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Establishing Independence (1947-1959)

SCARWAF Insignia
On July 26, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act into law. This act created the U.S. Air Force as an independent branch of the U.S. armed forces and established the office of the Secretary of National Defense. The authorization of the separate Air Force marked a major, and long anticipated, achievement.

The period from 1947 to 1959 was a time of unprecedented challenges for Air Force engineers. Engineers assigned to the newly formed Air Force began careers as air installation personnel, then installations engineers; by 1959, the function formally was renamed civil engineering.

Korean war civil engineers
Air Force installations engineers welcomed the opportunity to forge a distinct identity within the new branch of the U.S. Armed Services. While mindful of their Army heritage, engineers took pride in defining the role and mission of Air Force civil engineering and in crafting the internal regulations and procedures to support new functions.

The Cold War dramatically impacted the engineering community. The hardline stance of the U.S.S.R. and U.S. foreign policy response led the United States to maintain a sizeable overseas military presence and to reaffirm commitments to the defense of Europe and Asia. 

Colorado missile site
Basing decisions during the Cold War relied heavily on civil engineer support. Air Force installations personnel managed an increasing number of permanent bases in the continental United States (CONUS) and in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Iceland, Greenland, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. From 1950 to 1953, Air Force installations engineers and Army combat engineers assigned to the Air Force also built and maintained the bases needed to support air power during the Korean Conflict.

Civil engineers joined aeronautical engineers in supporting a wave of new technologies adopted by the Air Force in the 1950s. The advent of nuclear weapons and missile technology was accompanied by a new perspective on national defense.

Fire truck
Civil engineers became involved closely in the development of radar early warning systems across the Arctic and oversaw planning and programming for complex facilities to deploy successive generations of missile systems. Engineers were indispensable in the development of new weapon systems; in many cases, support facilities were integral to the operation of these systems.

At the same time, civil engineers improved and maintained bases for the Air Force. Air Force size peaked in 1956 and included 183 wings (143 combat wings) located on 162 major operational installations. Air Force civil engineers met myriad challenges related to increasingly more powerful jet aircraft fighters, nuclear-capable bombers, and transports – and growing Air Force communities.

Fire truck
They redefined the world of fire-crash rescue. They implemented the Wherry and Capehart housing programs to provide modern, affordable housing for Air Force personnel and their families. From 1954 to 1958, they planned and oversaw construction of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Air Force civil engineers were keenly aware of their professional role in the growth and development of the postwar military. Successful Air Force careers were assured through commitment, educational advancement, and professional development. Leaders of the Air Force civil engineering community strove to implement a wide range of engineering programs to advance the growth and maturation of the new Air Force.

Next Era Rising to the Challenge 1960-1974 

*the content above is an excerpt taken from Leading the Way.