Chronology: 1950-1959


Jan. 14, 1950. General of the Air Force Henry H. “Hap” Arnold dies of a heart ailment at Sonoma, Calif.

Jan. 23, 1950. USAF establishes Research and Development Command, eight months later it was redesignated Air Research and Development Command. In 1961 ARDC will be redesignated Air Force Systems Command.

Jan. 31, 1950. President Truman announces that he has directed the Atomic Energy Commission “to continue its work on all forms of atomic-energy weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or super bomb.” This is the first confirmation of US H-bomb work.

Feb. 1, 1950. The prototype of the MiG-17 (NATO reporting name “Fresco”) fighter makes its first flight at the Soviet flight test center at Zhukovsky. It is an aerodynamically refined version of the MiG-15 and fitted with an. The top scoring North Vietnamese ace, Colonel Toon (which some sources list as “Tomb”), records thirteen aerial victories while flying MiG-17s.

March 15, 1950. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a statement of basic roles and missions, give the Air Force formal and exclusive responsibility for strategic guided missiles.

How the Air Force Got the ICBM

April 21, 1950. Piloted by Lt. Cmdr. R.C. Starkey, a Lockheed P2V-3C Neptune weighing 74,668 pounds becomes the heaviest aircraft ever launched from an aircraft carrier. The Neptune is flown off USS Coral Sea (CV-43).

April 24, 1950. Thomas K. Finletter becomes Secretary of the Air Force.

June 3, 1950. Company pilot Oscar P. “Bud” Haas makes the first flight of the Republic XF-96A, the swept wing variant of the F-84 Thunderjet, at Edwards AFB, Calif. The aircraft would later be christened Thunderstreak.

June 25, 1950. North Korea attacks South Korea to begin Korean War. The first Air Force aircraft destroyed in the conflict is a Douglas C-54 that is strafed on the ground at Kimpo AB, South Korea, by a pair of North Korean Yak fighter pilots.

Editorial: Police Action

The Forgotten War

June 27, 1950. President Truman announces he has ordered USAF and USN forces to aid South Korea, which has been invaded by North Korean Communist forces.

June 27, 1950. Flying a North American F-82 Twin Mustang, USAF Lt. William G. Hudson, with radar operator Lt. Carl Fraser, destroys a Yak-11 near Seoul.

June 28, 1950. USAF aircraft fly first strikes of the war, attacking tanks, trucks, and supply columns along the North Korean invasion route.

June 28, 1950. USAF Lt. Bryce Poe pilots an RF-80A on the first USAF combat jet reconnaissance sortie in Korea.

June 30, 1950. President Truman authorizes Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur to dispatch air forces against targets in North Korea.

July 3, 1950. Carrier aircraft go into action in Korea, with strikes in and around Pyongyang. Also Lt. (j.g.) L.H. Plog and Ens. E.W. Brown, piloting Grumman F9F Panthers, each down a Yak-9, the first US Navy victories in air combat in Korea.

July 10, 1950. Flying a North American T-6 Texan trainer armed with smoke rockets, Lts. James Bryant and Frank Mitchell, on the first day of “mosquito missions” (forward air control sorties) in Korea, call in a strike by F-80 pilots who destroy a column of North Korean tanks.

Aug. 5, 1950. USAF Maj. Louis J. Sebille continued to attack Communist troops in his damaged airplane until it crashed near Hamchang, Korea. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously. This is the first Air Force Medal of Honor awarded in the Korean War.

Valor: Epitaph for a Valiant Airman

Sept. 14, 1950. North Koreans push retreating UN forces into the “Pusan Perimeter” in Southeast Korea, marking the line of maximum advancement for the invaders. Airpower pounds North Korean supply lines, limiting the enemy force that can be brought to bear on Pusan.

Sept. 18, 1950. While it is significantly different enough to warrant a separate designation, the swept wing Republic F-96 Thunderstreak is redesignated F-84F. Air Force is having difficulty in securing funding from Congress for a new aircraft, and the service believes it will be easier to get appropriations to continue an “existing” program.

Sept. 22, 1950. Air Force Col. David C. Schilling makes the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in a jet aircraft, flying a Republic F-84E from Manston, England, to Limestone (later Loring) AFB, Maine, in 10 hours, one minute. The trip requires three in-flight refuelings.

Oct. 19–29, 1950. UN counteroffensive reaches its maximum line of advancement, stopping just short of the Yalu River near the Manchurian border.

Oct. 25, 1950. Communist China enters the Korean War.

Nov. 8, 1950. 1st Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying a Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, downs a North Korean MiG- 15 in history’s first all-jet aerial combat.

Nov. 9, 1950. In the US Navy’s first jet-vs.-jet combat, Cmdr. W.T. Amend, flying a Grumman F9F-2 Panther, downs a MiG-15 over the Yalu River.

Dec. 4, 1950. When his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, crash lands at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, Navy Lt. (j.g.) Thomas Hudner makes a bold decision. He belly lands his Vought F4U-4 Corsair close to Brown to lend assistance. Hudner packs snow around the engine of Brown’s aircraft, trying to put out a smoldering fire, but to no avail. Marine 1st Lt. Charles Ward arrives in a Sikorsky HO3S helicopter with an axe to free, Brown who is pinned down , but it is of no use. In shock and suffering from hypothermia, Brown dies. Hudner is awarded the Medal of Honor.

Dec. 17, 1950. Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, flying a North American F-86 Sabre, wins the first ever air-to-air combat between swept wing fighters when he shoots down a MiG-15 over Korea.

Dec. 25, 1950. Communist forces re-cross 38th parallel into South Korea.


