US Air Force hits 70 years of flying the wild blue yonder – CNET

F-86 and F-22 fighters

An F-22 Raptor, part of the US Air Force’s modern inventory, flies in 2016 with a trio of F-86 Sabres, Korean War-vintage aircraft.

Senior Airman Chris Massey/US Air Force

The US Air Force was a thing long before we knew it by that name.

For 40 years, from the do-it-yourself days of the Wright Brothers through the hellish aerial combat of World War II, the American military flew scores of different aircraft and thousands upon thousands of missions. But in large part those flyers served as members of the US Army. (No disrespect, of course, to the many pilots of the US Navy. Here, though, we’re focusing on the branch dedicated to air superiority.)

Then, two years after the end of World War II, came the National Security Act of 1947. That act, which President Harry Truman signed on July 25 of that year, decreed that the Air Force should be its own separate branch of the US military, effective two months later, on Sept. 18.

Thus the US Air Force was born, at the dawn of the era of jet planes, nuclear weapons and supersonic flight.

It had barely begun its new bureaucratic existence when it recorded a remarkable feat: Capt. Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, in October 1947. But more workaday designs were the norm, like the older C-47 Skytrain, an emissary of hope and rations for those bottled up in a divided city during the Berlin Airlift, and soon the B-36 and B-52 bombers, avatars of the Cold War doctrines of massive retaliation and mutually assured destruction.

In more recent decades, the Air Force has been at the cutting edge of aviation with stealth aircraft including the F-117 Nighthawk and B-2 Spirit, the Predator and Reaper drones, and the mysterious X-37B space plane.

In this slideshow, we’ll look back through 70 years of US Air Force aircraft. When you’re done with that, be sure to come back on Thursday, when we’ll have a second slideshow featuring the 40 years of aircraft that came first, from biplanes to the first Lockheed Skunk Works creation.

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