High Flying Facts About The United States Air Force

The United States Air Force is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces. Established in 1907, the Air Force was originally a part of the United States Army before becoming its own branch of the military in 1947. The USAF is regarded as the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world, operating 5,369 military aircraft, 406 ICBMs, and 170 military strategies as of 2017. Curious about the USAF? Take a look at some of these lesser-known facts.

The Top Jet Fighter Ace Is Joseph C. McConnell

McConnell on the wing of a plane
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In the Air Force, an “ace” refers to a pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft. The top ace in the history of the Air Force is Joseph C. McConnell, who earned the title of a “triple ace” after shooting down sixteen MiG fighters during the Korean War.

He managed to do this in the short span of four months in 1953, shooting down three planes on his final mission before returning home. For his heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. Unfortunately, he was killed in pilot testing in 1954 although his record stands today.

One Plane Design Is Inspired By Bumblebees

Plane flying over mountains
Jerod Harris/Getty Images
Jerod Harris/Getty Images

The F-117 fighter plane uses the same aerodynamics as that of a bumblebee in flight. The F-117 was the first real stealth plane ever created, made entirely of flat surfaces. The plane can’t be detected by radar, is all black, and is only flown at night, making it undetectable to the naked eye.

Although the plane was designed to be used during the Cold War, it was of particular use during Desert Storm. The Iraqis referred to it as “Shiba” , meaning ghost, although the Air Force pilots knew it as “Wobbly Goblin.”

Their Weathermen Are Highly-Trained Fighters

Gauging the weather
U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

Before the Air Force sends out soldiers and millions of dollars worth of aircraft into areas, it’s crucial that they check the weather conditions. However, before flying into hostile territories, to collect meteorological intelligence, the Air Force sends in highly trained Special Operations Weather Teams, now known as Special Reconnaissance.

These are commando forces trained to covertly go behind enemy lines, run tests on the weather, and report back. However, to be a part of such a team, soldiers must undergo rigorous training to be able to jump out of planes and operate and fight in any environment. Those who make it through are given a grey beret and crest for their skill.

Jimmy Stewart Had Trouble Getting Into The Air Force

Stewart in uniform
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Actor Jimmy Stewart, best known for his portrayal of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, was eager to follow in his family’s footsteps and enlisted in the US Army in 1940. However, he didn’t meet the height requirements and was turned away. Stewart then tried enlisting in the Army Air Corps and was turned away yet again.

After convincing his recruiting officer for further testing, he passed, although they wanted to use him in promotional films. Offended, he denied the request and worked his way into a combat unit. By the end of WWII, he had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and was a colonel before eventually retiring as a Brigadier General.

They Have An Annual Tradition With Their Facial Hair

Portrait of Robin Olds
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

While most airmen may not always be caught up on the latest fashion trends, they certainly have some of their own, one of these is known as "Mustache March." The tradition takes place in the month of March in which the men in the Air Force grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend Robin Olds, a formidable pilot with an even deadlier mustache.

The tradition can be traced back to an old tradition when members men of the Air Force would grow out their facial hair in a friendly protest against facial hair regulations during the month of March.

One Air Force Base Had Enough Explosives To End The World

Nuclear Explosion
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

During the 1960s and 70s, the majority of nuclear weapons and other deadly bombs were located in North Dakota. The Minot Air Force Base was established as a major Strategic Air Command Facility and was home to nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, planes, and bombers.

Essentially, it had everything needed to start and possibly end World War III. At one point, if North Dakota would have seceded from the United States, it would have been the third-largest nuclear power in the world.

A Member Of The Air Force Was The First To Break The Sound Barrier

Captain Yeagerr
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Captain Chuck Yeager is a former United States Air Force officer, a flying ace, and a record-setting pilot. His career began during World War II as a private in the Army Air Forces. Serving as an aircraft mechanic, he enlisted in pilot training in 1942 and was promoted to the rank of flight officer, becoming a P-51 fighter pilot.

On top of his countless accomplishments during wartime, Captain Yeager was also the first pilot confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.

They Created A Supercomputer Made Out Of PlayStations

Playsation 3
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

In November 2010, the Air Force Research Laboratory created an immensely powerful supercomputer which they dubbed as the "Condor Cluster." The computer was made by connecting 1,760 Sony PlayStation 3s which had 168 separate graphic processing units and 84 coordinating servers.

The computer was so powerful, in fact, that it was named the 33rd largest supercomputer in the world and is used to analyze high-definition satellite imagery. Little did Sony expect this is how their gaming system would be put to use.

The Air Force May Soon Have A Presence In Space

Image of space and stars
VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to Air Force Doctrine 3-14.1, we must “be prepared to deprive an adversary of the benefits of space capabilities when American interests and lives are at stake […] Counterspace operations have defensive and offensive elements, both of which depend on robust space situation awareness.”

So, it appears that the government and the Air Force might be working together to create a segment of the military who will be tasked with being both defensive and offensive in the realm of space.