April 6, 1951. The Labor Department announces that employment in aircraft and parts plants increased by 100,000 people in the first six months of the Korean War.

May 20, 1951. Maj. James Jabara becomes the Air Force’s first Korean War ace. He eventually downs 15 enemy planes in Korea.

Jet War

June 20, 1951. Company pilot Jean “Skip” Ziegler makes the first flight of the Bell X-5 at Edwards AFB, Calif. On July 27, Ziegler becomes the first pilot to complete the full conversion from 20-degree sweepback to 60-degree sweepback. It was the type’s ninth flight.

July 3, 1951. Despite bad weather and running out of daylight, Navy Lt. (j.g.) John Koelsch and AMM3C George Neal attempt to rescue a downed Marine aviator, Capt. James Wilkins, in mountainous terrain deep in North Korea. Their Sikorsky HO3S helicopter is shot down by ground fire as they are pulling Wilkins up in the rescue hoist. The three Americans then evade capture for nine days and reach the Korean coast before capture. Suffering from dysentery and malnourished, Koelsch consistently refuses to cooperate with his captors. He dies in prison and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

July 6, 1951. In Korea, a Strategic Air Command crew, flying a Boeing KB-29M tanker conducts the first air refueling operations over enemy territory under combat conditions.

Aug. 18, 1951. Col. Keith Compton wins the first USAF jets-only Bendix Trophy transcontinental race, flying from Muroc Field, Calif., to Detroit in a North American F-86A Sabre with an average speed of 553.761 mph. Total flying time is three hours, 27 minutes.

Sept. 14, 1951. Flying a night intruder mission, Capt. John S. Walmsley Jr. attacks a North Korean supply train near Yangdok, North Korea. His bombs hit an ammunition car, and the train breaks in two. He then makes a strafing attack on the remaining cars, but his guns jam after the first pass. Using the newly installed searchlight in the Douglas B-26 Intruder’s nose, he lights the way for another pilot to finish off the train. Walmsley’s aircraft is hit by ground fire and crashes. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Valor: Experiment at Yangdok

Sept. 20, 1951. The Air Force makes the first successful recovery of animals from rocket flight when a monkey and 11 mice survive an Aerobee flight to 236,000 feet.

Oct. 2, 1951. Col. Francis S. Gabreski of the 51st Fighter Wing downs a MiG-15, which gives him 6.5 victories in Korea. Combined with his 28 victories in World War II, he is the highest scoring Air Force ace with victories in two wars.


Nov. 30, 1951. Maj. George A. Davis Jr. becomes the first USAF ace of two wars—World War II (seven) and Korea (14).

Valor: MiG Hunter


Feb. 1, 1952. The Air Force acquires its first general-purpose computer (a Univac I).

Feb. 10, 1952. Despite being outnumbered 12 to two, Maj. George A. Davis Jr. and his wingman in F-86s attack a formation of MiG-15s over the Sinuiju-Yalu River area of North Korea to protect a force of US fighter-bombers. Davis, who had recorded seven air-to-air victories in World War II and had added 14 more in Korea, shoots down two of the MiGs (although these would not be confirmed victories) before being shot down himself. His wingman manages to escape. For his unselfish action, Davis would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Valor: MiG Hunter

April 1, 1952. In a further change from practices carried over from when it was part of the Army, the Air Force redesignates the grades of private first class, corporal, and buck sergeant as airman third class, airman second class, and airman first class.

April 15, 1952. The Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress bomber prototype makes its maiden flight from its facility in Seattle, Wash. Company pilot A.M. “Tex” Johnston is at the controls.

Fifty Years of the B-52

April 27, 1952. The Tupolev Model 88, the prototype of the Tu-16 jet bomber, makes its first flight. The Tu-16 (later given the NATO reporting name ‘Badger’) is the Soviet Union’s first strategic jet-powered bomber and is also the first with swept wings. Approximately 2,000 Tu-16s will be built in 25 versions and the type served well into the 1990s.

May 3, 1952. Air Force Lt. Cols. William Benedict and Joseph Fletcher land an LC-47 on the North Pole.

May 22, 1952. Two Philippine monkeys, Patricia and Mike, along with two white mice, Mildred and Albert, are carried to an altitude of 36 miles at a speed of 2,000 mph in the nosecone of an Aerobee rocket launched from Holloman AFB, N.M. This modern Noah’s ark is recovered by parachute. By measuring the effects of rapid acceleration and weightlessness on the animals, the flight provides valuable data for the later launching of humans in rockets.

May 29, 1952. The first combat use of air-to-air refueling of Air Force fighter airplanes takes place as 12 Republic F-84E Thunderjets flown by pilots from the 159th Fighter-Bomber Squadron are topped off on their way back from a bomb run against targets at Sariwon, North Korea. The F-84s are based at Itazuke AB, Japan. By July 4, three more of these Operation Rightside missions will be flown.

June 23–24, 1952. Combined air elements of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines virtually destroy the electrical power potential of North Korea. The two-day attack involves more than 1,200 sorties and is the largest single air effort since World War II and first to employ aircraft in Korea from all three services.

June 11, 1952. A Grumman SA-16 Albatross pilot lands in the shallow, debris filled Taedong River in Korea to rescue a downed F-51 pilot while the fighter pilot’s squadron mates beat off heavy enemy fire and illuminate the rescue with their landing lights.

July 13–31, 1952. Two Air Force crews—Capts. Vincent McGovern and Harry C. Jeffers and Capt. George O. Hembrick and Lt. Harold Moore—flying two Sikorsky H-19 helicopters named Hopalong and Whirl o Way, make the first crossing of the Atlantic by helicopter. The crews fly from Westover AFB, Mass., to Prestwick, Scotland, in five stages, covering 3,535 miles in 42 hours and 25 minutes of flight time.

