The history of the Air Force Institute of Technology dates back to the fledging days of powered flight, for it early became apparent that the progress of military aviation was closely dependent upon the availability of military specialists in aeronautical science and allied technical fields.
The original idea of an aeronautical school within the Army was proposed by Colonel Thurman H. Bane, Commanding Officer of McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, based on his belief that “No man can efficiently direct work about which he knows nothing.” The suggestion was approved by the War Department, and the Air School of Application was established within the Engineering Division at McCook Field in November 1919 with seven officers enrolled and Colonel Bane as the Commandant.
In 1920, following the creation of the Air Service, the school was redesignated the Air Service Engineering School. Classes were small and informal. Student officers were instructed by engineering specialists assigned to McCook Field and the Commanding Officer of McCook Field also served as the Commandant of the school.
The second stage in the development of the Institute of Technology occurred in 1926 when Congress authorized the creation of the Air Corps and an accompanying five-year expansion program.
Engineering and test activities at McCook Field required more extensive facilities, and in 1927 these activities were moved to a 4,500 acre tract of land donated to the government by citizens of Dayton. The new installation was named Wilbur Wright Field in honor of one of Dayton’s celebrated native sons, Orville and the late Wilbur Wright.
The Air Service Engineering School now became the Air Corps Engineering School. Originally designed to provide technical education for senior officers holding command positions, the school was now given the additional mission of preparing younger officers to fill positions in research and design within the Engineering Division.
When the Air Corps Engineering School was forced to suspend classes shortly after Pearl Harbor, it had graduated more than 200 officers. Among these were many of the nation’s foremost wartime and post-wartime leaders of military aviation and space, such as Generals Jimmy Doolittle, George Kenney, and Bernard Schriever.
The school remained inactive until April 1944, when it was reopened as the Army Air Forces Engineering School to conduct a series of accelerated three- and six-month-long courses to meet emergency needs.
After the cessation of hostilities in 1945, a survey of the Army Air Force Officer Corps indicated a general lack of educational attainment and the need for improving the competence of the Corps.
A board of officers, appointed in 1945 by the Commanding General of the Air Technical Service Command to study the problem, recommended that the Army Air Force establish a technological school under the immediate supervision of the Commanding General, Air Technical Service Command, using the existing Army Air Force Engineering School as a nucleus for expansion to accomplish the recommended action.
Instructions from the Office of the Chief of Air Staff provided for the appointment of a resident committee of Air Technical Service Command officers to prepare an operational plan. At the same time, a second group—civilian scientists and educators appointed by Dr. Theodore Von Karman, Chairman of the Army Air Force Scientific Advisory Board—was also surveying the Institute project. The latter group recommended that the Institute offer two programs, one in engineering and a second in business administration and logistics as applied to the supply and procurement problems of the Air Force. Courses were to be patterned after those offered in leading civilian universities, with the necessary changes to meet specific Air Force needs. It was also recommended that the Institute ultimately include graduate level training.
As a result of these preliminary efforts, the Army Air Forces Institute of Technology was officially opened in Building 125 on 3 September 1946 by Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining, Commanding General of the Air Materiel Command. The original faculty of the Army Air Force Institute of Technology consisted of eight civilians and five officers, and the initial enrollment of officer students totaled 189. The Institute was composed of two colleges: Engineering and Maintenance, and Logistics and Procurement. These colleges were later redesignated the College of Engineering Sciences and the College of Industrial Administration, and in December 1951, they were combined into the Resident College.
When the Air Force became an autonomous unit in the military establishment during 1947, the Institute was renamed the Air Force Institute of Technology, although the next year it was renamed again as the United States Air Force Institute of Technology. It was at this same time that Wright Field, with its extensive research and development facilities, was combined with neighboring Patterson Field, center of Air Force supply and procurement activities, to form the present single installation, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
On 1 April 1950, command jurisdiction of the Institute was transferred from Air Materiel Command to Air University.
The Institute’s progress toward the “graduate school” goal was marked by the enrollment of eight officers in the first Advanced Engineering Management Class in January 1951. On 31 August 1954, President Eisenhower signed Senate Bill 3712, giving the USAF Institute of Technology authority to grant degrees. In 1955, the Institute—now called Institute of Technology, United States Air Force—was accredited in aeronautical and electrical engineering. The next year, the once again renamed Air Force Institute of Technology granted its first degrees. In 1960, the Institute of Technology was granted institutional accreditation at the master’s level, and in 1965 AFIT’s accreditation was extended to the Ph.D. level.
In other areas of the Institute, the Air Installations Special Staff School was established at the Installations Engineering School in October 1947 to train officers for installations engineering duties at air bases, major command and Headquarters USAF levels. Its courses of study covered all aspects of air base construction, operation, and maintenance, with emphasis on the technical, managerial and administrative functions of the base civil engineer. The first class was enrolled in March 1948, and by the end of 1960, the school had graduated 2,295 officers. The School has gone through seven different name changes through the years, taking on the name of the Civil Engineer and Services School in 1994.
