By Jeff Mullin Senior Writer
The Air Force may be only 60 years old, but it has a heritage of diversity dating back almost to its birth.
On Sept. 18, 1947, Air Force officially became a separate service. Less than a year later, on June 18, 1948, the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act gave permanent status to women in the Air Force.
On July 8, 1948, Esther McGowin Blake became the first woman to officially enlist in the Air Force. She enlisted in the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular Air Force duty was authorized for women. Blake went on to achieve the rank of staff sergeant.
It wasn’t until June 28, 1976, women were first admitted to Air Force Academy. Joan Olsen was the first woman cadet to enter Air Force Academy, and the first to enter any of the service academies. The first class of 97 female second lieutenants graduated in May, 1980. Linda Garcia Cubero was a member of that class and thus became the first Hispanic woman to graduate from any service academy.
The first females entered undergraduate pilot training Sept. 29, 1976, at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz. The first 10 female officers graduated from UPT at Williams in 1977, but it wasn’t until 1993 women were allowed to fly combat aircraft.
On June 1, 1949, the Air Force published regulations dismantling desegregation, thus becoming the first military service branch to complete integration of black personnel into previously all-white units.
During World War II the Army Air Forces created the first flying training program for blacks at Tuskegee, Ala. The Tuskegee Airmen went on to form the core of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which entered the war in June 1943.
The leader of the Tuskegee Airmen, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., went on to become the first black general officer in the Air Force.