12 Facts About the Air Force You Probably Didn’t Know

Air Force facts
This is a photo of an F-117 Nighthawk sailing through the sky… with a bumblebee. Oh, and Chuck Norris. Is he a Trekkie, by chance?

The United States Air Force is the newest branch of service; certainly not the biggest, but ask any Air Force vet and they’ll tell you it’s the baddest. In the good way, of course. 

Are you an Air Force veteran, spouse or child? A plane enthusiast, or plain history buff? Test your Air Force and military trivia below. Let us know which facts you knew, and which took you by surprise. 

Here are 12 Air Force facts that most people don’t know:

 

1. Star Trek is largely based on military culture 

Creator Gene Roddenberry flew in WWII, clocking in 89 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He modeled much of the Star Trek universe after things commonly found in the military. 

The ranks of crew members on the Starship Enterprise resemble the ranks of Navy sailors; lieutenant commander, commander, captain and more. Starfleet is referenced as “the service”, and a Starfleet Academy is mentioned. In “Balance of Terror”, military jargon is frequently used and it’s revealed that Starfleet defends the United Federation of Planets. 

For a full list of references, click here

 

2. There’s an annual “Mustache March” for airmen 

It celebrates WWII and Vietnam vet Robin Olds. Olds was a triple ace brigadier general and Air Force legend, known for his very distinctive and ever-present mustache. An ace is a pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft — therefore a triple ace has shot down at least 15. Olds is credited with 17. 


Air Force facts
Robin Olds, the Mustache March muse. Credit: Medium.

3. The Air Force is how Johnny Cash got his name 

His parents originally named him J.R., but when he tried to enlist, recruiters wouldn’t allow him to use initials as his formal name. He decided to take on a new name — John R. Cash. Cash went on to serve four years, from 1950 to ‘54, mostly as a Morse code operator intercepting messages from the Soviet Army. He actually created his first band while serving in Landsberg, Germany. 

 

4. Before Chuck Norris became a famed martial artist, he was an Air Policeman 

He actually picked up Tang Soo Doo – the Korean form of karate – while serving at Osan Air Base, South Korea. Norris went on to star in action films, and even invented his own school of martial arts. He also got his name from the Air Force; he was born Carlos Ray Norris. 

 

5. There’s actually been a lot of famous guys in the USAF 

Aside from Cash and Norris, other celebrity Air Force veterans include George Carlin, Willie Nelson, Morgan Freeman, Hunter S. Thompson, and James Stewart. 


James Stewart
Brig. Gen. Jimmy Stewart – you know him from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Credit: National Museum of the USAF.

Jimmy Stewart
Jimmy Stewart, but this time as a Starfleet Admiral. Credit: Pinterest.

6. The first woman to fly in combat is now a senator

Arizona Senator Martha McSally served in the Air Force from 1988 to 2010, retiring as a colonel — one of the highest-ranking female pilots ever. She was the first American woman to fly combat missions. When the ban was lifted in 1991, McSally piloted the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II over Iraq and Kuwait in Operation Southern Watch. She was also the first female commander of an Air Force fighter squadron. 

Read more about her story, and other women veterans, here.

 

7. Two U.S. presidents have been in the Air Force 

President Ronald Reagan enlisted as a reservist in the Army in 1937, and transferred to the Army Air Forces in ‘42. He attained the rank of captain before leaving active duty in ‘45. President George W. Bush was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, and trained as a fighter pilot. He flew Convair F-102 Delta Daggers in the 147th Reconnaissance Wing and was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1974. 

 

8. Truman institutionalized the Air Force while aboard the first “Air Force One” plane 

The National Security Act of 1947 formally separated the Air Force from the Army as its own branch of service, created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). 

 

9. “Air Force One” is any plane that the president happens to be in 

The two planes designated for the president’s transport are Boeing VC-25s simply called 28000 and 29000. The term “Air Force One” is air traffic control speak for whatever plane the president is flying in, and is a “protection level one” asset; the same security they provide for nuclear weapons. Which means that the airmen on board can kill anyone not authorized to be there. Fun fact: when Nixon resigned the presidency, he left the White House on Air Force One, and landed as SAM 27000. 

 

10. Air Force commanders are promoted with “roof stomps”

It’s a tradition for a new commander’s residence to be bombarded by airmen’s feet. They will climb on the roof and make as much noise as possible, while simultaneously banging on windows and doors. 


Air Force facts
The infamous Air Force “roof stomp”. Credit: www.nellis.af.mil.

11. There’s an Air Force supercomputer made of Playstations

The Condor Cluster was built to examine HD satellite imagery, and is considered the 33rd most powerful computer in the world. The kicker? The Air Force Research Lab made it exclusively from Playstation 3’s. 1,760 of them, to be precise. Talk about using your resources. 

 

12. Some planes are designed with nature’s optics 

The F-117 fighter was made with aerodynamics similar to a bumblebee in flight. It was the first real stealth aircraft in the world, and made entirely of flat surfaces. It can’t be detected by any radar, and its sleek black silhouette only flies at night (hence the name, Nighthawk). While the aircraft was developed in the Cold War, it was really made useful in Desert Storm; Iraqi’s knew it as “Shiba”, or ghost. Actual Air Force pilots playfully dubbed it the “Wobbly Gobblin”. 

 

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