July 14, 1952. The Ground Observer Corps begins its round-the-clock skywatch program as part of a nationwide air defense effort.

The Ground Observer Corps

July 29, 1952. A North American RB-45C Tornado crew makes the first nonstop trans Pacific flight by a multi engine jet bomber. In flying the 3,640 miles from Alaska to Japan in nine hours and 50 minutes with the help of a KB-29 tanker, the crew of Maj. Louis H. Carrington Jr., Maj. Frederick W. Shook, and Capt. Wallace D. Yancy will later be awarded the Mackay Trophy.

Aug. 30, 1952. The Avro 698, prototype of the Royal Air Force’s Vulcan bomber, makes its first flight. The Vulcan is the world’s first delta-wing bomber.

Oct. 15, 1952. Company pilot William Bridgeman makes the first flight of the Douglas X-3 Stilleto research aircraft at Edwards AFB, Calif. Although it will never achieve its design goals, the X-3 does prove useful for developing titanium machining and construction techniques, and it will provide much design data for short span, low aspect ratio wing, high speed aircraft.

Oct. 31, 1952. The United States tests its first thermonuclear device at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. The device, code-named “Mike,” has a yield of 10.4 million tons of TNT, 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.

Nov. 18, 1952. Capt. J. Slade Nash set new world air speed record of 698.505 mph n a F-86D over a three-kilometer course at the Salton Sea in California.

Nov. 22, 1952. While leading a flight of four Lockheed F-80s on a mission to dive bomb enemy gun positions that were harassing friendly ground troops near Sniper Ridge, North Korea, Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr.’s aircraft is hit repeatedly as he presses the attack on the enemy guns. His aircraft badly damaged, he turns and deliberately crashes into the gun positions, destroying them completely. For this selfless action, Loring is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Valor: Sacrifice at Sniper Ridge

Dec. 16, 1952. Tactical Air Command activates first Air Force helicopter squadron.


Jan. 2, 1953. Cessna Aircraft is declared the winner of the Air Force’s primary jet trainer competition to build the T-37, beating out 14 entries.

Jan. 14, 1953. Capt. Joseph C. McConnell Jr., who would go on to become the leading American ace in Korea, records his first aerial victory, a MiG-15. Assigned to the 39th Fighter Squadron, he was flying a North American F-86 at the time.

Jan. 15, 1953. Capt. Lawrence A. Barrett and Lt. R. F. Sullivan fly their Sikorsky SH-19 helicopter more than 100 miles behind North Korean lines to rescue a downed F-51 pilot.

Jan. 26, 1953. Chance Vought Aircraft completes the last F4U Corsair. In production for 13 years (and built by two other manufacturers during World War II), almost 12,700 Corsairs were built in a number of versions, making for one of the longest and largest production runs in history.

Jan. 30, 1953. Capt. B. L. Fithian (pilot) and Lt. S. R. Lyons (radar operator) shoot down an unseen North Korean aircraft using only the radar (no visual sighting) in their Lockheed F-94 Starfire to guide them to the intercept. The target turns out to be a Lavochkin La-9 piston-engine fighter.

Feb. 4, 1953. Harold E. Talbott becomes Secretary of the Air Force.

March 16, 1953. Republic delivers the 4,000th F-84 Thunderjet to the Air Force. The F-84 has been in production since 1946.

April 7, 1953. The Atomic Energy Commission reveals that it is using QF-80 drone aircraft at the Nevada Proving Ground. The drones are flown directly through atomic bomb blast clouds to collect samples for later examination.

May 12, 1953. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson reveals that projected Air Force strength has been revised downward to 120 wings, instead of the 143 previously planned.

May 13 and 16, 1953. Air Force crews flying Republic F-84 Thunderjets conduct two raids on dams, causing the loss of all electrical power to North Korea.

May 18, 1953. Capt. Joseph C. McConnell Jr., flying an F-86, downs three MiG-15 fighters in two separate engagements. These victories give McConnell a total of 16 victories in just five months of action and make him the leading American ace of the Korean War.

MiG Alley

May 25, 1953. Company pilot George S. “Wheaties” Welch makes the first flight of the North American YF-100 Super Sabre prototype at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif. He exceeds Mach 1 on this first flight.

June 8, 1953. Officially activated June 1, 1953, USAF’s 3600th Air Demonstration Flight, the Thunderbirds, perform their first aerial demonstration. Flying Republic F-84G Thunderjets, the team flies the unofficial show at their home, Luke AFB, Ariz. (The first official demonstration was flown June 16, 1953, at Williams AFB, Ariz. The first civilian audience viewed a Thunderbirds show July 21, 1953, at Cheyenne, Wyo.)

June 16, 1953. North American delivers the 1,000th T-28 Trojan tandem-seat trainer to the Air Force.

June 30, 1953. Gen. Nathan F. Twining becomes Air Force Chief of Staff.

July 16, 1953. Lt. Col. William Barnes pushes the recognized absolute speed record past 700 mph, as he hits 715.697 mph in a North American F-86D over the Salton Sea in California. This marks one of the first times an aircraft type has succeeded itself in setting a new world speed record.

July 20, 1953. The first Martin B-57A, the US built version of the English Electric Canberra medium bomber, is flown for the first time at the company’s Middle River, Md., plant.

July 27, 1953. Capt. Ralph S. Parr, a member of the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, flying a North American F-86F, records the last aerial victory in the Korean War when he shoots down an Il-12 near Hoha-dong shortly after midnight. It was his 10th aerial victory.

