United States Air Force Academy

The United States Air Force Academy (typically shortened to Air Force), located in El Paso County, Colorado (just north of Colorado Springs) is a military school which trains candidates for service in the United States Air Force. Its mission is to train, educate, and inspire men and women to lead the United States Air Force while becoming officers of tremendous character. Of the 5 United States service academies, Air Force is the youngest, having graduated its first class in 1959. It is also one of the biggest tourist destinations in Colorado, attracting over a million people annually.

 

History

The idea for an Air Force Academy was suggested by General Billy Mitchell in 1925. Mitchell testified on Capitol Hill, stating that it was necessary to have an air academy in the same class as the Naval and Army Academies. It took until the late 1940s, however, for the argument to gain any traction. The National Security Act of 1947 created a huge boost in support for the air academy, and in 1954 Congress passed legislation to begin the construction of the Air Force Academy. President Eisenhower signed it into law on April 1st, 1954. The first class was held at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, because the permanent site for the Air Force Academy was not finished. On June 3rd, 1959, the first Air Force class graduated and was commissioned. Academy enrollment remained relatively low until the Vietnam War. In 1961, only 217 cadets graduated, compared to 745 in 1970. The Vietnam War created a need for more pilots, increasing enrollment at Air Force. During this time, facilities were expanded and training was modified. On October 7th, 1975, United States President Gerald R. Ford passed legislation which permitted women to enter the United States service academies.

2009 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation

 

Programs

Academics at Air Force center on a core curriculum that all cadets must complete. Cadets choose a specialized field of study from over 30 possible majors while at the same time completing the core curriculum. While cadets study, their military training continues throughout their four years, and cadets take courses and receive instruction in airmanship and aviation. All graduates from Air Force receive a Bachelor of Science degree. The most popular major at Air Force is Engineering, with 35% of cadets enrolled in the program. Second is Social Sciences at 19%. There are 3 broad categories of majors. The first is divisional majors, which is comprised of four academic divisions: General Engineering, Basic Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities. The second is disciplinary majors, which focus on a specific field or discipline. This category is made up of 24 majors, including Aeronautical Engineering, Biology, Economics, English, History, Military and Strategic Studies, and Political Science. The third and final category is interdisciplinary majors which span across multiple disciplines. The four interdisciplinary majors are Operations Research, Foreign Area Studies, Space Operations, and Meteorology. Cadets do not have to declare a major until the fall of their second year, allowing them to take courses in various disciplines to discover what field they want to specialize in.

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Pros & Cons

The United States Air Force Academy is ranked as the 31st best National Liberal Arts College by U.S. News, which is excellent because of its primary focus on military tactics and skills. This ranking demonstrates the quality of the academic curriculum, ensuring students gain a strong education as well as preparation for the military. Air Force has an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, and 70% of classes have fewer than 20 students in them. This allows for terrific student-teacher interaction. The average freshman retention rate is 88%, which is extremely high considering the rigorous nature of the program and the fact that many students may decide they do not want to be in the military. Tuition and board are all paid for by the U.S. government, and Cadets receive a monthly sum to help pay for books and other needs. Cadets incur a commitment to serve a certain number of years in the military following graduation, however, and enrolling at Air Force is essentially the same thing as registering for the military. As such, proper precautions must be taken by each applicant. It is an extremely selective school (10.8% acceptance rate), and candidates must undergo a thorough medical examination, pass a fitness test, and secure a nomination from a member of Congress.