United States Air Force Academy

United States Air Force Academy
Motto Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do
Type U.S. Service Academy
Established 1 April 1954
Endowment $47 Million[1]
Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson
Dean Brig. Gen. Andrew P. Armacost
Commandant Brig. Gen. Stephen C. Williams USAFA '89
Academic staff
550 (70% military : 30% civilian)
Students approximately 4,000[2]
Location Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
Campus Suburban – 18,500 acres (7,486.7 ha)
Fight song "Air Force Falcons Song"
Colors Blue, Silver[3]
Athletics NCAA Division IMW
MPSF, Big 12, SoCon, PRC, WWPA
Nickname Falcons
Mascot Gyrfalcon
Website www.usafa.af.mil
U.S. Air Force Academy
Location in the United States
U.S. Air Force Academy
Location in Colorado

The United States Air Force Academy (also known as USAFA or the Air Force Academy), is a military academy for officer cadets of the United States Air Force. Its campus is located in the western United States in Colorado, immediately north of Colorado Springs in El Paso County.

The Academy's stated mission is "to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation."[4] It is the youngest of the five U.S. service academies, having graduated its first class 57 years ago in 1959.[5] Graduates of the Academy's four-year program receive a Bachelor of Science degree, and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.[6] The Academy is also one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado, attracting approximately a million visitors each year.[4]

Admission is extremely competitive, with nominations divided equally among Congressional districts. Recent incoming classes have had about 1,200 cadets; historically just under 1,000 of those will graduate.[7] Tuition along with room and board are all paid for by the Air Force. Cadets receive a monthly stipend, but incur a commitment to serve a number of years of military service after graduation.[8]

The program at the Academy is guided by the Air Force's core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do",[4] and based on four "pillars of excellence": military training, academics, athletics and character development.[4] In addition to a rigorous military training regimen, cadets also take a broad academic course load with an extensive core curriculum in engineering, humanities, social sciences, basic sciences, military studies and physical education. All cadets participate in either intercollegiate or intramural athletics, and a thorough character development and leadership curriculum provides cadets a basis for future officership. Each of the components of the program is intended to give cadets the skills and knowledge that they will need for success as officers.



Prior to the Academy's establishment, air power advocates had been pushing for a separate Air Force Academy for decades. As early as 1918, Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Hanlon wrote, "As the Military and Naval Academies are the backbone of the Army and Navy, so must the Aeronautical Academy be the backbone of the Air Service. No service can flourish without some such institution to inculcate into its embryonic officers love of country, proper conception of duty, and highest regard for honor."[9] Other officials expressed similar sentiments. In 1919, Congressman Charles F. Curry introduced legislation providing for an Academy, but concerns about cost, curriculum and location led to its demise.[9] In 1925, air power pioneer General Billy Mitchell testified on Capitol Hill that it was necessary "to have an air academy to form a basis for the permanent backbone of your air service and to attend to the...organizational part of it, very much the same way that West Point does for the Army, or that Annapolis does for the Navy."[9][10] Mitchell's arguments did not gain traction with legislators, and it was not until the late 1940s that the concept of the United States Air Force Academy began to take shape.[9]

Support for an air academy got a boost with the National Security Act of 1947, which provided for the establishment of a separate Air Force within the United States military. As an initial measure, Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington negotiated an agreement where up to 25% of West Point and Annapolis graduates could volunteer to receive their commissions in the newly established Air Force. This was only intended to be a short term fix, however, and disagreements between the services quickly led to the establishment of the Service Academy Board by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. In January 1950, the Service Academy Board, headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, concluded that the needs of the Air Force could not be met by the two existing U.S. service academies and that an air force academy should be established.[9]

Following the recommendation of the Board, Congress passed legislation in 1954 to begin the construction of the Air Force Academy, and President Eisenhower signed it into law on 1 April of that year.[11] The legislation established an advisory commission to determine the site of the new school. Among the panel members were Charles Lindbergh, General Carl Spaatz, and Lieutenant General Hubert R. Harmon, who later became the Academy's first superintendent. The original 582 sites considered were winnowed to three: Alton, Illinois; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and the ultimate site at Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Secretary of the Air Force, Harold E. Talbott, announced the winning site on 24 June 1954.[12][13] Meanwhile, Air Training Command (ATC) began developing a detailed curriculum for the Academy program.[9]

Early years

Cadets lined up for physical training
Cadets from the first USAFA class lined up for physical training at Lowry AFB in 1955

The early Air Force Academy leadership had the model of West Point and Annapolis in designing an appropriate curriculum, faculty, and campus. The Academy's permanent site had not yet been completed when the first class entered, so the 306 cadets from the Class of 1959 were sworn in at a temporary site at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver on 11 July 1955.[14] While at Lowry, they were housed in renovated World War II barracks.[15] There were no upper class cadets to train the new cadets, so the Air Force appointed a cadre of "Air Training Officers" (ATOs) to conduct training. The ATOs were junior officers, many of whom were graduates of West Point, Annapolis, and The Citadel. They acted as surrogate upper class cadets until the upper classes could be populated over the next several years.[9] The Academy's dedication ceremony took place on that first day and was broadcast live on national television, with Walter Cronkite covering the event.[9] Arnold W. Braswell, a native of Minden, Louisiana, was commander of the original four cadet squadrons at the academy 1955 to 1958.[16]

In developing a distinctive uniform for cadets, the Air Force turned to Hollywood. Famed director Cecil B. DeMille designed the cadet parade uniform; it is still worn by cadets today.

