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A U.S. Army dirigible flies above Fort Myer, Va., in 1908.
A U.S. Army dirigible flies above Fort Myer, Va., in 1908. (U.S. Army)
A U.S. Army dirigible flies above Fort Myer, Va., in 1908.
A U.S. Army dirigible flies above Fort Myer, Va., in 1908. (U.S. Army)
Orville Wright flies his Military Flier over Fort Myer, Va., in 1908, during a series of trials for the U.S. Army in September.
Orville Wright flies his Military Flier over Fort Myer, Va., in 1908, during a series of trials for the U.S. Army in September. (U.S. Army)
The Army's first tractor aircraft—the Burgess hydro Signal Corps No. 9—flies above the water at Salem, Mass., in July of 1912.
The Army's first tractor aircraft—the Burgess hydro Signal Corps No. 9—flies above the water at Salem, Mass., in July of 1912. (U.S. Air Force)
The Curtiss A-3B, developed and modified by the military in the 1930s, featured the standard dual machine guns but was also capable of carrying a 200-pound bomb.
The Curtiss A-3B, developed and modified by the military in the 1930s, featured the standard dual machine guns but was also capable of carrying a 200-pound bomb. (U.S. Air Force)
The Army Air Corps P-30 aircraft—the first with retractable landing gear and an enclosed heated cockpit—was ordered for mass production at the end of 1934. The fighter had machine guns that fired through the propeller and could reach speeds up to 270 mph.
The Army Air Corps P-30 aircraft—the first with retractable landing gear and an enclosed heated cockpit—was ordered for mass production at the end of 1934. The fighter had machine guns that fired through the propeller and could reach speeds up to 270 mph. (U.S. Air Force)
The P-51 Mustangs saw action in almost every combat zone of WWII, escorting bombers in the Pacific and destroying nearly 5,000 enemy aircraft in the air, according to an Air Force fact sheet. During the war, 14,855 Mustangs were ordered for production, most of which carried six .50-caliber machine guns and up to 2,000 pounds of bombs.
The P-51 Mustangs saw action in almost every combat zone of WWII, escorting bombers in the Pacific and destroying nearly 5,000 enemy aircraft in the air, according to an Air Force fact sheet. During the war, 14,855 Mustangs were ordered for production, most of which carried six .50-caliber machine guns and up to 2,000 pounds of bombs. (U.S. Air Force)
The initial incarnations of the F-86 Sabre saw action during the Cold War, going head-to-head with Russian MiGs during the Korean War. The original F-86A made its first flight in 1947, with the F-86E, pictured, and F-86F being the most produced models. The F-86 set the new world speed record in 1948 and could top out at 685 mph. During combat it carried six machine guns and either rockets or 2,000 pounds of bombs.
The initial incarnations of the F-86 Sabre saw action during the Cold War, going head-to-head with Russian MiGs during the Korean War. The original F-86A made its first flight in 1947, with the F-86E, pictured, and F-86F being the most produced models. The F-86 set the new world speed record in 1948 and could top out at 685 mph. During combat it carried six machine guns and either rockets or 2,000 pounds of bombs. (U.S. Air Force)
The North American F-100D was the world’s first airplane capable of flying faster than the speed of sound, or 760 mph. When production ended in 1959, 2,294 of the aircraft had been built, most featuring cannon, missile, rocket and bomb warfare capability.
The North American F-100D was the world’s first airplane capable of flying faster than the speed of sound, or 760 mph. When production ended in 1959, 2,294 of the aircraft had been built, most featuring cannon, missile, rocket and bomb warfare capability. (U.S. Air Force)
Development of the F-16A fighter began in the 1970s and the more popular, upgraded F-16C came in the early 1980s. The jet, used by many other countries—including Israel, Egypt and South Korea—can fly 1,500 mph and carry up to 12,000 pounds of missiles and bombs.
Development of the F-16A fighter began in the 1970s and the more popular, upgraded F-16C came in the early 1980s. The jet, used by many other countries—including Israel, Egypt and South Korea—can fly 1,500 mph and carry up to 12,000 pounds of missiles and bombs. (U.S. Air Force)
An F-35 Lightning II flies over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14, 2011. Its pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Smith is the first Air Force qualified F-35 pilot and is assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)
