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80 years later: why it’s still nice to be a numbered Air Force

  • Published
  • By Michael Stephen
  • Seventh Air Force Historian

Seventh Air Force lineage traces back to November 1, 1940, when the Hawaiian Air Force activated.  These air forces were the very personnel and planes attacked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, marking U.S. entry into WWII.  Shortly after, on February 5, 1942, the U.S. Army Air Corps established the 7th Air Force, making it 80 years old this month.  Further solidifying its heritage as a Numbered Air Force (NAF), the Army decided on September 18, 1942, to spell it out as Seventh Air Force.  So what are the advantages of changing over to a NAF?  Three reasons come to mind.

First, consider the nature of the air forces in Hawaii before 1940.  From 1917 to 1931, the air units were a conglomeration of planes loosely attached to the Army’s Hawaiian Department. They were known as the Air Corps and they lacked an air commander.  The issue resolved in 1931 when the 18th Composite Wing formed. According to the Office of Air Force History, they “acquired the integrated structure necessary for efficient operation.”  The Air Corps expanded further, forming the Seventh Air Force.

The second item to consider is for the two months following the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Hawaiian Department scrambled to not only prepare for war, but also to protect the Hawaiian Islands from further attack.  The name change symbolized their more expansive role.  At the start of 1941, the island’s plane inventory was obsolete. Later, more modern planes, such as the P-36 and P-40, were transported to the islands via aircraft carriers such as the famous Enterprise. Additionally, with a considerable amount of pre-planning, twenty-one B-17s flew over the Pacific to the islands.

Finally, but perhaps more significant, is NAFs don’t fight alone, but alongside other NAFs, joint partners and international allies.  During WWII, the Seventh Air Force teamed with the Thirteenth Air Force to bomb Truk Island, the Fifth Air Force to bomb the Philippines, and the Twentieth Air Force to escort their bombers.  Furthermore, the Seventh Air Force, an air component, fought a joint effort with the other military services such as the Navy. Even more impressive, from 1986 to present day, the Seventh Air Force has fought as a partner with the Republic of Korea Air Force in deterring aggression and preserving the Armistice.