Air Force, United States Department of the

Air Force, United States Department of the,

military department within the U.S. Dept. of Defense (see Defense, United States Department ofDefense, United States Department of,
executive department of the federal government charged with coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government relating directly to national security and military affairs.
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). The Air Force traces its roots to the founding of the Aeronautical Division of the Army Signal Corps (1907), variously renamed before becoming a separate service under the National Security Act of 1947. In 1949 the National Security Act Amendments made the Air Force a military department within the newly organized Department of Defense. The chain of command goes directly from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the Secretary of the Air Force, who oversees both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force. The Air Force played an important role in World War I (see William MitchellMitchell, William
(Billy Mitchell), 1879–1936, American army officer and pilot, b. Nice, France. He enlisted (1898) in the U.S. army in the Spanish-American War and received a commission in the regular army in 1901, serving with the signal corps.
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; Eddie RickenbackerRickenbacker, Edward Vernon,
1890–1973, American war hero and airline executive, b. Columbus, Ohio. He became a car racing driver at 16 and set numerous speed records. In World War I he volunteered for the air service and became the leading U.S.
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) and World War II (see H. H. ArnoldArnold, Henry Harley,
1886–1950, American general, chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces (1942–46), known as "Hap" Arnold, B. Gladwyne, Pa., grad. West Point, 1907.
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; atomic bombatomic bomb
or A-bomb,
weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy atomic nuclei. The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex., laboratory and successfully tested on July 16, 1945.
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; James Harold DoolittleDoolittle, James Harold,
1896–1993, American aviator, b. Alameda, Calif. After serving in World War I as a flier he returned to school and earned a Sc.D. from MIT.
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). After World War II, the Air Force quickly grew in importance, becoming the cornerstone of President EisenhowerEisenhower, Dwight David
, 1890–1969, American general and 34th President of the United States, b. Denison, Tex.; his nickname was "Ike." Early Career

When he was two years old, his family moved to Abilene, Kans., where he was reared.
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's defense policy. The Air Force played a major part in the Korean WarKorean War,
conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces in Korea from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet (North Korean) and U.S. (South Korean) zones of occupation.
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, the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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, and numerous cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
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 confrontations (see Berlin airliftBerlin airlift,
1948–49, supply of vital necessities to West Berlin by air transport primarily under U.S. auspices. It was initiated in response to a land and water blockade of the city that had been instituted by the Soviet Union in the hope that the Allies would be
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, Cuban Missile CrisisCuban Missile Crisis,
1962, major cold war confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In response to the Bay of Pigs Invasion and other American actions against Cuba as well as to President Kennedy's build-up in Italy and Turkey of U.S.
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). The U.S. Space Force was established in 2019 to consolidate U.S. military space operations. The department plays a major role in U.S. nuclear strategynuclear strategy,
a policy for the use of nuclear weapons. The first atomic bombs were used in the context of the Allies' World War II policy of strategic bombing. Early in the cold war, U.S.
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, controlling both long-range, land-based guided missilesguided missile,
self-propelled, unmanned space or air vehicle carrying an explosive warhead. Its path can be adjusted during flight, either by automatic self-contained controls or remote human control. Guided missiles are powered either by rocket engines or by jet propulsion.
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 and strategic bombers. It also has the leading role in the military exploration of space and uses aircraft and satellitessatellite, artificial,
object constructed by humans and placed in orbit around the earth or other celestial body (see also space probe). The satellite is lifted from the earth's surface by a rocket and, once placed in orbit, maintains its motion without further rocket propulsion.
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 to collect photo, video, and signal intelligence.


See L. Kennett, A History of Strategic Bombing (1982); M. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power (1987); W. J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue (1997); R. Overy, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War over Europe, 1940–1945 (2014).

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