Air Force Academy

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating the U.S. Air Force Academy on 1 April 1954, fulfilling recommendations that had been made by air-minded leaders since World War I. The academy was conceived as a four-year under-graduate institution, leading to the B.S. degree and a regular air force commission. The first class entered in the summer of 1955, using facilities at Denver, Colorado, prior to occupation of the permanent site at Colorado Springs three years later. The group, numbering 207, graduated on 3 June 1959. The academy reached its full authorized enrollment of 2,500 in 1962, and in 1964 legislation set the authorizations for the Military and Air Force Academies at 4,417, the same as the Naval Academy's. Each congressman was authorized five appointments to each academy at any one time and could nominate several individuals to compete for each vacancy. The 1964 legislation also increased the period of obligatory service after graduation from three to five years, beginning with the class of 1968.

From its start, the Air Force Academy departed from service academy tradition by providing advanced and accelerated studies beyond the prescribed curriculum. In 1964 the academy instituted a system of specialized-majors programs whereby every cadet elected a substantial part of his course work in one of several dozen areas. For its first forty years, the academy retained an all-military faculty, subsidizing graduate work for line officers at civilian institutions prior to faculty tours of about four years. A severe cheating incident in 1965 received national attention and resulted in more than 100 cadets leaving the academy. Reassessment of the academy's academic, athletic, and military systems left the traditional honor code unchanged—all cadets pledge, "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us any one who does"—although certain rigidities in cadet life were reduced.

More than two-thirds of all graduates (including 85 percent of those physically qualified) have entered pilot training. The academy instituted an optional thirty-six-hour flying program in light aircraft for upperclassmen in 1968, and cadets could participate in glider and parachute activities. The academy has vigorously recruited minority youths. In 1973 it ended compulsory chapel attendance. Graduates received numerous decorations in Southeast Asia, where 90 lost their lives. Academy graduates through 1973 numbered 6,942, including 16 Rhodes scholars.

On 7 October 1975 President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation that allowed women to enroll for the first time in all of the nation's service academies, including the Air Force Academy. Despite a storm of protest and criticism from certain quarters, the first women enrolled at the academy on 28 June 1976, and the first class of women graduated in 1980. In 1993 the academy changed another of its long-standing policies and began to hire civilian instructors as members of the faculty, so that by the end of the century civilians composed about 20 percent of the faculty. Academy graduates through the end of the century numbered 34,065 cadets (more than half of whom were still on active duty), including 31 Rhodes scholars.


Bruegmann, Robert, ed. Modernism at Mid-century: The Architecture of the United States Air Force Academy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Ray L.Bowers/c. w.

See alsoMilitary Academy ; Naval Academy .