The US military has always been a trailblazer in advancing aviation technology. In honor of the Air Force’s birthday, here are five airborne revolutions changed the skies, and beyond, forever.
Landing at sea
Today, Navy and Marine pilots routinely land on aircraft carriers around the globe, but the USS Langley (CV-1) was a pioneer as the Navy’s first aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1922, Langley became the primary test stage for the Navy’s nascent aviation program.
Langley saw action in WWII. On February 27th 1942, she was attacked by nine twin-engine Japanese bombers, 74 miles south of Java. The ship was damaged so badly that she was scuttled at sea, losing all of its 32 aircraft.
The routine medical evacuation mission of helicopters evolved unintentionally during the Korean War in the 1950’s. Roadways on the front lines in Korea were unreliable for the rapid evacuation of injured troops, and Helicopters would often be rerouted to pick-up the wounded and transport them to field surgical hospitals to give them life-or limb-saving care.
During the course of the war, over 22,000 troops were evacuated by helicopters. The quick evacuation of casualties contributed to a reduced mortality rate for wounded, compared with previous conflicts.
The first class of astronauts were selected by NASA in 1959 to man the Mercury program. The original Mercury seven astronauts were all military test pilots, a requirement set in place by President Eisenhower.
Of the 12 astronauts to walk on the moon, 11 were military test pilots. The exception being Harrison Schmitt, a geologist, and the first member of NASA’s scientist-astronaut group.
The military remains an important source of space-explores as seven of the 12 astronauts in the class of 2017 are military.
Flying under the radar has long been an ambition of military pilots.
The US invasion of Panama saw the first use of America’s most secret weapons, the F-117A “Nighthawk” stealth fighter. Despite a lengthy career in combat that includes missions over Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, only one Nighthawk was brought down by enemy fire during the Kosovo War.
America’s second stealth aircraft, the B-2 Spirit, first entered service in 1989. The strategic bomber was designed to fly over 6,000 miles at speeds approach Mach 1. First seeing combat in 1999 over Kosovo, it later went on to fly in air campaigns over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and most recently, Syria.
Remotely piloted aircraft
Unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely piloted aircraft, or drones. Which ever name you call these aviation assets by, one thing is sure—the capability these machines bring to the battlefield has changed the way the US conducts air strikes.
First used by the CIA in the early 2000’s, all branches of the US military have embraced this emerging, and controversial, platform.
The need to have real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance combined with lethal capabilities has evolved in a way that no longer requires a human to risk their life over a potential target.