The United States is the country it is today thanks to many things, not the least of which is the armed forces. Since the creation of the Continental Army in June 1775, the United States Army has been here for us for nearly 250 years.
Today, there are six service branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the newly created Space Force. While most of the original services have remained much the same over the years in terms of names and ranks, there was a time when the Air Force was part of the military and was indeed known as US Army Air Force name. Many militaria collectors love USAAF artifacts, and for good reason. Let’s do an overview.
The USAAF didn’t even start with that name. After learning of the Wright brothers’ groundbreaking work in aviation, the US Army Signal Corps created a tiny aviation division in 1907 to keep abreast of events. Early results with balloons and airships had been mixed, but attention soon turned to the Wright’s state-of-the-art aircraft. A year later the Division suffered its first of many casualties when a lieutenant was killed in a crash landing, but a year later the number one aircraft was acquired and the era of military flight was underway. .
A few years later, World War I in Europe began to loom, and the Signal Corps intensified its activities. The 1st Provisional Aero Squadron was formed in 1913, its first task being to patrol the Mexican border. As things warmed up overseas, the aviation section was reorganized into an air service which contributed significantly (if not critically) to the end of the war in 1918.
Further reorganizations took place after the armistice, and in 1926 the name US Army Air Corps came into being. By then, the army’s aviation efforts had grown to about 1,000 aircraft and some 10,000 men. Growth continued steadily through the 1930s, but the American military hierarchy was shocked when the German Luftwaffe suddenly emerged in 1938 as a massive and powerful fighting force. The time for complacency was over.
The next seven years turned out to be transformative. By 1945, the USAAF had over 2.2 million members and nearly 64,000 aircraft. New regional air districts were created, including areas such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Panama, and unit designations such as wings, groups, and squadrons were introduced.
While it did not play a pivotal role in the outcome of World War I, there is no doubt that the USAAF contributed immensely to Allied success in World War II. Once again, however, change was rapid after the war ended and the National Security Act of 1947 established the United States Air Force as a separate branch of the directed military. by his own chief of staff. The USAAF had become the USAF.
While today’s Air Force is all about drones, jets and stealth, there are those who long for artifacts from the old days of propellers. The original USAAF-marked items are still around, though they are getting harder and harder to find. Manuals and vintage flight equipment bear witness to the early days of aviation, and the cherished bracelets purchased by airmen and sent home to loved ones reflect a sense of pride in the service.
You can see a range of such objects in our own Palm Springs Air Museum, and antique galleries like ours often have a fascinating selection. This is what it takes to make aviation enthusiasts dream.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award-winning catalog editor and authored seven books, as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Palm Springs Antique Galleries. His antiquities column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.