Valor: The Pinnacle of Professionalism

The Remembered War

July 27, 1953. UN and North Korea sign armistice agreement, producing cease fire in Korea.

The Forgotten War.

July 27, 1953. Twenty-four minutes before the cease fire took effect, 1st Lt. Donald W. Mansfield (pilot), 1st Lt. Billy Ralston, and A2C D.J. Judd, flying a Douglas B-26 Invader (the A-26 had been redesignated in 1948) dropped the last bombs of the war on a North Korean supply dump.

July 28, 1953. At Edwards AFB, Calif., company pilot William Bridgeman pilots the Douglas X-3 Stiletto to the highest speed this grossly underpowered research aircraft will reach, Mach 1.21—and this only comes after he put the aircraft in a shallow dive. The X-3 was designed to fly at sustained speeds above Mach 2 for longer than 30 minutes at high altitudes.

July 29, 1953. Two days after the armistice ending the Korean War, the Air Force announces that the Far East Air Forces shot down 839 MiG-15 jet fighters, probably destroyed 154 more, and damaged 919 others during the 37 months of war. United Nations air forces lost 110 aircraft in air-to-air combat, 677 to enemy ground fire, and 213 airplanes to “other causes.”

Aug. 20, 1953. Seventeen Republic F-84G Thunderjets, refueling from Boeing KC-97s, are flown nonstop 4,485 miles from Turner AFB, Ga., to RAF Lakenheath, UK, in what is, up to this point, the longest mass movement of fighter-bombers in history and the greatest distance ever flown by single engine jet fighters.

Aug. 21, 1953. Flying the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Marine Lt. Col. Marion Carl sets an altitude record of 83,235 feet after being dropped from a Boeing P2B (B-29) flying at 34,000 feet over Edwards AFB, Calif.

Sept. 1, 1953. The first jet-to-jet air refueling takes place between a Boeing KB-47 and a “standard” B-47.

Sept. 11, 1953. A Grumman F6F drone is destroyed in the first successful interception test of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile at China Lake, Calif.

Sept. 21, 1953. North Korean pilot Lt. Noh Kum Suk defects and flies his MiG-15 to Kimpo AB, South Korea. He is granted asylum and given $100,000.

Oct. 3, 1953. Lt. Cmdr. James B. Verdin establishes a world speed record of 752.943 mph in the Douglas XF4D Skyray over Muroc, Calif. This is the first carrier airplane to set the speed record in its normal combat configuration.

Oct. 19, 1953. Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Roger Lewis reveals that Boeing B-52 bombers will cost approximately $3.6 million each in production, but the first four aircraft will cost about $20 million each to amortize the design, development, and tooling costs.

Oct. 24, 1953. Company pilot Richard L. Johnson makes the first flight of the Convair YF-102 prototype at Edwards AFB, Calif. Performance of this scaled-up version of the delta-wing XF-92A is found to be lacking, and the greatly redesigned YF-102A will fly in early 1954.

Oct. 29, 1953. Lt. Col. Frank K. Everest sets a new world speed record of 755.149 mph in the North American YF-100 prototype over the Salton Sea in California. He breaks the record set just a few weeks earlier by Lt. Cmdr. James B. Verdin.

Nov. 6, 1953. A Boeing B-47 Stratojet is flown from Limestone (later Loring) AFB, Maine, to RAF Brize Norton, UK, in four hours, 53 minutes to establish a new trans-Atlantic speed record from the continental US.

Nov. 20, 1953. NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield becomes the first pilot to exceed Mach 2. His Douglas D- 588-II Skyrocket research airplane is dropped from a Navy P2B-1S (B-29) at an altitude of 32,000 feet over Edwards AFB, Calif.

Dec. 12, 1953. Maj. Charles E. Yeager pilots the rocket-powered Bell X-1A to a speed of Mach 2.435 (approximately 1,650 mph) over Edwards AFB.

Valor: Always a Fighter Pilot


Feb. 15, 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominates Charles A. Lindbergh to be a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

Feb. 24, 1954. President Eisenhower approves the National Security Council’s recommendation for construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. Operational control of the DEW Line will be transferred from the US Air Force to the Royal Canadian Air Force on Feb. 1, 1959.

Burglar Alarm

A Line in the Ice

Feb. 28, 1954. Company pilot Tony LeVier makes the first flight of the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter at Edwards AFB, Calif. A landing gear retraction problem cuts the flight short, however. A full flight will be made March 4. Designed as a supersonic air superiority fighter, the F-104 will set a number of records for the US, but it will find greater utility for a number of other countries than it will for USAF.

March 1, 1954. In the Marshall Islands, the US successfully explodes its first deliverable hydrogen bomb.

March 1, 1954. The Air Reserve Personnel Center is established in Denver. ARPC moved to Lowry AFB, Colo., in 1976.

March 18, 1954. Boeing rolls out the first production B-52A Stratofortress at its plant in Seattle, Wash. Production will continue until 1962.

Fifty Years of the B-52

April 1, 1954. President Eisenhower signs into law a bill creating the US Air Force Academy.

The Class of 50 Years Ago

First Class

May 25, 1954. A Navy ZPG-2 airship, commanded by Cmdr. M.H. Eppes, lands at NAS Key West, Fla., after staying aloft for 200.1 hours. Eppes is later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

June 22, 1954. The Douglas A4D (A-4) Skyhawk makes its first flight from Edwards AFB, Calif., with company pilot Robert Rahn at the controls. Some 2,960 aircraft had been produced when the last aircraft was delivered in 1979. The Navy’s Blue Angels flew the A-4 Skyhawk II from 1974 to 1986. They were still flown by several foreign countries into the mid 1990s.