The Class of 1959 established many other important traditions that continue until the present. The first class adopted the Cadet Honor Code, and chose the falcon as the Academy's mascot. On 29 August 1958, the wing of 1,145 cadets moved to the present site near Colorado Springs,[17] and less than a year later the Academy received accreditation. The first USAFA class graduated and was commissioned on 3 June 1959.[5][18]


The Vietnam War was the first war in which Academy graduates fought and died. As such, it had a profound effect on the development of the character of the Academy. Due to the need for more pilots, Academy enrollment grew significantly during this time. The size of the graduating classes went from 217 cadets in 1961 to 745 cadets in 1970.[19] Academy facilities were likewise expanded, and training was modified to better meet the needs of the wartime Air Force. The Jacks Valley field training area was added, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program was expanded, and light aircraft training started in 1968.[19]

Many Academy graduates of this era served with distinction in the Vietnam War. F-4 Phantom II pilot Steve Ritchie '64 and weapon systems officer Jeffrey Feinstein '68 each became aces by downing five enemy aircraft in combat.[20][21] One hundred forty-one graduates died in the conflict; thirty-two graduates became prisoners of war. Lance Sijan, '65, fell into both categories and became the first Academy graduate to be awarded the Medal of Honor due to his heroism while evading capture and in captivity.[22] Sijan Hall, one of the cadet dormitories, is named in his memory.

The effects of the anti-war movement were felt at the Academy as well. Because the Academy grounds are generally open to the public, the Academy often became a site for protests by anti-war demonstrators.[19] Regular demonstrations were held at the Cadet Chapel, and cadets often became the targets of protesters' insults. Other aggravating factors were the presence in the Cadet Wing of cadets motivated to attend the Academy for reasons of draft avoidance, and a number of highly publicized cheating scandals. Morale sometimes suffered as a consequence.

Women at the Academy

One of the most significant events in the history of the Academy was the admission of women. On 7 October 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation permitting women to enter the United States service academies. On 26 June 1976, 157 women entered the Air Force Academy with the Class of 1980. Because there were no female upper class cadets, the Air Training Officer model used in the early years of the Academy was revived, and fifteen young female officers were brought in to help with the integration process. The female cadets were initially segregated from the rest of the Cadet Wing but were fully integrated into their assigned squadrons after their first semester. On 28 May 1980, 97 of the original female cadets completed the program and graduated from the Academy—just over 10% of the graduating class. Women have made up just over 20% of the most recent classes, with the class of 2016 having the highest proportion of any class, 25%.[7]

Many of the women from those early classes went on to achieve success within the Cadet Wing and after graduation (see list of Academy graduates below). Despite these successes, integration issues were long apparent. Female cadets have had consistently higher dropout rates than men and have left the Air Force in higher numbers than men.[23] Some male cadets also believed that the presence of women had softened the rigors of Academy life and that women received special treatment. According to at least one commentator, as many as ten percent of male Academy graduates in the late 1970s and early 1980s requested Army commissions, in part because of controversy over such issues.[24] The Class of 1979, the last all-male class, went so far as to unofficially label themselves "LCWB," or "Last Class With Balls" an abbreviation that appeared on many of their class-specific items and still appears at reunions, sporting events and other Academy alumni functions.[25][26]

Campus and facilities

Interior of Cadet Chapel

Initial proposals for the Air Force Academy location were between Prescott, Arizona; Linn, Wisconsin; Alton, Illinois and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The selection committee cut the final list to only Alton, Linn and Colorado Springs. Final selection was awarded to Colorado Springs.[27]

The campus of the Academy covers 18,500 acres (29 sq mi; 75 km2) on the east side of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Colorado Springs. Its elevation is normally given as 7,258 feet (2,212 m) above sea level, which is at the cadet area. The Academy was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and lead architect Walter Netsch. SOM partner John O. Merrill moved from Chicago to a Colorado Springs field office to oversee the construction and to act as a spokesman for the project.[28]

The most controversial aspect of the SOM-designed Air Force Academy was its chapel.[29] It was designed by SOM architect Walter Netsch, who at one point was prepared to abandon the design;[30] but the accordion-like structure is acknowledged as an iconic symbol of the academy campus.

