A History of the Permanent Professors of the United States Air Force Academy


This book tells the history, traditions, and contributions of the Permanent Professors at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Permanent professors were first appointed at the Air Force Academy in 1957, before the first class graduated. The position allows a select few Air Force officers to serve in their positions for many years, instilling continuity and stability in the academic program as Department Heads and as the Dean of Faculty. It is a prestigious group of men and women (only 100 individuals in 60 years) who, after receiving a Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, go on to lead the academic programs and influence every facet of the Academy and well beyond. This is their story.




The Authors

James H. Head, Brigadier General, USAF (Retired). Permanent Professor 1987-2006, Vice Dean of the Faculty 1994-1996 and 2004-2006.

Erlind G. Royer, Brigadier General, USAF (Retired). Permanent Professor 1983-1991, Dean of the Faculty 1987-1991.

The Friends of the Air Force Academy Library

One of the primary missions of the Friends of the Air Force Academy Library is the preservation of the heritage and history of the Academy. With that goal in mind, the Friends are proud to sponsor this book on the history of the Permanent Professors. Since the establishment of the position of Permanent Professor, no other body has been so important and significant in the evolution, operation, and accomplishments of the Academy. Aside from their primary mission of determining the focus of the curriculum and academic direction of the Academy, the Permanent Professors have been, and continue to be both corporately and individually, intimately involved in nearly every aspect of the institution’s mission, be it academic, military, athletic, or professional. Theirs is truly a history that all elements of the Academy need to understand. The Friends can think of no other singular project as important in documenting the history and heritage of the institution than the story of this small group of 100 officers. We are honored to be part of this effort. (Preface to the Book)


The Genesis of the United States Air Force Academy

Colonel McDermott would be nominated for Dean by the Superintendent, Major General Briggs, on May 16, 1959, and the Secretary of the Air Force forwarded his nomination on August 27. The President approved, and the Senate confirmed his appointment as Permanent Dean and promotion to brigadier general effective September 15, 1959. The next three Permanent Professors, Colonels Woodyard, Moody, and Higdon, were appointed in 11000. (From Left, Colonels McDermott, Woodyard, Moody, and Higdon) (Page 34)

Permanent Professor Leadership Challenges


Beginning with the first detailed planning for the Air Force Academy in 1948, accreditation always had been an important requirement...In 1957 Colonel Woodyard, Professor and Head of Chemistry, was appointed by the Superintendent to chair an Accredditation Steering Committee to prepare a self-study required for use by the regional accrediting agency, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA)... The accreditation evaluators' report recommend[ed] the unusual accreditation of the Academy in April 1959 before its first class had graduated...


Biographical Sketches of the Permanent Professors

Brigadier General Robert F. McDermott, Permanent Professor 1957-1968, Vice Dean of the Faculty 1954-1956, Dean of the Faculty 1956-1968.

In 1956 [Colonel McDermott] was appointed the Dean of the Faculty, retaining his Department of Economics position as an additional duty. McD became the first USAF Academy Permanent Professor in September 1957 and the first permanent Dean of the Faculty in September 1959, which included promotion to brigadier general. He was Dean of the Faculty for the first 10 graduating classes of the Academy. For his numerous innovations at the Academy, many of which also were adopted by its sister service academies, McD has been called the “Father of Modern Military Education.” (Page 156)

The Permanent Professor Badge

The unique badge worn by Permanent Professors at the United States Air Force Academy was developed in 1966 by Brigadier General Robert F. McDermott. The major design elements include an outer ring 2.5 inches in diameter, consisting of indented tetrahedrals–meant to symbolize the spires of the Academy’s Cadet Chapel. There are 13 stars between. The center of the device, consisting of a gold eagle sitting on a wreath in front of a white cloud, is enameled and has a plated satin finish. It is further surrounded by a field of ultramarine blue. The divided shield depicts the Earth’s atmosphere in light blue and outer space in black. Both are crossed by an ascending five-pointed star with three rays passing through an orbit, over a burning lamp. The motto, black lettering on gold scrolls, reads “Potestas Doctrinae Vitam Sustinet,” which corresponds roughly to the inscription on the Academy’s Eagle and fledgling statue, “Man’s Flight Through Life Is sustained by the Power of His Knowledge.” (Page 361)

Permanent Professor Traditions

Investiture Ceremony

An investiture ceremony is the formal occasion for conferring the authority and symbol of a high office. For the office of Permanent Professor, the ceremony consists of the reading of the appointment order...the oath of office, and the presentation of the Permanent Professor badge. The photo at right shows new Permanent Professors Orwyn Sampson (right, the 37th) and Harvey Schiller (the 38th) receiving congratulations from Brigadier General Orth, at their investiture ceremony in 1980. (Page 371)