Other Projects

The U. S. Air Force Academy Origins and Evolution Exhibit

History of the Air Force Academy

The creation of a new service academy became inevitable as soon as the U.S. Air Force became a separate service in 1947. In 1949, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal appointed a Service Academy board to review the programs and facilities of the Military and Naval Academies and, in light of their findings, to make specific recommendations for the establishment of an academy for the Air Force. After intense state competition to win the site for the new academy, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott, with the support of Charles Lindbergh and others, decided to locate it at Colorado Springs. The deciding factors included the quiet, isolated location away from the crowded East Coast, accessibility to large urban areas, favorable weather for training and the not insignificant fact that the State of Colorado had offered one million dollars toward the purchase of the land. On 1 April 1954, the Congress authorized construction of the new academy.

The architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill won the design and construction contract and produced a stunning and unique all metal and glass plan that admirably suited the mission and vision of the Air Force and the Western mountain site. The striking design of the Cadet Chapel initially drew considerable criticism, but all plans with some modifications were ultimately approved and construction began in July 1995. Today architectural students from all over the world come to study this facility for its modern beauty and consistency of form and design. The Chapel, which is the center of cadet spiritual life, has in fact created a whole new style of church architecture in the country.

In Jul 1955, concurrent with the beginning of construction, the Academy was organized and commenced operation at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. Lt Gen. Hubert Harmon, the distinguished first Superintendent, accomplished the early planning and organization and led the new Academy through its first two difficult years at the temporary location. The permanent facility at Colorado Springs was finished in time for the Cadet Wing to move from Lowry in August 11000.

The Academy site comprises 18,000 acres at an elevation of about 7,200 feet along the eastern slope of the Rampart Range and is contiguous with the Pike National Forest on its western boundary. The facility includes eleven major buildings associated with the cadet mission, many of which have been named in honor of distinguished Air Force persons. The associated facilities include an airfield where very active cadet training in powered flight, soaring, and parachuting continues year-round. There are extensive sports fields, a service and logistics area, schools for children, and 1,100 sets of quarters for assigned personnel, including a very elegant residence that was already on the land when it was purchased for the Academy.

It should be noted that a fine stadium, a visitor center, an impressive building for the activities of the Association of Graduates, and golf courses have all been provided without recourse to government funding. The Academy possesses all the elements and characteristics of a small town with a population of over 4,000 cadets, 2,000 officers and enlisted personnel, 1,800 civilian employees, and over 1,200 families.

About the Collection

The exhibit chronicles benchmarks in the Academy’s history and depicts the administration of the Academy’s multifaceted program of instruction. It is focused on the evolution of the process by which the Academy trains and educates military professionals–officers who are disposed to a career of service to the United States in the Air Force.

The exhibit is drawn from the rich collection of official documents, personal papers, photographs, news clippings, and Academy related publications which are housed within the Special Collections Branch of the Air Force Academy Library. The Special Collections Branch operates as the Academy’s institutional archives. It serves as the repository for historical documents which reflect the origin, establishment, development, and operation of the Air Force Academy.


In this exhibit the Friends intend not only to chronicle the history of the Air Force Academy in terms of buildings and events, but also to focus on the evolution of the process by which the Academy educates and trains military professionals who personify the Academy’s core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” A brief summary of the contents of select panels from the exhibit follows.

The Exhibit

The Establishment of the Air Force Academy

The National Security Act of 1947 tacitly approved an Air Force Academy. During 1948 and 1949 an Air Force planning board under Gen. Muir Fairchild developed curriculum, but Congress did not act until 1954, and President Eisenhower signed the authorization legislation. Gen. Harmon, designated Superintendent of the new institution, greeted the first class in July 1955.


Colorado Springs Wins

In 1949, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington appointed Air Force Chief of Staff Carl Spaatz to chair the Air Force Academy Site Selection board. A later commission, which included Charles Lindbergh, narrowed the choice to three locations. In June 1954, Secretary Talbott announced Colorado springs as the winner, and the Colorado Land Acquisition Commission began purchasing the 17,800 acres north of the city for the Academy’s permanent site.

