The United States Air Force has its origins in the Army Signal Corps, founded as a division in 1907 to pursue aeronautical endeavors. Initially, this mostly meant balloons for reconnaissance purposes, as had been developed during the Civil War, but, by 1914, they had a full aviation division. The progress after that was not spectacular, and the planes the U.S. could field during World War I were quite inferior to the ones that had been developed on the European continent.
The Army Air Service was founded in 1918 in order to improve the development of America’s aircraft capabilities, and it was renamed the Army Air Corps in 1926. Again, not much development took place until 1941, when the Army Air Forces grew quickly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It became a separate branch of the armed forces in 1947.
The flag, therefore, has less of a history than some other military flags, but it is much easier to trace. Every part of the flag has a specific meaning. Let’s look further into it.
The United States Air Force flag is composed of the Great Seal of the Department of the Air Force on a dark blue field. The Seal was designed in 1947 by the Heraldic Section of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Department of the Army, in coordination with Mr. Robert E. Ewin, Chief of the Air Force Uniform and Insignia Section. Originally, the field was dark green, not blue, with a representation of the Wright Brothers’ airplane at the honor point.
The committee assigned to review the Seal changed the color to blue and decided on a symbolic image rather than the image of the Flyer. A Mr. Dubois of the Military Planning Division, Office the Quartermaster General, Department of the Army, who had been in charge of drafting the study of seals and flags for the review, made a quick sketch on the reverse side of the seal depicting Jupiter’s thunderbolt.
It was quickly agreed upon to use the thunderbolt as the symbol, and the Seal was modified to the pictured version. Truman signed it into law on November 1st, 1947. Here’s how it breaks down:
The ultramarine and gold color scheme is that of the Air Force from its origination with the Air Corps. The eagle is the symbol of the United States of America, both as the country’s mascot and to symbolize striking powerfully from the air. It looks to its right to symbolize facing the future and to look forward to the U.S.’s enemies, rather than looking left and dwelling on past deeds.
It clutches a wreath with six alternating folds of blue and silver. The shield is divided by a line representing a cloud formation, which is, in turn, being charged by the thunderbolt, as represented by the lightning flashes surrounding it. The power of the thunderbolt is represented by the winged symbol in the center.
Thirteen stars surround the shield, representing the thirteen original colonies. The three separated by the eagle’s wingtips represent the three departments of the Armed Forces at the time: Army, Navy, and Air Force. A banner is wrapped around the base of the shield with the inscription “Department of the Air Force” and “United States of America.”
The Air Force has a fascinating flag, rich with symbolism and evocative of the power it wields. It makes a jaunty companion to the Stars and Stripes in any display.