The Cadet Area

The buildings in the Cadet Area were designed in a distinct, modernist style, and make extensive use of aluminum on building exteriors, suggesting the outer skin of aircraft or spacecraft.[31] On 1 April 2004, fifty years after Congress authorized the building of the Academy, the Cadet Area at the Academy was designated a National Historic Landmark.[32][33]

The main buildings in the Cadet Area are set around a large, square pavilion known as "the Terrazzo," and the most recognizable is the 17-spired Cadet Chapel.[34] The subject of controversy when it was first built, it is now considered among the most prominent examples of modern American academic architecture. Other buildings on the Terrazzo include Vandenberg Hall and Sijan Hall, the two dormitories; Mitchell Hall, the cadet dining facility; and Fairchild Hall, the main academic building, which houses academic classrooms, laboratories, research facilities, faculty offices and the Robert F. McDermott Library.

The Aeronautics Research Center (also known as the "Aero Lab") contains numerous aeronautical research facilities, including transonic, subsonic, low speed, and cascade wind tunnels; engine and rocket test cells; and simulators.[35] The Consolidated Education and Training Facility (CETF) was built in 1997 as an annex to Fairchild Hall. It contains chemistry and biology classrooms and labs, medical and dental clinics, and civil engineering and astronautics laboratories. The Cadet Area also contains an observatory and a planetarium for academic use and navigation training.

The cadet social center is Arnold Hall, located just outside the Cadet Area, which houses a 3000-seat theater, a ballroom, a number of lounges, and dining and recreation facilities for cadets and visitors. Harmon Hall is the primary administration building, which houses the offices of the Superintendent and the Superintendent's staff.

The Cadet Area also contains extensive facilities for use by cadets participating in intercollegiate athletics, intramural athletics, physical education classes and other physical training. Set amid numerous outdoor athletic fields are the ‘‘Cadet Gymnasium’‘ and the Cadet Fieldhouse. The Fieldhouse is the home to Clune Arena, the ice hockey rink and an indoor track, which doubles as an indoor practice facility for a number of sports. Falcon Stadium, located outside of the Cadet Area, is the football field and site of the graduation ceremonies.[4]

Commemorative displays

The Class Wall is located just below the Cadet Chapel

Many displays around the Cadet Area commemorate heroes and air power pioneers, and serve as an inspiration to cadets. The ‘‘War Memorial’‘, a black marble wall located just under the flagpole on the Terrazzo, is etched with the names of Academy graduates who have been killed in combat. The ‘‘Honor Wall,’‘ overlooking the Terrazzo, is inscribed with the Cadet Honor Code: "We will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate among us anyone who does." Just under the Cadet Chapel, the ‘‘Class Wall’‘ bears the crests of each of the Academy's graduating classes. The crest of the current first (senior) class is displayed in the center position. Another display often used as a symbol of the Academy, the ‘‘Eagle and Fledglings Statue’‘ was given as a gift to the Academy in 1958 by the personnel of Air Training Command. It contains the inscription by Austin Dusty Miller, "Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge." Static air- and spacecraft displays on the Academy grounds include an F-4, F-15, F-16 and F-105 on the Terrazzo; a B-52 by the North Gate; a T-38 and A-10 at the airfield; an F-100 by the preparatory school; a SV-5J lifting body next to the aeronautics laboratory; and a Minuteman III missile in front of the Fieldhouse. The Minuteman III was removed 8 years ago in August 2008 due to rusting and other internal damage.

The "Core Values Ramp" (formerly known as the "Bring Me Men Ramp") leads down from the main Terrazzo level toward the parade field. On in-processing day, new cadets arrive at the base of the ramp and start their transition into military and Academy life by ascending the ramp to the Terrazzo. From 1964 to 2004, the portal at the base of the ramp was inscribed with the words "Bring me men... " taken from the poem, "The Coming American," by Samuel Walter Foss. In a controversial move following the 2003 sexual assault scandal, the words "Bring me men..." were taken down and replaced with the Academy's (later adopted as the Air Force's) core values: "Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."[4]

Air Academy High School

With an enrollment of over 1300, Air Academy High School is the only high school in the United States built on a military academy. It ranks in the top ten in the state in academic standards. Part of School District 20 (D20), its marching band regularly places in the top ten in state championships. D20 also maintains an elementary school on the academy grounds.

Other locations on campus

Cadets have the opportunity to fly gliders as part of their training

Other locations on campus serve support roles for cadet training and other base functions. Doolittle Hall is the headquarters of the Academy's Association of Graduates and also serves as the initial reception point for new cadets arriving for Basic Cadet Training. It is named after General Jimmy Doolittle. The Goldwater Visitor Center, named after longtime proponent of the Academy United States Senator Barry Goldwater, is the focal point for family, friends and tourists visiting the Academy grounds. The Academy Airfield is used for training cadets in airmanship courses, including parachute training, soaring and powered flight. Interment at the ’‘Academy Cemetery’‘ is limited to Academy cadets and graduates, certain senior officers, certain Academy staff members, and certain other family members. Air power notables Carl Spaatz, Curtis E. LeMay and Robin Olds, are interred here.