They Have An Official Air Force Band

Band marching in Rose Parade
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Established in 1941, the United States Air Force Band consists of 184 active-duty members of the Air Force. Based at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., the band is comprised of six performing ensembles including the Concert Band, Singing Sergeants, Airmen of Note, Air Force Strings, Ceremonial Brass, and Max Impact.

They play a wide variety of music yet specialize in genres such as popular, jazz, and classical. Their goal is to produce and perform music meant to inspire the American people while simultaneously expressing the values of the United States Air Force.

They Are The Only Branch To Directly Fight The Soviet Union

Airplanes flying
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The United States and the Soviet Union fought one battle during World War II, a dogfight over the Serbian town of Niš. The battle occurred on November 7, 1944, and happened because both countries mistook one another for Germans.

This was one of the two direct military confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union in the history of the two countries. The other was the attack on the Sui-ho Dam during the Korean War in the 1950s.

The Tradition Of Stomping

Aimen jumping on roof
Reddit
Reddit

There’s a tradition in the Air Force in which the airmen welcome their new commander by stomping on his or her roof. Known as a “roof stomp,” it typically involves officers and originated as a “no-notice hospitality check” in flying units where pilots would go to a commander’s house to see if they could host them with food, drinks, and entertainment.

Initially, this practice was meant to be a surprise, but it’s not uncommon for the commander to be prepared ahead of time today.

They’re Prepared For The Worst

E-4B being refueled
USAF
USAF

The United States Air Force is prepared for a worst-case scenario situation in order to protect higher-ups in the government in case some cataclysm was to take place. They control a fleet of Boeing E-4Bs that they refer to as “Doomsday Planes.”

These planes are capable of being airborne for a week and have a five-mile-long trailing wire antenna to communicate with nuclear submarines. On top of that, they cost around $160,000 per hour for the Air Force just top operate.

Star Trek Is Largely Based On Air Force Culture

Star Trek characters
CBS
CBS

The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry flew in World War II, flying in 8g combat missions which eventually led to him receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Being so involved in the military, Roddenberry borrowed many aspects of the Air Force and incorporated them into his creation of the show.

The ranks of crew members aboard the Starship Enterprise reflect those of Navy sailors and Air Force pilots. Furthermore, A Starfleet Academy is mentioned, and various military jargon is sprinkled throughout.

The Air Force Is How Johnny Cash Got His Name

Johnny Cash playing
RB/Redferns
RB/Redferns

When the iconic country singer was born, his parents originally named him J.R. However, when he tried to enlist in the Air Force, they wouldn’t allow him to use initials as his first name. So, he decided to use the name John R. Cash.

He went on to serve four years, from 1950 to 1954, and acted as a Morse code operator, intercepting messages from the Soviet Union. In fact, he played in his first band while serving in Landsberg, Germany.

Chuck Norris Was An Airman

Norris Giving A Speech
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

In 1958, Carlos Ray Norris joined the United States Air Force where he served ins South Korea as an Air Policeman. While in South Korea, Norris acquired the nickname “Chuck,” and began his training in Tang Soo Do, resulting in numerous black belts.

He then went on to become the founder of Chun Kuk Do “The Universal Way,” his own school of fighting style. Upon returning from South Korea, he continued to serve as an Air Policeman in California until he was discharged from service in 1962.

The First Woman To Fly In Combat Was A Senator

Giving a speech
Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Martha McSally is a senator from Arizona who served in the Air Force from 1988 to 2010. She retired from the service as a colonel, making her one of the highest-ranking female pilots ever.

Furthermore, she was the first female American to fly in combat missions, and when the ban was lifted in 1991, she piloted the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II over Iraq and Kuwait in Operation Southern Watch. She was also the first American female to command an Air Force fighter squadron.

The Air Force Tracks Santa

NORAD Santa Tracker
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Back on December 24, 1955, a newspaper ad was released encouraging kids to call Santa Claus on a phone number that was included. In reality, the number that was listed was the U.S. Air Defense Command. The colonel on duty proceeded to order his team to give the location of Santa’s sleigh to the children that called.

Although it was supposed to be a one-time thing, it has been a tradition every year since. Today, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), uses a website to show where Santa is on Christmas Eve.

The Air Force Has The Same Birthday As The CIA

CIA logo
Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The National Security Act of 1947, created some serious changes in the national security of the United States. The act separated the Army Air Forces from the Army, making it its own branch of the military which is now the US Air Force.

The bill was also responsible for creating the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). President Truman signed the National Security Act in 1947 while riding in what eventually would be called Air Force One.

Air Force One Isn’t The Name Of The Airplane

Air Force One landed
whitehouse.gov
whitehouse.gov

When you hear Air Force One, most people assume that it’s a designated airplane that the President of the United States travels in. However, there are two of them, and the Boeing VC-25s are referred to as 28000 or 29000.

Air Force One is the traffic control designation for any plane that the president is a passenger on. For example, when President Nixon resigned, his plane took off as Air Force One but landed as SAM 27000. Air Force One has the security equivalent of a nuclear weapon, and the airmen have permission to use deadly force if needed.