The Air Force Association is celebrating the 75 years of educating, advocating, and supporting the U.S. Air Force and Airmen and, since its founding a year ago, the U.S. Space Force and its Guardians.
AFA was incorporated on Feb. 4. 1946 to form a grassroots network across the country to educate the public about air power and to advocate for the Air Force to become a separate military service branch. Less than 18 months later, the Air Force gained its independence in September 1947.
Under the leadership of General James Doolittle, its first president, and generations of volunteer and professional leaders since, AFA became “the force behind the Force,” a critical advocate and supporter of air power, space power, and the means and resources needed for a ready and robust national defense.
Today, the Air Force Association’s education and advocacy work continues. AFA produces the Air Force’s premiere professional development events, the Air, Space & Cyber Conference and Aerospace Warfare Symposium, which each attract thousands of attendees and the full participation of top Air and Space Force leaders. AFA operates the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, the nation’s only think tank dedicated to the advancement of air and space power and related concepts, and it publishes Air Force Magazine, the association’s premier publication. AFA also operates two of the world’s largest and most dynamic programs for attracting and developing student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). AFA’s CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers STEM programs use fun, team-based competitions to interest students in careers in cybertechnology and engineering. AFA’s Wounded Airman Program provides life-changing assistance to seriously wounded, ill, and injured Airmen and their families. And its COVID-19 Assistance Fund provides support to those service members and their families adversely affected by the fallout from the global pandemic.
Showcase your support of AFA and our 75th Anniversary with the purchase of our AFA socks, available for a limited time only.
Why AFA Matters
1. Unrivaled history. AFA was incorporated in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 1946. For the 75 years since, no voice has spoken more loudly, more boldly, or more consistently in support of air power, Airmen, and the Air Force than your Air Force Association.
2. Staying informed. Air Force Magazine is the voice of the Air Force Association, tracing its history back to 1946 when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Harold “Hap” Arnold transferred ownership and control of his Army Air Forces magazine to AFA. For many years, Air Force Magazine was the principal benefit of membership in AFA. Today, the Magazine staff not only creates an award-winning glossy magazine, but also a daily email report and news website, sharing content that reaches hundreds of thousands of people each month.
3. Support in times of crisis. As a pandemic swept the globe, AFA created the COVID-19 Airman’s Assistance Fund, which provided emergency assistance grants to Airmen and their families, including an Air Force spouse and mother of six children who was required to quarantine without pay for two weeks while her spouse was deployed; and a senior Airmen whose civilian hours were cut in half, forcing his family to enter the food stamp program.
4. Local-level connections. AFA mobilizes support through more than 200 chapters around the country. Being a member of a local chapter gives you access to meetings, socials, and other events, as well as the opportunity to connect with others who support the Air Force and Space Force.
5. Recognizing achievement. Since 1948, AFA has honored individuals, units and companies for outstanding performance and contributions to national defense, flight, science and engineering, aerospace education, and arts and letters. The H.H. Arnold Award, the Flight Trophy (now named the David C. Schilling Award), the Science Trophy (renamed the Theodore von Karman Award), the Hoyt S. Vandenberg Award, and the Arts and Letters Trophy (now named the Gill Robb Wilson Award) are AFA’s longest-running awards programs.
6. The Almanac. The USAF Almanac, first published in September 1951 as Air Force Magazine’s “Anniversary Issue,” and now available only to magazine subscribers, is the go-to reference source for the Air and Space Forces. The annual special feature is packed with historical data, as well as the most recent facts, figures, and other information about the Air Force and the Space Force.
7. Advocating for families. AFA works tirelessly on behalf of Airmen, Guardians, and families. In March 2001, AFA successfully advocated for eliminating capital gains taxes on the sales of service members’ private residences as a result of a permanent change-of-station move. The same month, AFA successfully advocated for eliminating dual-compensation penalties for service members who take civilian jobs in the federal government immediately after military retirement.