June 28, 1954. Company test pilot George Jansen makes the first flight of the Douglas RB-66A Destroyer at Long Beach, Calif. Developed from the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior, the RB/B-66 variant is intended to provide the Air Force with a tactical light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft.

July 15, 1954. The Boeing Model 367-80 makes its first flight, with company pilot A.M. “Tex” Johnston in command. The aircraft is the prototype for the Air Force’s C/KC-135 series and the progenitor of the 707, which will become the first civilian jetliner to see wide use.

Aug. 23, 1954. Lockheed pilots Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer crew the first flight of the YC-130 Hercules at Burbank, Calif.

The Immortal Hercules

Aug. 25, 1954. Capt. Joseph McConnell, the leading American ace of the Korean War, is killed in a crash of a North American F-86H Sabre while testing it at Edwards AFB, Calif.

Aug. 26, 1954. Maj. Arthur “Kit” Murray reaches a record height of 90,440 feet in the Bell X-1A, which was released from a B-29 over Edwards AFB, Calif.

Sept. 1, 1954. Continental Air Defense Command—a Joint command composed of Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine forces—is established at Colorado Springs, Colo. USAF’s Air Defense Command was the Air Force component and main element. CADC was under the Joint Chiefs of Staff and became the US component in the North American Air (now Aerospace) Defense Command (NORAD) upon its establishment in 1957.

The Rise of Air Defense

Sept. 29, 1954. Company pilot Robert Little makes the first flight of the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo at Edwards AFB, Calif. Originally conceived as a long range bomber escort, the “One Oh Wonder” will go on to a lengthy career as an interceptor and USAF’s first supersonic reconnaissance aircraft.

Oct. 12, 1954. The Cessna XT-37 Tweet trainer prototype is flown for the first time at Wichita, Kan. The T-37 will still be flying more than 40 years as the Air Force’s primary trainer. (The Air Force and Navy selected a new joint primary trainer, the Raytheon T-6A Texan II, with deliveries beginning in 1999.)

Oct. 27, 1954. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., son of the first black general officer in the US Army, becomes the first black general officer in the US Air Force. He retires Jan. 31, 1970, as a lieutenant general.

Benjamin Davis, American

Oct. 27, 1954. The Douglas X-3 Stiletto research aircraft inadvertently provides an understanding of the aerodynamic condition of inertia (or roll) coupling, as NACA pilot Joe Walker manages to recover the aircraft after it diverged during an abrupt aileron roll in a flight at Edwards AFB, Calif.

Nov. 2, 1954. Company test pilot J.F. Coleman, flying in the radical, turboprop-driven tail-sitting Convair XFY-1, makes a vertical takeoff, changes to horizontal flight, and then returns to vertical for a landing in San Diego.

Nov. 7, 1954. The Air Force announces plans to build a $15.5 million research laboratory for atomic aircraft engines. To be built in Connecticut, the plant is to be run by Pratt & Whitney and will be finished in 1957.

Dec. 10, 1954. To determine if a pilot could eject from an airplane at supersonic speed and live, Lt. Col. John Paul Stapp, a flight surgeon, rides a rocket sled to 632 mph, decelerates to zero in 1.4 seconds, and survives 40 times the force of gravity.

Valor: The Track to Survival


Feb. 7, 1955. After 131 shows, the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team, perform their last show in the Republic F-84G Thunderjet at Webb AFB, Tex. In April, the team will convert to swept- wing F-84F Thunderstreaks.

Feb. 23, 1955. The Army picks Bell Helicopter from a list of 20 competing companies to build its first turbine-powered helicopter. The winning design, designated XH-40, will become the HU-1 (and later still, UH-1) Iroquois, the renowned “Huey.”

Feb. 24, 1955. The first fully instrumented flight of the Boeing XF-99 (later redesignated CIM-10) BOMARC surface-to-air intercept missile is carried out from Patrick AFB, Fla.

Feb. 26, 1955. North American Aviation test pilot George Smith becomes the first person to survive ejection from an aircraft flying at supersonic speed. His F-100 Super Sabre is traveling at Mach 1.05 when the controls jam and he is forced to punch out.

July 11, 1955. The first class (306 cadets) is sworn in at the Air Force Academy’s temporary location at Lowry AFB, Colo.

The Class of 50 Years Ago

First Class

July 26, 1955. Capital Airways puts its first Vickers Viscount forty-passenger airliner into revenue service, being flown on the airline’s Washington, DC to Chicago route. Capital is the first US carrier to purchase the Viscount, the world’s first turboprop-powered airliner, and this flight marks the first time since World War I that a British-built aircraft is being flown in regular service over the United States.

Aug. 4, 1955. Company pilot Tony LeVier makes the first official flight of the Lockheed U-2 spyplane at Groom Lake, Nev. An inadvertent hop had been made on July 29.

Aug. 15, 1955. Donald A. Quarles becomes Secretary of the Air Force.

Oct. 22, 1955. Company test pilot Russell M. “Rusty” Roth makes the first flight of the Republic YF-105 Thunderchief at Edwards AFB, Calif. The aircraft, commonly known as the “Thud,” is the largest single- engine, single-seat fighter ever built.

Nov. 26, 1955. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson assigns responsibility for development and operations of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to the Air Force.

50 Years of Space and Missiles

How the Air Force Got the ICBM


Jan. 9, 1956. The Ye-5, the first true prototype of the MiG-21 supersonic point defense fighter, makes its first flight. Later given the NATO reporting name “Fishbed,” more than 8,000 MiG-21s will be built, including license production in Warsaw Pact countries, and the type will be flown by at least 35 countries. Upgraded versions remain in service in the early part of the 21st century.

