Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Cadets in front of the USAFA Cadet Chapel, Colorado Springs, Colorado

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In 1949, two years after the establishment of an independent air force, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal appointed a board of educators to review the education of core armed forces officers. The board, headed by Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Stearns, both university presidents, advised creating a separate institution to meet the needs of the new air service. Overtaken by events in Korea, the recommendation languished until 1954, when Congress authorized Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott to select the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) site. After exhaustive consideration of 580 possible locations in 45 states, three–Colorado Springs, Colorado; Alton, Illinois; and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin–were submitted to Secretary Talbott for final site selection. Colorado's enthusiastic support influenced the outcome. In July 1955 the first cadets entered temporary quarters at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver while permanent facilities were being constructed.

The Cadet Wing moved to the USAFA grounds in August 1958. The following spring 206 cadets graduated and were commissioned. As cold war tensions increased following the Cuban missile crisis, authorized wing strength nearly doubled to 4,417 cadets. The first female cadets graduated with the class of 1980.

The USAFA campus is nestled among 18,000 acres fronting the Rocky Mountain's Rampart Range. Its most endearing landmark is the Cadet Chapel, architect Walter Netsch Jr.'s innovative design of glass, aluminum, and steel. The chapel's seventeen spires dominate the cadet quadrangle and inspire the institution's "Commitment to Excellence." That commitment, despite occasional scandal, has resulted in more than thirty Rhodes scholars and critical leadership for the youngest military service.

United States Air Force Academy website.

William E. Fischer Jr. Ottawa, Canada

Cannon, M. Hamlin, and Henry S. Fellerman. Quest for an Air Force Academy. Colorado Springs: USAFA, 1974.

Fagan, George V. The Air Force Academy: An Illustrated History. Boulder CO: Johnson Books, 1988.

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