The genesis for the Air Force Association began in August 1945 when Chief of the Army Air Forces General Henry H. Arnold asked Eastman Kodak executive, Edward Curtis, to create an organization of veterans returning from World War II that would promote airpower and promote the cause of a separate Air Force. Curtis held an organizing meeting in New York City on October 12, 1945, to create a nonprofit organization to meet Arnold's goals. Other significant founders of AFA in attendance were John Allard, Everett Cook, James H. Doolittle, Deering Howe, Rufus Rand, Sol Rosenblatt, Julian Rosenthal, James M. "Jimmy" Stewart, Lowell P. Weicker (Senior), Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, and John Hay Whitney.
Doolittle announced the Air Force Association in January 1946, explaining that it would be based on a "grass-roots structure", with affiliates on local, state, and regional levels, which would provide sponsorship for educational programs about the development of airpower.
The Air Force Association was incorporated in the District of Columbia on February 4, 1946. AFA's first national president was Doolittle, an aviation pioneer and recipient of the Medal of Honor. In July, Air Force Magazine, then the official service journal of the Army Air Forces, became AFA's official journal at Arnold's behest. In 1948 Doolittle took a year's leave of absence from Shell Oil, where he was a vice president, to establish AFA chapters nationwide.
“Whether you sported wings, or wore a plain shoulder patch; whether you were brass, non-com, or a private — you are WANTED and NEEDED in the Air Force Association.”
— JIMMY DOOLITTLE, FIRST PRESIDENT OF AFA, MAY 1947
When the United States entered World War I, it was the eighth-ranked nation in airpower. As other forces prioritized the impact of airpower, the U.S. Air Service drastically cut 6,000 of its 10,000 pilots in just nine days back in 1919. This did not sit well with Army General Billy Mitchell. He fought long and hard for the importance of airpower and the need for a strong national defense.
Today, we know Mitchell as the father of the United States Air Force. After his passing in 1936, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, the commander of World War II Army Forces, succeeded Mitchell as the leading voice for airpower. Nearly a decade later, General Arnold’s advocacy for an independent civilian organization was incorporated as the Air Force Association. While we have evolved over the decades to uphold the military’s standards, national security and the preservation of world peace has remained our core focus for members.
Monumental Moments in History for AFA
February 4, 1946: AFA was incorporated in Washington, D.C.
July 1946: Air Force Magazine, “The Official Service Journal of the US Army Air Forces,” became the official journal of the Air Force Association.
September 18, 1947: The United States Air Force became an independent military service through the National Security Act of 1947.
May 1956: The Air Force Association Foundation - later the Aerospace Education Foundation - was formally established.
August 1956: AFA honors the first class of Outstanding Airmen of the Year ( OAY ) at its 10th national convention.
April 1959: AFA’s World Congress of Flight in Las Vegas was the first international air show in U.S. history. Fifty-one foreign nations participated.
October 1960: AFA life insurance program begins, meeting a critical need for the families of military aviators, helping them obtain life insurance generally not available to them through other sources.
March 1964: AFA’s Airmen’s Council asks USAF to appoint a “Sergeant Major of the Air Force.” While the proposal was initially turned down, the effort continued until 1967 when the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force was appointed.
March 1967: The Aerospace Education Foundation undertakes “Project Utah” in cooperation with the U.S. Office of Education, which has received major credit for later helping secure accreditation for the Community College of the Air Force.
August 1984: After 38 years in the District of Columbia, AFA national headquarters moves into the association’s own building in Arlington, VA.
March 1994: An AFA Special Report, "The Smithsonian and the Enola Gay," exposes plans by the National Air & Space Museum to display the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a prop in an exhibit lacking balance and historical context. Due to AFA's coverage the museum changed the plan for the program and the exhibit.
October 2006: The Air Force Memorial is dedicated and the United States Air Force Memorial is presented to the nation.
May 2007: AFA establishes the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The institute seeks to carry on, in the modern day, General Mitchell’s tireless and dedicated effort to expand airpower thinking and increase public awareness of the need for this unique military instrument.
February 2009: AFA’s CyberPatriot program hosts its first competition. CyberPatriot was conceived by AFA to inspire high school students to pursue careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines critical to our nation's future.
November 2011: AFA establishes its Wounded Airman Program (WAP).
September 2014: AFA renames headquarters building to the Jimmy Doolittle building.
April 2015: AFA's StellarXplorers program hosts its first competition. StellarXplorers is a rigorous hands-on space system design challenge that involves all aspects of system development and operation, focusing on spacecraft and payload.
September 2017: AFA commemorates 70th anniversary of the USAF with record-setting attendance at the Air, Space & Cyber Conference.
March 2018: AFA hosts Pilot Summit to assist USAF with pilot retention/recruitment.
Doolittle Raid on Tokyo
Four months after Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 the aircraft carrier USS Hornet sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific on a secret mission.
On the Hornet’s deck sat 16 specially equipped B-25 bombers—accompanied on this mission by a 200-strong contingent of crews and maintenance personnel. The Hornet’s own fighter planes were parked below deck to make room for these special passengers.
A few days after leaving the West Coast, the Hornet was met by a group of other U.S. carriers, destroyers, and cruisers that would escort it to the location in the Pacific where its mission would begin.
Check out video of 1942 newsreel - Doolittle Raid story begins 4:54 minutes into newsreel (Courtesy of the US National Archives)