Jan. 17, 1956. DOD reveals the existence of SAGE, an electronic air defense system.

Feb. 16, 1956. The Lockheed YF-104A Starfighter makes its first public appearance. This is the second of the 17 service test aircraft ordered by the Air Force. (The XF-104 first flew March 4, 1954.)

Era of the Starfighter

Feb. 17, 1956. The YF-104A flies for the first time with Lockheed pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon at the controls.

March 10, 1956. The recognized absolute speed record passes the 1,000 mph barrier, as company pilot Peter Twiss hits 1,132.13 mph in the Fairey Delta 2 research aircraft at Sussex, England.

May 20, 1956. After 91 shows in a little more than a year, the Thunderbirds perform their last demonstration in the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak at Bolling AFB, D.C.

May 21, 1956. An Air Force crew flying Boeing B-52B Stratofortress at 40,000 feet air-drops a live hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The bomb has a measured blast of 3.75 megatons.

May 28, 1956. Company pilot Pete Girard makes the first flight of the Ryan X-13 Vertijet Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) research aircraft in hover mode at Edwards AFB, Calif. He had also made the type’s first conventional flight on Dec. 10, 1955.

June 30, 1956. The USAF Thunderbirds fly their first show in the supersonic North American F-100 Super Sabre, the type the team would fly for most of the next 13 years.

Aug. 1, 1956. President Eisenhower signs into law a bill permitting the armed forces to include flight instruction in ROTC programs.

Aug. 23–24, 1956. A US Army crew, flying a modified Vertol H-21 Shawnee nicknamed Amblin-Annie, makes the first nonstop helicopter flight across the United States. The flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C., takes 31 hours and 40 minutes, covers 2,610 miles, and requires six air refuelings.

Aug. 31, 1956. The KC-135, the first jet-powered tanker, makes its first flight. Numerous variants have been flown and the type has been used for everything from electronic surveillance to becoming an airborne laser laboratory.

Sept. 27, 1956. Capt. Milburn Apt, USAF, reaches Mach 3.196 in the Bell X-2, becoming the first pilot to fly three times the speed of sound. Apt is killed, however, when the aircraft tumbles out of control.

Oct. 1, 1956. NASA awards its Distinguished Service Medal to Richard T. Whitcomb, inventor of the “area rule” concept, which results in aircraft (such as the Convair F-102) having Coke bottle-shaped fuselages in order to reduce supersonic drag.

Oct. 26, 1956. Less than 16 months after design work began, and ironically, the same day that legendary designer Larry Bell dies, company pilot Floyd Carlson makes the first flight of the Bell XH-40 at Fort Worth, Tex. Later redesignated UH-1, the Iroquois, or “Huey” as it is more popularly known, will go on to be one of the significant helicopters of all time.

Oct. 31, 1956. A ski-equipped Douglas R4D (Navy C-47) Skytrain lands at the South Pole, becoming the first aircraft to land at the bottom of the world.

Nov. 7, 1956. Units equipped with the US Air Force’s first operational surface-to-surface missile—the mobile, winged Matador, capable of striking targets in the Warsaw Pact from sites in West Germany— deploy from their fixed day-to-day sites to unannounced dispersed launch locations. This alert is in response to the crisis posed by the major Soviet attack on Hungary, which brutally suppresses the Hungarian Revolution.

Nov. 11, 1956. Company test pilot Beryl A. Erickson along with J.D. McEachern (flight test observer) and Charles Harrison (flight test engineer) makes the first flight of the Convair XB-58A Hustler at Fort Worth, Tex. The delta winged B-58 is the Air Force’s first supersonic bomber.

Nov. 26, 1956: Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson issues a memorandum to the Armed Forces Policy Council, giving the Air Force responsibility for developing ICBMs.

Dec. 26, 1956. Company pilot Richard L. “Dick” Johnson makes the first flight of the first Convair F-106 Delta Dart at Edwards AFB, Calif. The F-106, a substantially redesigned and much improved version of the F-102 interceptor, would remain in service until 1988 and would later be modified into target drones.


Jan. 18, 1957. Commanded by Maj. Gen. Archie J. Old Jr., USAF, three B-52 Stratofortresses complete a 24,325-mile round-the-world nonstop flight in 45 hours, 19 minutes, with an average speed of 534 mph. It is the first globe-circling nonstop flight by a jet aircraft.

April 11, 1957. With company pilot Pete Girard at the controls, the jet-powered Ryan X-13 Vertijet makes its first full-cycle flight. He takes off vertically from the aircraft’s mobile trailer, transitions to horizontal flight, performs several maneuvers, and then lands vertically.

May 1, 1957. James H. Douglas Jr. becomes Secretary of the Air Force.

June 11, 1957. The first Convair XSM-65A (later redesignated CGM-16A) Atlas ICBM is launched from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.

The Day of the Atlas

How the Air Force Got the ICBM

July 1, 1957. Gen. Thomas D. White becomes Air Force Chief of Staff.

Just What the Air Force Needed

July 1, 1957. Pacific Air Forces is established.

July 1, 1957. USAF activates the first ICBM wing, the 704th Strategic Missile Wing. It is based at Cooke (later, Vandenberg) AFB, Calif.

July 13, 1957. President Eisenhower becomes the first chief executive to fly in a helicopter as he takes off from the White House lawn in a Bell UH-13J Sioux. Maj. Joseph E. Barrett flies the President a short distance to a military command post at a remote location as part of a military exercise.