8. The Mitchell Institute. First established as the Eaker Institute in 1996 and renamed in 2007 to honor air power pioneer Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies produces cutting-edge, thought-provoking research and analysis to inform the national security debate and educate policymakers and the public about aerospace power’s critical and unique role.
9. Discounts. AFA membership comes with many perks, including discounts on shopping, travel, legal services, health and wellness programs, education programs through Trident University, and more.
10. Changing the conversation. AFA’s work makes a difference, and its 1994 special report, “The Smithsonian and the Enola Gay,” is just one example. The report exposed the National Air and Space Museum’s plan to display the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a prop in a politically charged exhibition critical of the mission. AFA’s report prompted Congress, the national media, and the public to pressure the museum to change its exhibit and its approach to planning future exhibitions.
11. Support for Wounded Airmen. AFA’s Wounded Airman Program, established in November 2011, raises and provides funds for seriously ill and injured Airmen and their caregivers. One caregiver said the program “kept my husband alive and planted hope during one of our lowest points.” Another beneficiary said the program “saves people’s lives, repairs families, and mends broken bodies.”
12. Hail to the Chief. AFA was instrumental in creating the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force position. The association’s Airmen’s Council first asked the Air Force to appoint a “Sergeant Major of the Air Force” in March 1964, and in 1967, the first CMSAF was appointed.
13. Long Overdue. As a B-26 pilot, Lt. Col. David B. Van Pelt destroyed a North Korean train during a perilous nighttime mission in 1951, while under intense ground fire. He was told he would receive a Silver Star for his heroic actions, but never received it. More than 50 years later, with the help of AFA, he finally got the award he had earned, at a ceremony hosted by his local chapter.
14. AWS in Orlando. What other conference gives you the opportunity to rub elbows with top leaders in the Air Force and Space Force, then go visit Hogwarts and ride Space Mountain?
15. Instilling a Love for STEM. AFA’s CyberPatriot program was established in February 2009 to inspire high school students to pursue careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The program has since evolved to include elementary and middle school students as well.
16. Air Force Memorial. AFA was instrumental in the funding and building of the Air Force Memorial. The memorial, which features three stainless steel spires soaring into the sky next to Arlington National Cemetery, was dedicated in October 2006.
17. Taking Care of Our Own. In 2019 alone, AFA’s Wounded Airman Program served 4,500 wounded warriors and family members, awarded $15,824 in financial assistance grants, and supported 25 caregivers through resiliency efforts.
18. Honoring Outstanding Airmen. AFA’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year program, established in May 1956 at the association’s 10th annual convention, recognizes some of the force’s top enlisted members—including 2019 honoree TSgt. Kenneth O’Brien. O’Brien was on a flight from Okinawa, Japan, to Washington, D.C., to receive his award when he saved the life of a baby who had choked and lost consciousness.
19. Aerospace Nation. When schools and many businesses went virtual, so did AFA’s Mitchell Institute. In April 2020, with in-person events no longer an option, Mitchell launched a video series featuring interviews with top Air Force and Space Force leaders. The popular virtual events allow Airmen, members of the public, and the media to hear about the latest aerospace topics directly from the source.
20. Healing Through Art. In 2020, AFA’s Wounded Airman Program partnered with Mission Warriors to develop Mission Arts, a virtual healing and art series that provides total wellness support to wounded Airmen and their families.
21. Out-of-This-World Competition. AFA’s StellarXplorers program inspires interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields through a competition for high school students in which they must solve a space design problem based on a provided scenario.
22. News You Can Use. The Daily Report packs the latest and most important news about the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, and national security issues into one free email newsletter, written and edited by the staff of Air Force Magazine. Originally launched in August 2005, it was revamped and expanded in 2019 to bring readers even more aerospace news from around the globe.
23. Starting Them Early. Through the CyberPatriot Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative, AFA offers three free, downloadable interactive learning modules for K-6 students to learn about online safety and cybersecurity principles.
24. Honoring the Fallen. In September 1998, nearly 600 AFA delegates personally delivered messages to Congress about the difficulty families had securing military honors at veteran and retiree funerals, prompting lawmakers to pass the Defense Authorization Act of 1999. The legislation ordered that an honor guard detail of no less than three people must be made available on request for any veteran’s funeral.