The United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School (usually referred to as the "Prep School") is a program offered to selected individuals who were not able to obtain appointments directly to the Academy. The program involves intense academic preparation (particularly in English, math and science), along with athletic and military training, meant to prepare the students for appointment to the Academy. A high percentage of USAFA Preparatory School students (known as "Preppies") earn appointments to the Academy following their year at the Prep School.

The Honor Code and character education

More than 1,300 basic cadets salute during the ceremonial Oath of Office formation on 26 June 2009. The Cadet Chapel is in the background.

The Cadet Honor Code is the cornerstone of a cadet's professional training and development – the minimum standard of ethical conduct that cadets expect of themselves and their fellow cadets. The Honor Code was developed and adopted by the Class of 1959, the first class to graduate from the Academy and has been handed down to every subsequent class.[36][37] The Code itself is simple:

We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. [36]

In 1984, the Cadet Wing voted to add an "Honor Oath," which was to be taken by all cadets. The oath is administered to fourth class cadets (freshmen) when they are formally accepted into the Wing at the conclusion of Basic Cadet Training.[37] The oath remains unchanged since its adoption in 1984 and consists of a statement of the code, followed by a resolution to live honorably (the phrase "So help me God" is now optional):

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.

Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God).

"Honor Code Handbook"

Cadets are considered the "guardians and stewards" of the Code. Cadet honor representatives are chosen by senior leadership, and oversee the honor system by conducting education classes and investigating suspected honor violations. Cadets throughout the Wing are expected to sit on Honor Boards as juries that determine whether their fellow cadets violated the code. Cadets also recommend sanctions for violations. The presumed sanction for an honor violation is disenrollment, but mitigating factors may result in the violator being placed in a probationary status for some period of time. This "honor probation" is usually only reserved for cadets in their first two years at the Academy.

To reinforce the importance of honor, character and integrity to future officers, cadets are given an extensive character and leadership curriculum. The Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development provides classroom, seminar, workshop and experiential-based learning programs to all cadets, beginning when they enter Basic Cadet Training and continuing each year through their last semester at the Academy. The Center's programs, when coupled with the Honor Code and Honor System, establish a foundation for the "leaders of character" that the Academy aspires to produce.[38]


The Academy's organization is unusual in a number of respects. Because it is primarily a military unit, much of the Academy's structure is set up like that of any other Air Force Base. This is particularly true of the non-cadet units—most assigned to the 10th Air Base Wing—that provide base services such as security, communications, and engineering. Because the Academy is also a university, however, the organization of the faculty and the Cadet Wing have some aspects that are more similar to the faculty and student body at a civilian college.

The Cadet Wing

Air Force Academy cadets celebrate after graduation.

The student body of the Academy is known as the Cadet Wing. The students, called "cadets", are divided into four classes, based on their year in school, much like a civilian college. They are not referred to as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, however, but as fourth-, third-, second- and first class cadets, respectively. Fourth class cadets (freshmen) are often referred to as "doolies," a term derived from the Greek word δοῦλος ("doulos") meaning "slave" or "servant."[39] Members of the three lower classes are also referred to as "4 degrees," "3 degrees" or "2 degrees" based on their class.[40] First-class cadets (seniors) are referred to as "firsties." In the military structure of the Cadet Wing, first class cadets hold the positions of cadet officers, second class cadets act as the cadet non-commissioned officers and third class cadets represent the cadet junior non-commissioned officers.

The Cadet Wing is divided into four groups, of ten cadet squadrons each. Each cadet squadron consists of about 110 cadets, roughly evenly distributed among the four classes. Selected first-, second- and third-class cadets hold leadership, operational and support jobs at the squadron, group and wing levels. Cadets live, march and eat meals with members of their squadrons. Military training and intramural athletics are conducted by squadron as well. Each cadet squadron and cadet group is supervised by a specially selected active duty officer called an Air Officer Commanding (AOC). In the case of a cadet squadron, the AOC is normally an active duty Air Force major. For a cadet group, the AOC is normally an active-duty lieutenant colonel. These officers have command authority over the cadets, counsel cadets on leadership and military career issues, oversee military training and serve as role models for the future officers. In addition to an AOC, cadet squadrons and groups are also supervised by an active duty non-commissioned officer known as an Academy Military Trainer (AMT), who fulfills a similar job as the AOC.

Base organization

The Superintendent of the Academy is the commander and senior officer. The position of Superintendent is normally held by an active-duty lieutenant general. The superintendent's role is roughly similar to that of the president of a civilian university. As such, the Superintendent oversees all aspects of the Academy, including military training, academics, athletics, admissions and also functions as the installation commander of the Academy Reservation. The Academy is a Direct Reporting Unit within the Air Force, so the Superintendent reports directly to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.[41]

Those reporting to the Superintendent include the Dean of the Faculty and Commandant of Cadets, each of whom typically holds the rank of brigadier general, as well as the Director of Athletics, the Commander of the 10th Air Base Wing and the Commander of the Prep School, each of whom typically holds the rank of colonel. The 10th Air Base Wing provides all base support functions that exist at other air force bases, including civil engineering, communications, medical support, personnel, administration, security and base services. The Preparatory School provides an academic, athletic and military program for qualified young men and women who may need certain additional preparation prior to acceptance to the Academy. All flying programs at the Academy are run by the 306th Flying Training Group, which reports to the Air Education and Training Command, ensuring uniformity of flight training with the rest of the Air Force.