July 19, 1957. A Douglas MB-1 Genie unguided aerial rocket is fired from a Northrop F-89J Scorpion crewed by Capt. Eric Hutchinson (pilot) and Capt. Alfred Barbee (radar operator). This marked the first time in history that an air-to-air rocket with a nuclear warhead is launched and detonated. The test, the “John” shot of Operation Plumbbob, takes place at 20,000 feet over the Nevada Test Site.

July 30, 1957. In Washington, D.C., a Ryan company pilot takes off vertically from a street in front of the Pentagon in the Ryan X-13 Vertijet VTOL research aircraft, transitions to horizontal flight, retraces the route that Orville Wright and Lt. Benjamin Foulois made on the final acceptance flight of the 1909 Military Flyer, and returns for a vertical landing.

July 31, 1957. The DEW Line, a distant early warning radar defense installation extending across the Canadian Arctic, is reported to be fully operational.

A Line in the Ice

Aug. 1, 1957. Establishment of NORAD, the bilateral US-Canadian North American Air Defense Command, is announced. (See Sept. 12, 1957.)

Aug. 15, 1957. Gen. Nathan F. Twining becomes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first USAF officer to serve in this position.

Sept. 12, 1957. NORAD is formally established at Ent AFB, Colo., with USAF Gen. Earle E. Partridge in command.

Oct. 4, 1957. The space age begins when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, into Earth orbit.

Nov. 3, 1957. The first animal in space, a dog named Laika, is carried aboard Sputnik 2. The satellite is carried aloft by a modified ICBM.

Nov. 11–13, 1957. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay and crew fly a Boeing KC-135 from Westover AFB, Mass., to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to set a world jet-class record distance in a straight line of 6,322 miles. The crew will set a class speed record on the trip back.

Nov. 27, 1957. To demonstrate the capability of the new McDonnell RF-101A Voodoo, four pilots take off from March AFB, Calif., as part of Operation Sun Run. Refueled in flight, two of the pilots land at McGuire AFB, N.J., and two turn around and land back at March. Lt. Gustav Klatt sets an eastbound coast to coast record of three hours, seven minutes, and 43 seconds, while Capt. Robert Sweet sets a westbound coast to coast record (3:36:33) and Los Angeles–New York–Los Angeles record (6:46:36).

Dec. 6, 1957. The first US attempt to orbit a satellite fails when a Vanguard rocket loses thrust and explodes.

Dec. 12, 1957. Flying a McDonnell F-101A Voodoo, USAF Maj. Adrian Drew sets the recognized absolute world speed record of 1,207.34 mph at Edwards AFB, Calif.

Dec. 17, 1957. The Convair HGM-16 Atlas ICBM makes its first successful launch and flight.

Dec. 20, 1957. The first AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking air to air missile launched from an USAF aircraft is fired by Capt. Joe Gordon, flying a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Sidewinder, originally developed by the Navy in 1953 but modernized regularly since, will still be both services’ primary short range missile until well after the turn of the century.


Jan. 31, 1958. Explorer I, the first US satellite, is launched by the Army at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The satellite, launched on a Jupiter-C rocket, will later play a key role in the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.

A Short History of Military Space

Feb. 4, 1958. The keel of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), is laid at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. yards in Virginia.

Feb. 27, 1958. Approval is given to USAF to start research and development on an ICBM that will later be called “Minuteman.”

Minuteman Turns 40

America’s Strategic Ace in the Hole

March 6, 1958. The first production Northrop SM-62 Snark intercontinental missile is accepted by the Air Force after four previous successful launchings.

How the Air Force Got the ICBM

April 8, 1958. An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker crew flies 10,229.3 miles nonstop and unrefueled from Tokyo to Lajes Field, Azores, in 18 hours, 50 minutes.

May 7, 1958. USAF Maj. Howard C. Johnson sets a world altitude record of 91,243 feet in a Lockheed F- 104A Starfighter.

May 16, 1958. USAF Capt. Walter W. Irwin sets a world speed record of 1,404.09 mph, also in an F-104.

May 20, 1958. Public Law 85-422 creates two supergrades, E-8 master sergeant and E-9 chief master sergeant.

May 27, 1958. The first flight of the McDonnell XF4H-1 (F-4) Phantom II is made by company pilot Robert Little (who was wearing street shoes at the time) at the company’s facility in St. Louis, Mo.

June 17, 1958. Boeing and Martin are named prime contractors to develop competitive designs for the Air Force’s X-20 Dyna-Soar boost-glide space vehicle. This project, although later canceled, is the first step toward the space shuttle.

Dyna-Soar Plus Titan III

July 15, 1958. The first Boeing Vertol VZ-2A tilt wing research aircraft makes its first successful transition from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa.

July 26, 1958. Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe Jr., USAF, holder of the world altitude record (126,200 feet, set in the Bell X-2, Sept. 7, 1956), is killed in an F-104 crash.

August 1958. The term “aerospace” is used publicly for the first time by Gen. Thomas D. White, USAF Chief of Staff, in an Air Force Magazine article. The term was coined by Frank W. Jennings, a civilian writer and editor for the Air Force News Service.

Air and Space Are Indivisible

Aug. 6, 1958. A Department of Defense Reorganization Act removes operational control of combat forces from the individual services and reassigns the missions to unified and specified commands on a geographic or functional basis. The main role of the services becomes to organize, train, and equip forces.

American Chieftains

Sept. 1, 1958. USAF promotes its first airmen to E-8, the new senior master sergeant supergrade established by Congress under Public Law 85-422 (May 20, 1958).