An F-35 Lightning II flies over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14, 2011. Its pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Smith is the first Air Force qualified F-35 pilot and is assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago) (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing made at least 20 versions of the B-29 Superfortress bomber, and it was the Enola Gay that became an iconic weapon of World War II, dropping an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945. The B-29 featured a pressurized cabin and range of up to 3,250 miles when carrying 20,000 pounds of bombs.
Boeing made at least 20 versions of the B-29 Superfortress bomber, and it was the Enola Gay that became an iconic weapon of World War II, dropping an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945. The B-29 featured a pressurized cabin and range of up to 3,250 miles when carrying 20,000 pounds of bombs. (U.S. Air Force)
Like the B-29 before it, Boeing made countless versions of the B-47 bomber, but started making the B-47E in 1953 and built 1,591 through the middle of the 1960s. The B-47E had rocket assisted takeoff packs from General Electric, could fly over 600 mph and had a range of about 3,500 miles, depending on payload.
Like the B-29 before it, Boeing made countless versions of the B-47 bomber, but started making the B-47E in 1953 and built 1,591 through the middle of the 1960s. The B-47E had rocket assisted takeoff packs from General Electric, could fly over 600 mph and had a range of about 3,500 miles, depending on payload. (U.S. Air Force)
The first B-52s were ordered in 1951, and several Stratofortress versions later the Boeing B-52D was used extensively in the Vietnam War. The six person crew could reach a top speed of 638 mph, and had a range of 3,305 miles while carrying up to 60,000 pounds of bombs.
The first B-52s were ordered in 1951, and several Stratofortress versions later the Boeing B-52D was used extensively in the Vietnam War. The six person crew could reach a top speed of 638 mph, and had a range of 3,305 miles while carrying up to 60,000 pounds of bombs. (U.S. Air Force)
The B-1 aircraft from Rockwell International brought the keyword ‘supersonic’ into the bomber vocabulary when it started to take flight in the mid-1970s. Basically, the B1-A and B1-B, pictured, were not only faster than the B-52, but used shorter runways and were less visible on radar. The B1-B had a range of about 7,500 miles, could go as fast as 900 mph and could carry dozens of 500-pound bombs.
The B-1 aircraft from Rockwell International brought the keyword ‘supersonic’ into the bomber vocabulary when it started to take flight in the mid-1970s. Basically, the B1-A and B1-B, pictured, were not only faster than the B-52, but used shorter runways and were less visible on radar. The B1-B had a range of about 7,500 miles, could go as fast as 900 mph and could carry dozens of 500-pound bombs. ()
According to the Air Force fact sheet, the B-2 bomber, aka the Stealth Bomber, is made of 80 percent composite materials, either ‘aluminum or titanium.’ Whatever the makeup, since its operational status in the mid-1990s, the B-2 has become a sophisticated deterrent for the U.S., as it can travel up to 6,500 miles to deliver any type of bomb, and do it all virtually unseen.
According to the Air Force fact sheet, the B-2 bomber, aka the Stealth Bomber, is made of 80 percent composite materials, either ‘aluminum or titanium.’ Whatever the makeup, since its operational status in the mid-1990s, the B-2 has become a sophisticated deterrent for the U.S., as it can travel up to 6,500 miles to deliver any type of bomb, and do it all virtually unseen. (U.S. Air Force)
(Photos from U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force technically turns 66 years old on Sept. 18, but the history of the U.S. military's flying vehicles goes a bit further back.

In the beginning, the U.S. military airborne division consisted of mostly balloons. That was over 100 years ago, during the end of the Civil War.

By 1912, still in the era of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Congress approved its first defense allocation for aircraft: $125,000, which was enough to acquire 11 planes.

Through World War I, aviation fighting for the military remained an element of the U.S. Army, first as the Air Service and later as the Air Corps in 1926.

Then, during World War II, there was the Army Air Forces, which consisted of the Air Corps and the Air Force Combat Command.

Finally, the Air Force was established as an independent force via the National Security Act of 1947.

The flying machines have come a long way, from mounted machine guns on experimental planes to the still-in-development F-35 jet, with its well-known status as the most expensive weapon ever built.

On this, the 66th birthday for Air Force, here is a historic photo timeline of fighters and bombers, courtesy the National Museum of the Air Force, which also has extensive lists for attack, cargo and pursuit aircraft.

Enjoy the pictures and Happy Birthday Air Force!

suzuki.toshio@stripes.com

Twitter: @toshjohn

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