September 1, 2007  

The Air Force at 60

At the B-52’s rollout ceremony in 1954, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Nathan Twining described it as the long rifle of the air age. It was natural for Twining, an infantryman before transferring to the Army Air Service, to compare the revolutionary jet-bomber with a firearm associated with awesome range and the American frontier. He barely could have predicted that this long rifle would still be operational in the 21st century, its massive wing looming over Afghanistan and Baghdad. Capable as the B-52 BUFF [big ugly fat, er "fellow"] remains, it is now also a symbol of the geriatric Air Force, whose aircraft average age is nearing 25 years.

In this four-part focus on the Air Force in its 60th year, Loren Thompson sees a massive struggle ahead as the Air Force fights to reverse the decay and rejuvenate the fleet. Christopher Griffin explores the Air Force’s dual dilemma of being both counterinsurgency force and air superiority force. Brig. Gen. William Shields questions our dependence on a brittle space defense system, and Michael Isherwood examines the KC-X next-generation tanker program.

Gen. Eisenhower told Congress that standing up an independent Air Force in 1947 recognized "the paramount influence of airpower upon modern warfare" where "there was no such thing as a separate land, sea or air war." Today, we call it the joint fight; 60 years on, the Air Force is still the long rifle in that fight.