Sept. 26, 1958. A Boeing B-52D crew sets a world distance record of 6,233.98 miles and a speed record of 560.75 mph (over a 10,000-meter course) during a two-lap flight from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., to Douglas, Ariz., to Newburg, Ore., and back.

Oct. 1, 1958. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is officially established, replacing NACA.

Dec. 16, 1958. The Pacific Missile Range begins launching operations with the successful flight of the Chrysler PGM-19 Thor missile, the first ballistic missile launched over the Pacific Ocean and the first free world firing of ballistic missile under simulated combat conditions.

Dec. 18, 1958. Project Score, an Atlas booster with a communications repeater satellite, is launched into Earth orbit. The satellite carries a Christmas message from President Eisenhower that is broadcast to Earth, the first time a human voice has been heard from space.


Jan. 8, 1959. NASA requests eight Redstone-type launch vehicles from the Army for Project Mercury development flights. Four days later, McDonnell Aircraft Co. is selected to build the Mercury capsules.

Jan. 22, 1959. Air Force Capt. William B. White sets a record for the longest nonstop flight between points in the US, as he flies a Republic F-105 Thunderchief 3,850 miles from Eielson AFB, Alaska, to Eglin AFB, Fla., in five hours, 27 minutes.

Feb. 6, 1959. An Air Force Systems Command crew launches the first Martin XSM-68A (later redesignated HGM-25A) Titan ICBM from Patrick AFB, Fla.

Feb. 12, 1959. The last Convair B-36 Peacemaker is retired from USAF service. The aircraft, a B-36J assigned to the 95th Bomb Wing at Biggs AFB, Tex., is flown to Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, Tex., to be placed on display. The retirement of the B-36 leaves the Air Force with an all-jet bomber force.

Feb. 28, 1959. USAF successfully launches the Discoverer I satellite into polar orbit from Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

Corona Comes in From the Cold

April 2, 1959. Chosen from a field of 110 candidates, seven test pilots—Air Force Capts. L. Gordon Cooper Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton; Navy Lt. Cmdrs. Walter M. Schirra Jr., and Alan B. Shepard Jr., and Lt. M. Scott Carpenter; and Marine Lt. Col. John H. Glenn Jr.—are announced as the Project Mercury astronauts.

The Air Force Astronauts

April 12, 1959. The Air Force Association’s World Congress of Flight is held in Las Vegas, Nev.—the first international air show in US history—with 51 foreign nations participating. NBC-TV telecasts an hour-long special, and Life Magazine gives it five pages of coverage.

April 15, 1959. Capt. George A. Edwards sets a recognized 500 kilometer closed course speed record of 826.28 mph in a McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo at Edwards AFB, Calif.

April 20, 1959. The prototype Lockheed UGM-27A Polaris sea-launched ballistic missile successfully flies a 500-mile trajectory in a Navy test. Three days later, the Air Force carries out the first flight test of the North American GAM-77 Hound Dog air-launched strategic missile at Eglin AFB, Fla.

April 30, 1959. Now officially retired, a Convair B-36J Peacemaker is flown to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. This is the last flight of the mammoth—and controversial—B-36.

May 28, 1959. Astrochimps Able and Baker are recovered alive in the Atlantic after their flight to an altitude of 300 miles in the nosecone of a PGM-19 Jupiter missile launched from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Fla.

The Astrochimps

June 3, 1959. The first class graduates from the Air Force Academy.

First Class

June 8, 1959. The Post Office enters the missile age, as 3,000 stamped envelopes are carried aboard a Vought RGM-6 Regulus I missile launched from the submarine USS Barbero (SSG-317) in the Atlantic. The unarmed missile lands 21 minutes later at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Mayport, Fla.

June 8, 1959. After several attempts, North American Aviation pilot Scott Crossfield makes the first nonpowered flight in the X-15.

July 1, 1959. The first experimental reactor (Kiwi-A) in the nuclear space rocket program is operated successfully in a test at Jackass Flats, Nev.

Aug. 7, 1959. First intercontinental relay of a voice message by satellite takes place. The voice is that of Maj. Robert G. Mathis, later USAF Vice Chief of Staff.

Aug. 7, 1959. Two USAF F-100Fs make the first flight by jet fighter aircraft over the North Pole.

Sept. 9, 1959. The Atlas missile is fired for the first time by a SAC crew from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and the missile type is declared operational by the SAC commander in chief. The shot travels about 4,300 miles at 16,000 mph.

The Man Who Built the Missiles

Sept. 12, 1959. The Soviet Union launches Luna 2, the first man-made object to reach the moon.

Sept. 17, 1959. Company pilot Scott Crossfield makes the first powered flight of the North American X-15 rocket powered research aircraft at Edwards AFB, Calif. He reaches a speed of Mach 2.11 and an altitude of 52,341 feet.

Nov. 16, 1959. Air Force Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr., after ascending to an altitude of 76,400 feet in Excelsior I, an open-gondola balloon (setting three unofficial altitude records on the way), makes the longest free-fall parachute jump in history (64,000 feet) in two minutes, 58 seconds at White Sands, N.M.

Dec. 1, 1959. USAF promotes its first airmen to E-9, the new chief master sergeant supergrade.

Dec. 11, 1959. Dudley C. Sharp becomes Secretary of the Air Force.

Dec. 15, 1959. Maj. Joseph W. Rogers regains the recognized absolute speed record for the US, as he pilots a Convair F-106A Delta Dart to a speed of 1,525.965 mph at Edwards AFB, Calif. Rogers received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Thompson Trophy, and French de la Vaux Medal for the feat.

Dec. 30, 1959. The first US ballistic missile-carrying submarine, USS George Washington (SSBN-598), is commissioned at Groton, Conn.