Board of Visitors

Congressional oversight of the Academy is exercised through a Board of Visitors (BOV), established under Title 10, United States Code, Section 9355. The board inquires into the morale, discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods and other matters relating to the Academy. The board meets at least four times per year and prepares semi-annual reports containing its views and recommendations submitted concurrently to the Secretary of Defense, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee. The 15 members of the BOV are variously appointed by the President of the United States, the Vice President, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Since 2006, the board has been required to include at least two Academy graduates. In July 2009, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Colorado Congressman Jared Polis to the BOV, the first openly gay person to serve on a service academy’s advisory board.[42]

Military training

See also: Sandhurst Competition (a military skills event)
DA40 of USAFA at RIAT 2010.

Cadets' military training occurs throughout their time at the Academy, but is especially intense during their four summers. The first military experience for new cadets (called "basic cadets") occurs during the six weeks of Basic Cadet Training (BCT), in the summer before their fourth class (freshman) year. During BCT, also known as "beast," cadets learn the fundamentals of military and Academy life under the leadership of a cadre of first and second class cadets.[43] Basic cadets learn military customs and courtesies, proper wear of the uniform, drill and ceremony, and study military knowledge and undergo a rigorous physical training program. During the second half of BCT, basic cadets march to Jacks Valley, where they complete the program in a field encampment environment. Upon completion of BCT, basic cadets receive their fourth-class shoulder boards, take the Honor Oath and are formally accepted as members of the Cadet Wing.[44]

The fourth-class (freshman) year is traditionally the most difficult at the Academy, militarily. In addition to their full academic course loads, heavy demands are placed on fourth class cadets outside of class. Fourth class cadets are expected to learn an extensive amount of military and Academy-related knowledge and have significant restrictions placed on their movement and actions—traversing the Cadet Area only by approved routes (including staying on the marble "strips" on the Terrazzo) and interacting with upper class cadets using a very specific decorum. The fourth class year ends with "Recognition," a physically and mentally demanding several-day event which culminates in the award of the Prop and Wings insignia to the fourth class cadets, signifying their ascension to the ranks of upper class cadets. After Recognition, the stringent rules of the fourth class year are relaxed.

After the first year, cadets have more options for summer military training. Between their fourth and third class years, cadets undergo training in Air Force operations in a deployed environment (called Expeditionary Skills and Evasion Training [ESET]) and may participate in flying gliders, cyber-warfare training, satellite and space operations, unmanned systems, or free-fall parachute training. From the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, cadets also completed SERE training in the Jacks Valley complex between their fourth- and third-class years. This program was replaced with Combat Survival Training (CST) in 1995 and done away with entirely in 2005. In the summer of 2008, the CST program was reintroduced, but was cut again in 2011 and replaced with ESET for the summer of 2012 (the Class of 2015 was the first to participate in ESET). During their last two summers, cadets may serve as BCT cadre, travel to active duty Air Force bases and participate in a variety of other research, aviation and leadership programs. They may also be able to take courses offered by other military services, such as the U.S. Army's Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, or the Air Assault School, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. During the academic year, all cadets take formal classes in military theory, operations and leadership.


The Eagle and Fledglings Statue at the south end of the Air Gardens is inscribed with the quote, "Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge"

The Air Force Academy is an accredited four-year university offering bachelor's degrees in a variety of subjects. Active-duty Air Force officers make up approximately 70 percent of the faculty, with the balance long-term civilian professors, visiting professors from civilian universities and instructors from other U.S. and allied foreign military services. In recent years, civilians have become a growing portion of senior faculty.

Every Dean of the Faculty (equivalent to a Provost at most universities) has always been an active-duty brigadier general, although technically, a civilian may hold the position. The Dean, the Vice Dean, and each academic department chair hold the academic rank of Permanent Professor. Permanent Professors are nominated by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate, and can serve until age 64.

All graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree, regardless of major, because of the technical content of the core requirements. Cadets may choose from a variety of majors, including engineering, the basic sciences, social sciences and humanities, as well as in a variety of divisional or inter-disciplinary subjects. The academic program has an extensive core curriculum, in which all cadets take required courses in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, military studies and physical education. Approximately sixty percent of a cadet's course load is mandated by the core curriculum. As a result, most of a cadet's first two years are spent in core classes. While core requirements remain significant during the third and fourth years, cadets have more flexibility to focus in their major areas of study, allowing them to participate in international and inter-service Academy exchange programs.