Activation at Lowry

In June 1954, Secretary of the Air force Harlod E. Talbott announced that Denver, Colorado would be the interim location of the Academy during construction of the permanent facilities at the site north of Colorado Springs. The Academy was dedicated when the first class arrived on 11 July 1955.


The Air Force Construction Agency was designated to supervise the Academy construction and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill selected as the architect. Actual construction of the $126 million complex began in July 1955, and employed 6,000 workers. By August 11000 most of the cadet area was completed.


The Chapel

The Cadet chapel is the crowning architectural feature of the Academy’s cadet area. Designed by Walter A. Netsch, Jr., construction began in August 1959 and was completed in summer 1963. At its dedication the Chapel was praised  as “a symbol to the world that the United States is truly a nation under God.”


When the Academy was approved, cadet strength was set at 2,529, equal to that of West Point. In March 1964, President Johnson authorized both academies to expand to the same strength as the Naval Academy, 4,417. Congress then authorized $38 million to expand essential facilities, build a field house, and improve athletic fields. The Cadet Wing reached its new strength when the Class of 1974 entered.

Integration of Women

In 1975 Congress directed the three military academies to admit women. Early planning by Air Force Headquarters and the Academy produced an orderly and successful introduction of women into this traditionally make institution.

The Academic Program

The first curriculum introduced at the Air Force Academy has seen much change. Periodic Reviews provide updates, especially in science and technology. In the past twenty-five years, for example, the science curriculum has moved from the slide rule to the laptop computer. In 1992 Congress directed the Academy to open faculty positions to qualified civilian instructors who now make up about 20 percent of the faculty.

Military Training Program

In their four years at the Academy, cadets proceed through an intensive military training and professional military studies program. Acquiring leadership skills is first priority. Over half the cadets receive flight training and a majority qualify in soaring and parachuting. Summer programs provide diverse Air Force related experiences. The need for cadets to acquire professional knowledge, develop personal habits of discipline, and be motivated for a career in the service, continue to guide the military training curriculum.

Athletic Program

The physical education program develops and maintains physical condition, teaches athletic skills, and provides experiences to enhance the development of character demanded of officers. The curriculum for the female cadets parallels the men’s program as much as possible. The completion of Falcon Stadium in 1962 and the field house in 1968 made the Academy’s sports facilities among the best in the nation.

Graduation and Graduates

Graduation and commissioning mark the end of four challenging and rewarding years. Hats are thrown into the air and proud parents, relatives, and friends  share this once in a lifetime experience. Then it’s off to the operational Air Force. The measure of the Academy’s success is spelled out by the thousands of young men and women graduates who serve their country and live the qualities that are the hallmarks of the Academy.

The Exhibit Opening

From the November 1998 Newsletter:

The Friends sponsored a major library exhibit on the history of the Air Force Academy. The exhibit was displayed on the Library’s third floor from 1 April – 1 July 1998. Staff and volunteer effort, including extensive support by Dr. Elliot Converse and Brig. Gen. Philip Caine was devoted to creating the exhibit. Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer, the first graduate to serve as the Superintendent of the Academy, opened the exhibit on 17 April with a presentation on the history of the Academy and the significance of the exhibit. Distinguished visitors at the opening included Acting Secretary of the Air Force, F. Whitten Peters, Superintendent of the USAF Academy, Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom, members of the original staff of the Academy, and members of the USAFA Class of 1959.


The exhibit featured an article in the Academy Spirit and received local television coverage from station KRDO. Work has begun with the Office of Public Affairs to place segments of the exhibit on the Internet. The Association of Graduates has requested the reproduction of a part of the exhibit for display at Doolittle Hall and for use as a traveling exhibit by various chapters of the AOG throughout the U.S.

Lt. Gen. A. P. Clark

Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer

Acting Secretary of the Air Force,
F. Whitten Peters

  Archivist Duane Reed Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer

Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom and Acting Secretary of the Air Force, F. Whitten Peters   Brig. Gen. Ruben A. Cubero (Center)

  Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer (Right) Mrs. Bradley C. Hosmer with cadets

  (Left to Right): Unknown, Brig. Gen. Jesse Gatlin, Lt. Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer, Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom (Left to Right): Brig. Gen. and Mrs Philip Caine, Acting Secretary of the Air Force, F. Whitten Peters, Lt. Gen. and Mrs. Bradley C. Hosmer