RAF MILDENHALL, England — The first U.S. air force consisted of eight balloons.

That was in 1907 when the Army Signal Corps created an Aeronautical Division to “take charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects,” according to the Air Force Web site.

It is a different Air Force that this Saturday celebrates the 57th anniversary of its establishment as a separate service after belonging to the Army through World War II.

Not until 1912 did the Signal Corps have aircraft. The fleet numbered nine after one crashed and one — the first one — was given to the Smithsonian Institution.

Two world wars proved the viability of flight as a weapon.

During World War I, the Air Service was created with a civilian director. With only nine months in action — February to November 1918 — the Air Service proved its worth, flying 150 bombing sorties and downing 756 enemy aircraft and 76 enemy balloons.

The Air Service became the Air Corps in 1926 and a training center was established in San Antonio.

World War II was the final selling point for the value of air power. During the war, the corps grew from 26,500 men and 2,200 aircraft in 1939 to 2,253,000 men and women and 63,715 aircraft in 1945.

Movement was rapid during and after the war to establish this growing sector of the Army into its own service. That finally took place when the National Security Act of 1947 became law on July 26, 1947, creating the Department of the Air Force.

On Sept. 18, 1947, W. Stuart Symington became the first secretary of the Air Force.

That event will be celebrated throughout U.S. Air Forces in Europe this weekend. Here’s what USAFE has planned at different bases to celebrate the Air Force’s birthday:

• Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany: Saturday — Air Force Ball, with Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, USAFE vice commander, as guest speaker; Saturday — Air Force Birthday Bash at the Brickhouse: an alternative to the Air Force Ball. For details, contact the 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 452-6012 or civilian (+49)(0)6565-61-6012.

• Ramstein Air Base, Germany: Saturday — Drawing for a free sport utility vehicle at the base bazaar; Sept. 24 — Air Force Ball

• Aviano Air Base, Italy: Friday — Air Force Ball: dinner and dancing at Club La Bella Vista. For details contact the 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 632-7555 or civilian (+39)(0)434-66-7555.

• Incirlik Air Base, Turkey: Friday — Block party featuring the Latin rock band Neon Venus and a variety of free food. American Forces Network-Incirlik will provide live feed during the event, which includes squadron and group games. Events include a pool tournament at the community center, prizes and tug of war. For details, contact the 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 676-6060 or civilian (+90)(0)322-316-6060.

• Lajes Field, Azores: Friday — Air Force Birthday Dash, a sort of scavenger hunt where teams go all over base to find clues, solve trivia questions, do fitness tasks, etc. Also, a wing barbecue and a visit from the USAFE rock and pop band Touch ’N Go. For details, contact the 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 312-535-6161 or civilian (+351) 295-57-6161.

• RAF Alconbury, England: Friday — Air Force Ball. For details, contact the 423rd Air Base Squadron Public Affairs Office at DSN 268-3150 or civilian (+44)(0)1480-82-3150).

• RAF Croughton, England: Saturday — Birthday party at the club, complete with cake. For details, contact the 422nd Air Base Squadron Public Affairs Office at DSN 236-8468 or civilian (+44)(0)1280-70-8468).

• RAF Mildenhall, England: Saturday — Air Force birthday bash, “all-day” picnic at Ford Park featuring a live band, disc jockey, face painting, pony rides, caricaturist, bouncy castles, three-legged race, dizzy bat, egg toss, static displays and cake-cutting. For details, contact the 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 238-2289 or civilian (+44)(0)1638-54-2289.

• RAF Lakenheath, England: Sept. 25 — Air Force Ball at Hangar 7; celebrating both 60 years of the 48th Fighter Wing in Europe and the 57th Air Force birthday. The USAFE Band will perform. For details, contact the 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at DSN 226-2151 or civilian (+44)(0)1638-52-2151.

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