Traditionally, the academic program at the Air Force Academy (as with military academies in general) has focused heavily on science and engineering, with the idea that many graduates would be expected to manage complex air, space and information technology systems. As a result, the Academy's engineering programs have traditionally been ranked highly. Over time, however, the Academy broadened its humanities offerings. About 55% of cadets typically select majors in non-technical disciplines. The academy's recent implementation of a computer and network security program may represent a return to form.[45]

Externally funded research at the Air Force Academy has been a large and growing part of the technical majors. Air Force has ranked highest of all undergraduate-only universities in federally funded research as reported by the National Science Foundation, surpassing $60 million in 2010. Many cadets are involved in research via their major, coordinated in more than a dozen Academy research centers, including the Institute for Information Technology Applications, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Air Force Humanities Institute, the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies, the Life Sciences Research Center, the Academy Center for Physics Education Research, among others.


Main article: Air Force Falcons
United States Air Force Academy Mascot
Echo, one of USAFA's trained prairie falcon mascots

All cadets at the Academy take part in the school's extensive athletic program. The program is designed to enhance the physical conditioning of all cadets, to develop the physical skills necessary for officership, to teach leadership in a competitive environment and to build character.[46] The primary elements of the athletic program are intercollegiate athletics, intramural athletics, physical education, and the physical fitness tests.

Physical education

Cadets are required to take physical education courses in each of their four years at the Academy. The classes cover a wide range of activities: Swimming and water survival build confidence while teaching important survival skills. Combative sports such as boxing, wrestling, judo and unarmed combat build confidence, teach controlled aggression and develop physical fitness. Cadets also take classes in team sports such as basketball and soccer, in lifetime sports such as tennis and golf and on the physiology of exercise.

Fitness tests

Each semester, cadets must pass two athletic fitness tests: a 1.5 mi (2.4 km) run to measure aerobic fitness, and a 15-minute, 5-event, physical fitness test consisting of pull-ups, a standing long jump, sit-ups, push-ups and a 600 yd (550 m) sprint.[47] Failure to pass a fitness test usually results in the cadet being assigned to reconditioning until he can pass the test. Repeated failures can lead to disenrollment.

Intramural athletics

All cadets are required to compete in intramural athletics for their entire time at the Academy, unless they are on-season for intercollegiate athletics. Intramural sports put cadet squadrons against one another in many sports, including basketball, cross-country, flag football, ice hockey, racquetball, flickerball, rugby union, boxing, soccer, mountain biking, softball, team handball, tennis, Ultimate, wallyball and volleyball. Winning the Wing Championship in a given sport is a particular source of pride for a cadet squadron.

Intercollegiate athletics

The Academy's intercollegiate program has 17 men's and 10 women's NCAA sanctioned teams, nicknamed the ‘‘Falcons.’‘[46] Men's teams compete in football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, cross-country, fencing, golf, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, water polo and wrestling. Women's teams include basketball, cross-country, fencing, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track, swimming and diving, soccer, tennis and volleyball. The Academy fields a coeducational team in rifle. In addition, the Academy also sponsors two non-NCAA programs: cheerleading and boxing. The Academy also has several club sports, such as rugby, that compete intercollegiately.

The men's and women's programs compete in NCAA's Division I, with the football team competing in Division I FBS. Most teams are in the Mountain West Conference; however, the wrestling team competes in the Big 12 Conference, the gymnastics teams compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation; the men's soccer team competes in the Western Athletic Conference;[48] the men's hockey team competes in Atlantic Hockey, the water polo team competes in the Western Water Polo Association, the coeducational rifle team competes in the Patriot Rifle Conference, and the men's lacrosse team competes in the Southern Conference. The men's boxing team competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association. For a number of years, only the men's teams competed in Division I. Women's teams competed in Division II and were once members of the Continental Divide Conference, then the Colorado Athletic Conference. With new NCAA legislation, beginning in 1996, women's teams also competed in Division I.

Air Force has traditional service academy rivalries with Navy and Army. The three service academies compete for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in football each year. Air Force Falcons football has had the best showing of the three, winning the trophy 18 of its 34 years. The Academy also has an in-state rivalry with Colorado State University, which is located in Fort Collins and is a fellow member of the Mountain West Conference.

The boxing team, led for 31 years by Coach Ed Weichers, has won 18 national championships.[49] The Academy's men's and women's rugby teams have each won multiple national championships and the women's side recently had two players selected for the United States national team.[50] The football team has played in 17 bowl games and the basketball team has had strong showings in the last several years, qualifying for the NCAA tournament and, most recently, making the final four of the 2007 NIT Tournament.[51] The men's ice hockey team won the last two Atlantic Hockey conference tournaments, made the first ever appearance by a service academy in the NCAA hockey tournament in 2007, and made a repeat appearance in 2008. The Air Force Academy's Men's Hockey team recently lost in the "Elite Eight" of hockey in double overtime. This marked the farthest they had gone in the post-season in school history and the longest an Atlantic Hockey Association team has made it into the post-season.[52]

In 2014, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson responded to reports of allegations of sexual assault and drug use at a December 2011 party by calling for a review of the Athletic Department by the Inspector General.[53]


Cadets have the opportunity to take part in several airmanship activities to include soaring, parachuting, and powered flight. Airmanship activities at the Academy are primarily conducted by the 306th Flying Training Group.

