September 18th marks the 74th birthday of the United States Air Force. Or, at least, the 74th anniversary of the adoption papers being signed.


The Air Force’s Conception

When Orville and Wilbur Wright first loosed the surly bonds of gravity in their flying machine in 1903, the U.S. Army was already using hot air balloons to provide over-watch on battlefields. The Civil War was the first time an American military had used airpower, in the form of lighter-than-air balloons, to perform command and control functions on a battlefield.

Thaddeus Lowe
Thaddeus Lowe, Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps.

Thaddeus Lowe became the first chief aeronaut for the Union Army in 1861. He organized the Balloon Corps to provide mapping, reconnaissance, and tactical superiority over the Confederate Army. The Balloon Corps remained a civilian organization due to clerical misunderstanding. It remained in service until Lowe resigned in 1863.