By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Air Force Association traces its roots to some of the forefathers of the modern Air Force.
By the end of World War I, Billy Mitchell commanded all American air combat units in France. When the war ended, despite aviation’s contributions to the war effort, the U.S. Air Service was cut from 10,000 pilots to just 149.
After the war Mitchell became a strong advocate for American air power. He promoted the ability of bombers to sink battleships and conducted a series of bombing runs against stationary targets to test the idea.
The controversial and polarizing Mitchell, who wound up being court-martialed for insubordination, had his detractors, but some of his proponents continued his fervent advocacy for the importance of American air power.
Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was commander of U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. In April 1945, Arnold first brought up the need for an independent civilian organization to argue the case for military preparedness and the importance of air power.
AFA came into being Feb. 4, 1946, and spent the first months of its existence pressing for the creation of a separate air service. That didn’t happen until the creation of the National Security Act of 1947, the measure that saw the birth of the Air Force, Sept. 18, 1947.
The group’s first national president was Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, an aviation pioneer credited with the development of instrument flying. Doolittle, in April 1942, led a flight of 16 B-25 bombers from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on a bombing raid on Japan. The raid was immortalized by the book and film “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.”
Among the AFA’s charter members were future U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Hollywood studio mogul Jack L. Warner.
Since 1946, AFA has worked to support the Air Force and its people, as well as strengthening American aerospace power.
In 2006, the AFA celebrated its 60th anniversary and combined with the Aero-space Education Foundation. The change allowed AFA to become a tax-exempt charitable education institution. The AFA sponsors a series of studies and forums on aerospace and national security through its public policy and research arm, the Gen. Billy Mitchell Institute for Air-power Studies.
AFA is led by volunteers at the local, state and national levels. The group has more than 230 chapters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as the United King-dom, Germany, Italy, Bel-gium, Japan, Okinawa and the Republic of Korea.
As of June 30, 2007, AFA had more than 125,000 members. At that time, 15 percent were on active duty and 67 percent were retired or former military.