25. Shooting for the Stars. AFA’s StellarXplorers program is growing the next generation of space professionals. According to the program’s 2020 alumni survey, more than 60% of students were unlikely to pursue a space career before participating in the program; after participating, 70% said they were likely to seek a job in the space industry.
26. First in Show. AFA hosted the first international air show in U.S. history in April 1959, called the World Congress of Flight. The Las Vegas event drew participants from 51 foreign countries.
27. Glimpsing the Future. In October 1990, AFA worked with the Air Force Chief of Staff to sponsor “Stealth Days” at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The event was designed to educate members of Congress about stealth technology, and also allowed them to see the F-117, the B-2, and early models of the F-22 and F-35.
28. Cybersecurity for Life. AFA’s CyberGenerations program, an initiative of CyberPatriot, teaches senior citizens about cybersecurity—from password hygiene and social media awareness to malware and ransomware. The program also provides resources to victims of online scams.
29. Recognizing Excellence. In December 2017, AFA’s Mitchell Institute, in collaboration with the Air Force and General Atomics, established the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Squadron of the Year Award. Air Force Special Operations Command’s 3rd Special Operations Squadron was the first to win the award.
30. Supporting Teachers. Each year, AFA honors an educator who goes above and beyond to teach STEM concepts to students. The 2020 AFA National Teacher of the Year was Rachael Arens from Omaha Northwest High School in Omaha, Nebraska. She has taught 9th through 12th grade AP environmental science, chemistry, anatomy/physiology, biology, and advanced horticulture, and was named an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.
31. The Wright Stuff. AFA’s president, retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, served 34 years in the Air Force, including stints as commander of 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan, director for information operations on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, and commander of the U.S. Air Force Intelligence Agency. Wright’s extensive combat experience includes commanding an F-16C squadron during Operation Desert Storm. Now, he’s responsible for the management and operations of AFA and its 97,000 members.
32. Never Forget. An October 1969 Air Force Magazine cover story, “The Forgotten Americans of the Vietnam War,” helped ignite national concern for American prisoners of war and those missing in action, after Readers Digest published a version of the story.
33. Helping to Heal. AFA’s Wounded Airman Program helps warriors know they’re not alone. Retired TSgt Josh Leary said participating in CARE events and the Warrior Games “taught me there is still ability in my disability. It taught me I’m not forgotten. I’m still part of the Air Force family. …. Without AFA, we wouldn’t be able to heal like that.”
34. Berlin Candy Bomber. Among AFA’s members is 100-year-old retired Col. Gail S. “Hal” Halvorsen, also known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. The beloved C-47 and C-54 pilot brightened spirits during the Berlin Airlift by fashioning parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string to drop candy to thousands of German children in the blockaded city below.
35. Going Global. AFA’s CyberPatriot program is so popular that it went international in 2013, expanding to the United Kingdom as CyberCenturion. It has since taken hold in Australia as CyberTaipan, Saudi Arabia as CyberArabia, and Japan as CyberSakura.
36. Building Relationships. AFA understands the importance of relationships, which is why we work tirelessly to build strong relationships with Congressional leaders and staffers to and educate them on the needs of the Air Force and Space Force.
37. Lucky Penney. As a rookie pilot, then-1st Lt. Heather Penney was one of two pilots who flew unarmed F-16s on what would have been a kamikaze mission to ram Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, to defend the nation’s capital. Penney, who had been the only woman in her fighter pilot training class and the only woman in her fighter squadron, went on to serve two tours in Iraq and was promoted to major before leaving the service. Now, the modern-day hero serves a senior resident fellow at AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
38. Meeting the Challenge. AFA’s Mitchell Institute in 2019 established the Gen. T. Michael Moseley Airpower Chair—named for the 18th Air Force chief of staff—to develop and advance solutions for national security challenges in air, space, and cyberspace. Retired Maj. Gen. Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem is the chair’s first occupant.
