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United States Air Force Academy, CO

In 1948, the Air Force appointed a board of leading civilian and military educators to plan the curriculum for an Air Force academy. The idea made little progress outside the Air Force, until 1949 when Secretary of Defense James Forrestal appointed a board of military and civilian educators. This board headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, and Robert L. Stearns, president of the University of Colorado, was tasked to recommend a general system of education for the Army, Navy and Air Force.

In 1950, this board found the needs of the Air Force could not be met by a desirable expansion of the older service academies. The board recommended that an Air Force academy be established without delay and proposed that, in peacetime, not less than 40 percent of the regular officers taken into each service should be academy graduates.

Congress authorized creation of the Air Force Academy in 1954. Harold E. Talbott, then secretary of the Air Force, appointed a commission to assist him in selecting the permanent site. After traveling 21,000 miles and considering 580 proposed sites in 45 states, the commission recommended three locations. From those, Secretary Talbott selected the site near Colorado Springs. The state of Colorado contributed $1 million toward the purchase of the property. On April 1, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill establishing the U.S. Air Force Academy.

On July 11, 1955, the same year construction began, the first class of 306 men were sworn in at a temporary site at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver. Lt. Gen. Hubert R. Harmon, a key figure in the development of the Academy since 1949, was recalled from retirement to become the first superintendent.

Two years later, Maj. Gen. Briggs took over as the Academy's second superintendent. During his tour, on Aug. 29, 1958, the wing of 1,145 cadets moved to its present site from Denver. Less than a year later the Academy received accreditation. On March 3, 1964, the authorized strength of the Cadet Wing was increased to 4,417 and later reduced to its present number of 4,000.

Perhaps the most controversial event in academy history was the admission of women. President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation Oct. 7, 1975, permitting women to enter the nation's military academies. Women entered the Air Force Academy for the first time on June 28, 1976. The first class with women graduated in May 1980.

Cadets complete four years of studies leading to a bachelor of science degree. Emphasis is given to academics, military training, athletic conditioning, and spiritual and ethical development. Academics include classes in the basic sciences, engineering, humanities, social sciences, and military art and science. Within this framework, all cadets complete a core curriculum consisting of 112 semester hours. They can specialize in any of 30 academic majors and 4 minors.

Military development is central to the Academy experience and distinguishes it from other institutions of higher learning. Four primary areas are stressed: professional military studies, theoretical and applied leadership experiences, aviation science and airmanship programs, and military training. The intent is to provide cadets the knowledge, skills, values, and behavior patterns necessary to meet the leadership challenges of the 21st century.

Within the airmanship area, most cadets complete the sailplane program, more than half earn parachuting badges, and all cadets intending to become pilots complete introductory flight training. Starting with the class of 2000, the pilot training commitment will be 10 years.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:57:41 ZULU