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AETC’s 75th Anniversary and the birth of a professional Air Force

  • Published
  • By Gary Boyd
  • AETC Command Historian
On Jan. 23, 2017, Air Education and Training Command celebrated its 75th anniversary — a date much more important in our nation’s heritage than a simple mark in time. Jan. 23, 1942, proved to be the birth of a professional Air Force – men and women precisely selected and trained to fly, fight and win our nation’s wars. 

That watershed moment begat the Air Corps Flying Training Command, which directly led to the major successes of the last 75 years – the Doolittle Raiders, precision daylight bombing, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, worldwide aerial logistics and a global reach, the Berlin Airlift, MiG Alley, Operation Linebacker, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, to name a few. From the afterthought of the world’s airpower strategists to the envy of every nation’s airpower advocates within a few years, an incredible transformation occurred. 

Think about American airpower in context for a few moments. For the first four decades, from 1903 to 1941, there were starts and stops, triumphs and tragedies, but never before a consolidated and scientific approach to training throughout the airpower pipeline. 

The pivotal events of the first 40 years of manned flight often relegated the Air Corps to the sidelines. The brutality of World War I saw no American aircraft play a significant part of operational flying (save for Curtiss Flying Boats). The disastrous air mail mission showed how unprepared our Air Corps was to maintain and fly challenging missions on all-weather or all night missions. The early days of World War II witnessed poorly trained and equipped Airmen fighting uphill battles to defend American and allied interests from Hickam Field, Hawaii, clear across the Pacific to Darwin, Australia. 

Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, confronted the greatest challenge in Air Force history with gusto, expanding a token force from its depression-era strength of 20,000 men to a war-winning force producing 1.9 million technical training graduates, 200,000 pilots, 48,000 navigators and aircrew and a staggering 2.8 million Basic Military Training graduates. 

Beginning Jan. 23, 1942, the challenges of a global war necessitated a scientific, efficient and ever-expanding air force training pipeline that stretched from coast to coast. Activated as the Air Corps Flying Training Command, it was re-designated as the Army Air Forces (AAF) Flying Training Command two months later. It added technical training to its mission in 1943, and was re-designated as the U.S. Army Air Forces Training Command July 31, 1943.

Today’s mighty Air Force was forged in the days and years following Jan. 23, 1942 – professional instructors, precise curriculum, training pipelines squeezed to capacity, educational facilities built in quantities and regions thought impossible. Airpower started here, the first command, and its professional establishment remains the difference-maker to this day. Today’s Airmen – of all grades and backgrounds – are recruited, trained and educated, then sent out ready to contribute to a worldwide, complex mission wherever and whenever needed. 

In December 1942, General Arnold stood at Lackland AFB’s Parade Grounds and looked out at 10 acres of Airmen – 100, 000 people arrayed in the grandest formation in Air Force history. He told the Airmen of new technologies, strategies and equipment. He told them they would win the war and help guide the future through their training and professionalism. He understood immediately what was to come for airpower. It was that rarest of historical moments where a visionary got to experience the full fruits of his life’s work. 

General Arnold smiled the wry smile that informed his nickname “Happy.” The world had demonstrably changed. From AETC’s birth in 1942 to today, that familiar torch of knowledge has been continuously passed. Over 75 years of tumult, AETC has always accomplished its mission and produced a professional Air Force which quickly became the envy of the world. Our legacy continued. From the vast tent-cities of the Korean war BMT mission, to the addition of the professional recruiting mission; to the acceptance and mastery of the educational mission with Air University; to specialized undergraduate flight training which allowed American air power to dominate the world’s crisis points through the present day, where enlisted Airmen have again entered flight training and every job is open to any Airman capable of performing it, our torch still lights the way in a complex world. Airpower truly starts here.