39. Virtual Reality. In the face of a global pandemic, AFA planned and successfully hosted its first-ever virtual conference in September 2020. The virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference used a TV news format to facilitate its national conference, with more than 10,000 registrants.
40. The Force Behind the Force. Airmen and Guardians serve our nation, and AFA serves them, looking out for their interests on Capitol Hill and beyond. Whether it’s pay, benefits, or recognition for the critical importance of the jobs they do, AFA is there to ensure Airmen, Guardians, and families are honored and supported.
41. Summer Camp. AFA CyberCamps, part of the CyberPatriot program, teach students about cybersecurity and cyber safety in a fun, hands-on way, showing how cybersecurity principles are applicable to daily life.
42. Project Utah. AFA’s Aerospace Education Foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education, in 1967 undertook “Project Utah,” which demonstrated the feasibility of using Air Force technical training courses in Utah public schools. The experiment led to the creation of the Community College of the Air Force.
43. David Deptula. Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula was the principal attack planner for the. Desert Storm coalition air campaign, the principal author of the original Air Force white paper, “Global Reach—Global Power,” and, in 2001, the director of the Combined Air Operations Center for Operation Enduring Freedom. Now, he shares his expertise as dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
44. Not Just Air. In 2016, AFA renamed its Air & Space Conference as the Air, Space & Cyber Conference to highlight the importance of the cyber domain in the Air Force. In 2020, it updated it is mission statement to include support for the new U.S. Space Force, and later the same year changed the name of the Air Warfare Symposium to the Aerospace Warfare Symposium.
45. Fostering Leaders. AFA’s General James Doolittle Leadership Center, established in 2020, provides a place for AFA members, field leaders, Active-duty Airmen, Guardians, defense professionals, and members of “think tanks” to develop and hone their professional leadership skills.
46. What Happens in Vegas… To commemorate the Air Force’s 50th anniversary, in 1997, AFA hosted a glittering Las Vegas celebration including a global air chiefs conference and an air show at Nellis Air Force Base.
47. A Little History. Air Force Magazine’s history articles, written by retired editor in chief John T. Correll, give readers a monthly in-depth look at critical moments and operations throughout the history of flight.
48. CMSAF 14. Gerald Murray, the 14th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, now serves as AFA’s chairman of the board. He’s the second former CMSAF to hold the association’s top volunteer leadership position.
49. Radio Mitchell. The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies launched its Aerospace Advantage podcast in 2010, making the institute’s work accessible to a wider audience and offering the types of conversations about aerospace power that aren’t possible in formal reports.
50. Green Eggs and Cybersecurity. AFA’s CyberPatriot in December 2017 published its first book, “Sarah the Cyber Hero,” which introduces the topic of cybersecurity to the pre-K set. The book is available in digital and hard-copy form.
51. Chapter Honors. AFA honors outstanding chapters and chapter leaders each year with awards that recognize their achievements and service in local communities. Awards include Outstanding State Organization, AFA Unit of the Year, Member of the Year, Medal of Merit, and Exceptional Service Awards.
52. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. AFA’s conferences have grown to include not just top Air Force, Space Force, and industry leaders, but also some of the biggest names in civilian aviation and space—including Tyson, Musk, and Branson.
53. Eighth No More. The United States was the eighth-ranked nation in airpower when it entered World War I. Through the work of Army Gen. Billy Mitchell, Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, and AFA, the U.S. Air Force was made an independent military service and has grown to global dominance in air—and space—power.
54. AirForceMag.com. Air Force Magazine’s website was redesigned and relaunched in 2019, bringing you more news and more in-depth stories about the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, and national security issues than ever before.
55. Jimmy Doolittle. Aviation pioneer and Medal of Honor recipient Gen. James H. Doolittle, who led the first aerial raid on mainland Japan during World War II, holds a hallowed place in the history of U.S. airpower, and also played a key role in AFA’s beginnings. Doolittle was AFA’s first national president, and spent the association’s first year establishing chapters across the country.