While United States Air Force Academy cadets have always studied tools that combat terrorism, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon changed the world and the Academy forever. The Academy lost two graduates when the Pentagon was hit, as well as LeRoy Wilton Homer Jr., Class of 1987, who was the First Officer of United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked and crashed near Shanksville, PA. Since the resulting military campaigns began, several other Academy graduates have been lost or sustained combat injuries.
In 2006, the Academy began a $1 billion multi-year construction plan to update several areas of the campus’ 50-year-old infrastructure. Energy efficiency and sustainability are at the foundation of the “Fix USAFA” renovations. The 2008 Academy Energy Strategic Plan details a vision to improve the Academy’s stewardship of fiscal and natural resources by becoming a leader in the world of renewable energy. The vision is for the Academy to be a carbon-neutral installation by 2025.
One Academy graduate became a nationwide hero on January 15, 2009, when the US Airways plane he was flying lost power in both engines due to bird strikes. He safely landed the commercial airliner in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. The pilot, Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger III, is a member of the Class of 1973.
On February 6, 2012, President Obama nominated Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, Class of 1980, to become the first female four-star general for the Air Force. This was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 26, 2012, and she assumed her new rank, and became Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, on June 5, 2012.
Public interest in remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) skyrocketed due to increased non-military uses and portrayal in popular culture. For the Air Force, use of RPAs is a vital mission set that delivers airport to combatant commanders throughout the world. The Academy brought RPAs into the airmanship curriculum and graduated the first 24 cadets in February 2010. These less familiar aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet include the MQ-9 Reaper, RQ-1 Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk.
As our world changes, the Academy continues an impressive track record of innovation. The school remains a leader in developing air, space and, most recently, cyberspace officers for the number one Air Force in the world.