The 94th Flying Training Squadron trains cadets in basic airmanship principles through several flights in TG-16A sailplanes. Each year, several soaring students are selected to become instructor pilots to teach new classes of soaring students. Some of these cadet instructor pilots also compete on the Soaring Racing Team or Acrobatics Team in national competitions.

Cadets also have the opportunity to take a parachuting course conducted by the 98th Flying Training Squadron. Each year, hundreds of cadets earn their Basic Parachutist Badge by completing five jumps in the program. A number of cadets are selected for further training and become members of The Wings of Blue, the U.S. Air Force Parachute Team.

A powered flight program is conducted under the 557th Flying Training Squadron to expose cadets to the basics of powered flight. The program uses T-53A aircraft to offer cadets basic flight training and the opportunity to solo. The U.S. Air Force Academy Flying Team is composed of ~26 cadets selected to compete in National Intercollegiate Flying Association competitions. The Flying Team uses T-41D and T-51A aircraft to compete in precision landing, navigation, and message drop events.


To be eligible to enter the Academy, a candidate must:[54][55]

In addition to the normal application process, all candidates must secure a nomination to the Academy, normally from a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative. Each member of Congress and the Vice President can have five appointees attending the Air Force Academy at any time. The process for obtaining a congressional nomination is not political and candidates do not have to know their senator or representative to secure a nomination. Additional nomination slots are available for children of career military personnel, children of disabled veterans or veterans who were killed in action, or children of Medal of Honor recipients. The admissions process is a lengthy one and applicants usually begin the paperwork during their junior year of high school.[57]

Class size

There were 306 cadets admitted for the first class (class of 1959).[9] By 1961, class size was down to 271, but due to the need for officers in the Vietnam War, grew to 745 admittees in 1970,[19] and peaking in 1974, with 1620, and 1975, with 1,626, the largest number ever admitted.[58] After that class sizes shrank down to about 1,300.[59][60] Despite a peak of 1,350 (admitted 2004) and 1,418 (admitted 2005), from 1995 to 2005 class size averaged about 1,250 freshmen.[58] From 2005 to 2010 class sizes were slightly down from the 2005 peak. The 2013 class (beginning 2009) had 1,286[61] and the 2014 class (beginning Fall 2010) had 1,285.[62] Cutbacks were ordered in 2011, so by 2012, the entering class (class of 2016) was down to about 1,050.[62] The current class (class of 2019) began with 1,248 students.


Prop and Wings

Traditional Prop and Wings insignia, currently used at the U.S. Air Force Academy

The Prop and Wings insignia of the Air Service (1918–26), Air Corps (1926–41), and Army Air Forces (1941–47) became the insignia of upperclass cadets at the Air Force Academy beginning with the first class, 1959. The insignia is given to fourth class (freshmen) cadets at the Recognition Ceremony near the end of their first year rite of passage. The standard insignia uses the design of the Air Corps Prop and Wings, except that it is all silver instead of the gold wings and silver prop of the earlier design. Cadets who have ancestors who served in the Air Service, Air Corps, or Army Air Forces, or those who are direct descendants of Air Force Academy graduates, are eligible to wear a silver prop and gold wings set of prop and wings.

Cadet sabre

The Air Force Academy cadet sabre is carried by first class (senior) cadets in command positions in the Cadet Wing. All graduates are normally entitled to own no more than two sabres: one for personal use and one to be given as a gift. The Plaque and Sabre Award is the highest award given by the Cadet Wing to dignitaries and other honorees.

Class ring

The American college tradition of the class ring began with the class of 1835 at the U.S. Military Academy. From there, it spread to the U.S. Naval Academy in the class of 1869.[63] The Air Force Academy continued the tradition, beginning with the first class, 1959, and so is the only service academy to have had class rings for every class since its founding. The Air Force ring is distinctive for being white gold instead of the yellow gold used at the other academies. Each class designs its own class crest; the only requirements being that each crest include all the elements on the Class of 1959's crest: the class number, the class year, the Polaris star, and the eagle. One side of the ring bears the academy crest, while the other side bears the class crest; the center bezel bears the words United States Air Force Academy. Cadets choose their own stones for the center of the ring. The rings are received at the Ring Dance at the beginning of the Graduation Week festivities for the class ahead of the ring recipients. The rings traditionally are placed in glasses of champagne and are caught in the teeth following a toast. During the cadet's first class (senior) year, the ring is worn with the class crest facing the wearer; following graduation, the ring is turned so that the class crest faces out. The rings of all the academies were originally designed to be worn on the left hand, so that the wearer reads the name of the academy on the bezel while a cadet or midshipman and others can read it after graduation, the rings are now worn on either hand. The Academy's Association of Graduates (AOG) accepts rings of deceased graduates which are melted down to form an ingot of white gold from which a portion of all future rings are made.[64] Both the academy's Association of Graduates and the Academy Library maintain displays of class rings.


