SR-71 Blackbird aircraft


From Airpower to Global Superpower

For over a century, our Airmen have helped our nation remain a leading global superpower in air, space and cyberspace.
  • 1912–1939
    Changing the Way of War

    Fixed-winged aircraft came onto the scene in ground attacks when WWI broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914. This marked one of the greatest evolutions in warfare-tactics technology, soon putting the U.S. in the lead.

    Airman posing with historic aircraft
  • 1940–1945
    Establishing the High Ground

    With over 30 countries drawn into WWII, the skies marked the ultimate vantage point—starting with Japan bombing Pearl Harbor and ending with the U.S. dropping two atomic bombs nearly four years later.

    First female pilot
  • 1946–1949
    Pushing the Envelope

    The U.S. continued to advance its airpower and military structure, separating the Air Force into its own military branch, and in turn, became a leading superpower. Subsequently, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve were established to expand our military presence, with Reservists ready to serve during wartime.

    Group of Tuskegee Airmen
  • 1950–1953
    The Korean War

    The U.S. was pushed into the war between North Korea and South Korea. Just as North Korea appeared to be on the brink of victory, the U.S. entered and turned the tables, shifting the war to end in a stalemate and reestablishing itself as a global military power.

    B-26 Invader in flight
  • 1954–1964
    Breaking New Ground

    Barriers in scientific exploration, airpower and equality were broken within the military. Man looked beyond the atmosphere and began to travel into space. Meanwhile, the Air National Guard accepted its first African American pilot, 1st Lt Thomas E. Williams, and female Capt Norma Parsons.

    Astronaut space walk
  • 1965–1973
    The Vietnam War

    The U.S. traveled back to Southeast Asia to halt the spread of communism. Over the war’s course, air superiority became an ever-growing priority, leading to further needed leaps in development. Additionally, the Air Force fully integrated its Active Duty, Reserve and Air National Guard branches into an operational whole—sharing all resources and equipment and working side by side in battle.

    B-57 Canberra on the flight line
  • 1974–1989
    New Waves of Defense

    Following the Vietnam War, the Air Force experienced a relative peace from wartime, which sparked various new technological breakthroughs. Meanwhile, many women and minorities in the Air Force were being recognized for their service, opening new doors of opportunity.

    Cadets outside of the Air Force Academy
  • 1990–1999
    Making Our Mark

    At the close of the 20th century, the U.S. established itself as the most-advanced air force in the world during the liberation of Kuwait, activating the first GPS system and launching the first unmanned aircraft.

    UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter
  • 2000–Present
    21st Century and Beyond

    Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. was plunged into the War on Terror, with unmanned aircraft serving as a prime mover in air attacks. In 2009, they released the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Flight Plan, detailing their plans through 2047, which entailed that one third of the planes used were to be unmanned.

    MQ-9 Reaper in aircraft hangar
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