Heavier-than-air military aircraft
Balloon or flying corps are not generally regarded as examples of an air force. However, with the invention of
heavier-than-air craft in the early 20th century, armies and navies began to take interest in this new form of
aviation as a means to wage war.
The first aviation force in the world was the
Aviation Militaire of the
French Army formed in 1910, which eventually became L'
Armée de l'Air. In 1911, during the
Italy employed aircraft for the first time ever in the world for reconnaissance and bombing missions against Turkish positions on Libyan Territory. The Italian–Turkish war of 1911–1912 was the first in history that featured air attacks by airplanes and
World War I France, Germany, Italy, the British Empire and the
Ottoman Empire all possessed significant forces of
fighters. World War I also saw the appearance of
senior commanders who directed aerial warfare and numerous
Independent air forces
An independent air force is one which is a separate branch of a nation's armed forces and is, at least nominally, treated as a military service on par with that of older services like navies or armies.
Royal Air Force was the first independent air force in the world.
 The RAF was founded on 1 April 1918 by amalgamation the British Army's
Royal Flying Corps and the
Royal Naval Air Service. On establishment the RAF comprised over 20,000 aircraft, was commanded by a
Chief of the Air Staff who held the rank of
major-general and was governed by its own government ministry (the
Finnish Air Force were the first independent air Force in the world, formed on 6 March 1918, when th Swedish count,
Eric von Rosen gave Finland the second aircraft, a
. Some considered that the Finnish Air Force did not officially exist during the
Finnish Civil War, and the
Red Guards had its own air force.
Over the following decades most countries with any substantial military capability established their own independent air forces. The
South African Air Force was formed on 1 February 1920 and the
Australian Air Force was formed shortly afterwards on 31 March 1921, although it was not until 1922 that the head of the Service was titled as
Chief of the Air Staff, placing him on a par with his
Australian Army and Navy counterparts. The
Canadian Air Force was formed at the end of World War I, and was abolished and reorganized several times between 1918 and 1924. It became the permanent
Royal Canadian Air Force when it received the "Royal" title by royal proclamation on 1 April 1924. It did not however become independent of the
Canadian Army until 1938 when its head was also designated as
Chief of the Air Staff. Similarly, the
Royal New Zealand Air Force was established in 1923 as the New Zealand Permanent Air Force but did not become independent of the New Zealand Army until 1937. Other British-influenced countries also established their own independent air forces. For example, the
Royal Egyptian Air Force was created in 1937 when Egyptian military aviation was separated from Army command.
Outside of the British Empire, the
Finnish Air Force was established as a separate service on 4 May 1928
 and the
Brazilian Air Force was created in 1941. Both the
United States Air Force
 and the
Philippine Air Force were formed as a separate branches of their respective armed forces in 1947. The
Israeli Air Force came into being with the
State of Israel on 18 May 1948, but evolved from the pre-existing
Sherut Avir (Air Service) of the
Haganah paramilitary. The
Japan Air Self-Defense Force was not established until 1954;
 in World War II Japanese military aviation had been carried out by the Army and Navy. Unlike all these countries, the
Mexican Air Force remains an integral part of the
The world wars
World War I
Germany was the first country to organize
regular air attacks on enemy infrastructure with the
World War I, it used its
airships) to drop bombs on British cities. At that time, Britain did have aircraft, though her airships were less advanced than the zeppelins and were very rarely used for attacking; instead they were usually used to spy on German
Fixed-wing aircraft at the time were quite primitive, being able to achieve velocities comparable to that of modern automobiles and mounting minimal weaponry and equipment. Aerial services were still largely a new venture, and relatively unreliable machines and limited training resulted in stupendously low life expectancies for early military aviators.
World War II
By the time
World War II began, planes had become much safer, faster, and more reliable. They were adopted as standard for bombing raids and taking out other aircraft because they were much faster than airships. The world's largest military Air Force by the start of the Second World War in 1939 was the
Soviet Red Air Force, and although much depleted, it would stage the largest air operations of WWII over the four years of combat with the German
Heinkel He 111 during the Battle of Britain
Arguably the war's most important air operation, known as the
Battle of Britain, took place during 1940 over Britain and the
English Channel between Britain's Royal Air Force and Germany's Luftwaffe over a period of several months. In the end Britain emerged victorious, and this caused
Adolf Hitler to give up his plan to invade Britain. Other prominent air force operations during the Second World War include the
Allied bombing of Germany during 1942–1944, and the
Red Air Force operations in support of strategic ground offensives on the
Eastern Front. The aerial warfare in
Pacific Ocean theatre was of a comparable strategic significance to the Battle of Britain but was largely conducted by the US and Japanese naval aviation services and not by air forces.
The air force's role of
strategic bombing against enemy infrastructure was developed during the 1930s by the Japanese in China and by the Germans during the
Spanish Civil War. This role for the bomber was perfected during World War II, during Allied "Thousand Bomber Raid" operations. The need to intercept these bombers, both during the day and at night, accelerated fighter aircraft developments. The war ended when
United States Army Air Forces
Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers
dropped atomic bombs on
Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945.
Post World War II
United States Air Force became an independent service in 1947. As the
Cold War began, both the USAF and the Soviet Air Force built up their nuclear-capable strategic bomber forces. Several technological advances were widely introduced during this time: the
jet engine; the
missile; the helicopter; and
In 1954 the
Japan Air Self-Defense Force was founded as a separate service. Previously Japan had delivered its service aviation from within its Army and Navy.
During the 1960s,
Canada merged the Royal Canadian Air Force with the army and the navy to form the unified
Canadian Forces, with air assets divided between several commands and a green uniform for everyone. This proved very unpopular , and in 1975 Canadian aviation units were reorganized under a single organization (
Air Command) with a
single commander. In 2011 the Canadian Forces Air Command reverted to its pre-1960s name, the Royal Canadian Air Force.