Honor scandals

The first Honor scandal broke in 1965, when a resigning cadet reported knowing of more than 100 cadets who had been involved in a cheating ring. One hundred and nine cadets were ultimately expelled. Cheating scandals plagued the Academy again in 1967, 1972, 1984, 2004,[65] 2007,[66] 2012, and 2014. Following each of these events, the Academy thoroughly examined the etiology of the mass cheating in addition to alleged excessive pressures that the academic system at the time placed on cadets and made changes in attempts to reduce the opportunities for future incidents

Allegations of sexual harassment, assault and gender bias

The sexual assault scandal that broke in 2003 forced the Academy to look more closely at how effectively women had been integrated into cadet life; concerns with sexual assault, hazing of male cadets, and the disciplinary process during this period were detailed in a 2010 book by a former cadet.[67] Following the scandal and rising concerns about sexual assault throughout the U.S. military, the Department of Defense established a task force to investigate sexual harassment and assault at each of the United States service academies. The report also revealed 92 incidents of reported sexual assault.[68] At the same time, the Academy implemented programs to combat sexual assault, harassment and gender bias. The new programs actively encourage prompt sexual assault reporting. The Academy's decisive actions of zero tolerance were praised by officials and experts.[69]

Following the 2003 crisis, the Department of Defense directed its attention to the problem of sexual harassment and assault at the military academies. The Department of Defense claimed that the program was successful although during the school year 2010–11 there were increased reports of sexual assault at the academy; however, one goal of the program is increased reporting.[70] There have been several attempts to prosecute cadets for rape since 2003, but only three have been successful convictions, citing the confidential informant program that ran from 2011-2012. The informant program was led by former AFOSI agent Brandon Enos, AFOSI's most successful agent in Air Force Academy's history in combating sexual assault and drug use amongst cadets. After the confidential informant program was mysteriously disbanded in 2013 on orders from General Johnson, sexual assault reporting fell by half. On 5 January 2012 rape charges were preferred against cadets in three unrelated cases.[71] To help combat these problems, the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) created a system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students.[72] According to The New York Times in Academic Year 2014, "after the informant program ended with no further convictions, reports fell by half."[73]

The New York Times has cited a letter to Congress from former AFOSI Agent, Staff Sergeant Brandon Enos, who said that Lieutenant General Michael C. Gould, the superintendent from 2009 to 2013 and a former quarterback on the team, had repeatedly interfered in cases involving football players. In turn Gould said to the Times that the suggestion that he had interfered with the investigation “preposterous."[73] Gould was found guilty by a report from the Pentagon in June 2016 of interfering with AFOSI investigations from 2011-2012, including blocking an investigation into the football coaches. Gould was removed from the College Football Selection Committee but was able to retain his retirement pay.

These and other problems again rose to national prominence in the summer of 2014 when The Gazette broke an investigation into behavior by Academy cadets and faculty that included allegations of drug use, alcohol abuse, cheating, and sexual assault. This behavior, described as "so wild that AFOSI leaders canceled a planned 2012 sting out of concern that undercover agents and confidential informants at a party wouldn't be enough to protect women from rape," prompted the Academy superintendent to call for an investigation of the Academy's athletic department.[74]

Religious atmosphere

In 2005, allegations surfaced that some Evangelical Christian cadets and staff were effectively engaging in religious proselytizing at the Academy.[75] These allegations, along with concerns over how the Air Force handles other religious issues, prompted Academy graduate Michael L. Weinstein to file a lawsuit against the Air Force.[76][77] An Air Force panel investigated the accusations and issued a report on 22 June 2005.[78] The panel's investigation found a "religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members’ needs and a lack of awareness over where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs." Evidence discovered during the investigation included antisemitic remarks, official sponsorship of a showing of the film The Passion of the Christ and a locker room banner that said academy athletes played for "Team Jesus." In response to the panel's findings, the Air Force released new guidelines to discourage public prayers at official events or meetings and to facilitate worship by non-Christian religions.[79]

In 2010 the academy set up an outdoor worship area for cadets following Wicca, Neo-Druidism, or other earth-based religions to practice their faiths.[80][81]

A 2010 survey found that 41 percent of academy cadets who identified themselves as non-Christian reported they were subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing at least once or twice last year at the school. The survey's results, however, showed that the number of cadets who felt pressured to join in religious activities had declined from previous years. Colorado congressman Mike Coffman criticized the academy for resisting calls to release details of the survey's results.[82][83]

In 2012, 66 House Republicans complained about policies set in place the last September to curtail requirements to attend religious events.[84]

Notable alumni

See also


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  5. Since 1959, cadets have also been able to "cross-commission" into the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps, and each year a small number of graduates do so, usually in a one-for-one "trade" with similarly inclined cadets at the other service academies. Foreign cadets and graduates who have lost their medical qualification for commissioning while at the Academy (a small number each year) may receive a degree but are not commissioned.
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