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U.S. Air Force by the numbers

  • U.S. Air Force by the numbers

    The Wright Brothers invented, and then flew, the first viable airplane in 1903. This monumental achievement inspired not only aggressive aviation innovations but other transformative technologies that would impact life in the United States. It was in this climate of radical change climate that an American air force was born. The first charge of the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps—the original name of what would later become the Air Force—was all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines, and related subjects, with focus on testing and experiments.

    With the United States' entry into World War I in 1917, the division made its defense debut. Retitled the Air Service, these aviation units supported ground strategy and engaged in dog fights. The planes were best equipped for reconnaissance and photography, not an actual battle. Still, these military aviators (“aces”), with the experienced assistance of their European allies, learned that machine guns and bombs are as impactful in the air as on the ground.

    The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the geographical breadth of World War II proved the critical importance of aerial power and excellence. Two years after the end of the war, the Air Force became its own branch of the military, allowing for growth and development as well as earned recognition. By the time of U.S. entry into Vietnam, advanced technology would demonstrate air superiority that changed the future of military thinking across the globe. U.S. involvement in Kuwait in the late 1990s led precision and safety to become key focuses in the present day Air Force, along with a general commitment to air, space, and cyberspace defense.

    The evolution of the USAF from balloon reconnaissance to unmanned aerial vehicles is a testament to technology and tenacity. To further explore this history, Stacker reviewed primary sources as well as online data and statistics to find 25 key statistics to illustrate the past, present, and future of the Air Force. Click through to learn more about the numbers behind this branch of the military and the story of the brave men and women who take to the skies in defense of our country.

    You may also like: 100 years of military history

  • 6 predecessors

    The U.S. Air Force had six predecessor organizations under the Army umbrella, including the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Signal Corps (1907–1913), U.S. Army Air Corps (1926–1931), and U.S. Army Air Forces (1941–1947). Though its responsibilities grew and changed, the Air Force remained part of the Army until The National Security Act of 1947.


  • 18,500 B-24 Liberators

    The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is the most produced bomber in aircraft history. Many of these units were manufactured by Ford Motor Company. Used in World War II, it primarily served the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force and flew in every theater of war due to its superior design.


  • 1,100 WASP members

    With a pilot shortage challenging the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was founded in 1942 to assist with domestic operations. The women flew 60 million miles on training, transport, and other missions. The program was canceled after just two years and the women involved weren't recognized with military status until the '70s.

  • 38 Ace-status USAF pilots

    The Korean War was the first conflict for the newly independent Air Force service branch and was significant for its intense air battles. Thirty-eight men were credited with downing five or more enemy aircraft to be known as a flying ace.


  • 5.25 million sorties flown in Vietnam

    The U.S. Air Force flew 5.25 million sorties (defined by the Department of Defense as one operational flight by one aircraft) over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, northern and southern Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The USAF suffered heavy casualties during the war, losing thousands of soldiers and 2,251 aircraft: 1,737 to hostile action and 514 in accidents.

  • 185-foot wingspan

    The B-52's 185-foot wingspan is too wide to take off and land in traditional fashion, so it has specially designed landing gear that swivels. The B-52 is the most enduring military bomber, having first been put into action in 1961 and a predicted lifespan into 2040.

  • 16,000 miles

    On Sept. 2–3, 1996, two USAF B-52H's traveled 34 hours to complete an important Operation Desert Storm mission. The 16,000-mile roundtrip from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Baghdad represents the longest distance flown for a combat mission.


  • 20 tons of military ordinance

    The B-2 isn't just stealthy—it's sturdy. It can carry 20 tons of conventional and nuclear ordinance (meaning weapons and other ammunition). Its precision and long-range capability made the stealth bomber a key factor in combat scenarios including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Odyssey Dawn.

  • 160,000 USAF munitions

    The USAF was a major part of the Gulf War beginning in 1990. It represented 58% of the U.S. support assets and flew 38,000 sorties. There were 160,000 USAF weapons and ammo dropped during the Persian Gulf War.

  • 26,000 space professionals

    The Air Force Space Command was activated on Sept. 1, 1982. The AFSPC numbers 26,000 professionals worldwide who provide space capabilities and expertise including missile warning, satellite control, and space surveillance.

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