personnel.
6. The Air Force Academy is the No. 2 Source of Astronauts
Can Air Force training get people ready to go to space? Historically, the answer has been yes. The Air Force Academy has produced 39 astronauts, making it second only to the Naval Academy.
7. "Sully" Had Air Force Training
Commercial Airline Pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger became famous for successfully landing his damaged jet on the Hudson River and saving over 150 passengers' lives. What you may not know is that he's an Air Force Academy graduate from the class of 1973.
8. 17 Air Force Football Players Have Gone Pro
The Air Force Academy's football team, the Falcons, have sent 17 players into the pro ranks, with the most recent being Detroit Lions tight end Garrett Griffin.
9. The Air Force Has a Grateful Dead Connection
Psychedelic rock and the U.S. military don't seem like obvious bedfellows, but in addition to astronauts, aviators and football players, the Air Force produced a member of the Grateful Dead. Keyboardist Tom Constanten played with the Dead from 1968-1970 directly after a stint in the Air Force.
10. The Air Force Museum Has Over 350 Vehicles and Missiles
The Air Force maintains a comprehensive museum on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The facility is the oldest military aviation museum in the world, and also the biggest, spanning 19 acres. All that space is necessary to hold the hundreds of pieces of decommissioned hardware on display.
Now you have 10 facts to share about the Air Force as the branch celebrates its 76th year this September. From early flying aces to astronauts exploring the cosmos, Air Force personnel have worn many hats over the years, and their mission is still evolving today.