Meanwhile, in response to the growing need for trained senior officers qualified to deal effectively with Air Force worldwide logistics problems, an experimental six-month Advanced Logistics Course was started by the Institute in October 1955.
The staff of the Institute of Technology analyzed the problems involved in developing and operating the Logistics Course and selected Ohio State University to research, develop, and present certain phases of it and to provide the bulk of professional and academic resources. It was decided that all of the instruction would be given at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, next to Headquarters, Air Materiel Command (later redesignated the Air Force Logistics Command), nerve center of the Air Force Logistics System.
As a result, the School of Logistics was established. Its curriculum included the Advanced Logistics Course as well as twenty-two other courses offered in conjunction with the Air Force Logistics Command’s Logistics Education Program. Its capability placed the school in the position of real leadership, Air Force wide, in logistics management education for military and civilian personnel alike.
In its School of Engineering, School of Logistics, Civilian Institution Programs, and Civil Engineering Center, the Institute carried forward its fourth decade of technical and professional officer education. Its students had to be equipped to deal with eventualities not even foreseen when they were actually attending classes. The Institute met this challenge by employing a flexible curriculum geared to future developments.
In the 1960s, all logistics education at the Institute was provided on contract with the Ohio State University (OSU), designated as the Defense Management Center. All logistics faculty were on contract with the Ohio State University Research Foundation, and were deemed adjunct faculty of the College of Commerce and Administration. In 1963, the School of Logistics changed its name to the current School of Systems and Logistics in order to reflect its systems management program. Elsewhere in the Institute, in 1964, the Graduate School of Engineering facility—Building 640—was finalized and dedicated on 28 August in the name of Colonel Thurman H. Bane. In 1971, as a result of a cost study, the Ohio State contract was not renewed for fiscal year 1972. The Air Force hired the OSU teaching faculty as civil servants, retained its own Deans and Department Heads and thereby assumed full management of the School of Systems and Logistics.
The seventies experienced a similar expansion as technology accelerated further. AFIT graduates were closely involved in the Apollo space program. New construction at the Institute was marked by the erection in 1977 of a new School of Systems and Logistics facility—Building 641—dedicated to General Nathan Farragut Twinning. Later that year, the School of Engineering started a unique program in strategic and tactical sciences after Dean Janusz S. Przemieniecki proposed a graduate program combining quantitative sciences, weapons engineering and military operations.
In May 1978, Air University and AFIT became part of the Air Training Command (ATC), the largest USAF major command.
In the 1980s, there were three schools—School of Engineering, School of Systems and Logistics, School of Civil Engineering and Services—and the Civilian Institution Programs Directorate.
In the early 1980s, the pace of technology continued to accelerate. The Air Force Institute of Technology grew in the areas of faculty development, research and consulting, library expansion, data processing facilities, and programs. Programs developed included information processing, electro-optics, radiation hardening, advanced composites, and space structures. These programs were designed to keep the Air Force Institute of Technology in the forefront of high-technology education.
In 1992, the Institute reorganized from three to four schools by specifically removing all graduate programs from the School of Systems and Logistics and establishing a new school, the Graduate School of Logistics and Acquisition Management.
In 1995, the Air Force Institute of Technology established its first program to be offered at a distant location. The Air Mobility Program, taught at Fort Dix, New Jersey, is a yearlong program designed to provide officers assigned to the Air Mobility Command the opportunity to further their education in a course of instruction specifically designed to enhance their expertise as operational airlift logistics experts. The first class of 10 students entered in the spring of 1995 and graduated the following May. The program utilizes facilities located adjacent to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, home of Air Mobility Command’s east coast operations center. Institute instructors travel to the Fort Dix site to teach these courses.
Early in fiscal year 1997, the Secretary of the Air Force made a decision to close the Air Force Institute of Technology resident graduate schools. In anticipation of closure, the Institute developed and began a transition and closure plan. Resident Ph.D. students scheduled for fiscal year 1997 were diverted to the Civilian Institution Program and a transition plan for actual closure was developed, identifying manpower positions for elimination in fiscal years 1997 through 2000.
In April 1998, after a visit to the Air Force Institute of Technology, the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, announced a reversal of the Air Force decision to terminate the Institute’s resident graduate programs. AFIT was to continue a restructuring initiative begun in fiscal year 1996 that would size the resident graduate programs to meet the Air Force education requirements of the fiscal year 2003 force structure. As part of this restructuring, the two resident graduate schools were merged into the Graduate School of Engineering and Management on 1 October 1999.
In 2002, the Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy signed a Memorandum of Agreement forming an Educational Alliance between the two services. The Superintendent of the Naval Post Graduate School and the Commandant of AFIT execute their missions as two universities within one system—the Alliance. Each university has graduate and continuing education programs, as well as faculty expertise and research facilities, not currently offered by the other but that is beneficial for both services.
At the direction of the Secretary of the Air Force, AFIT became the home of the Air Force Center for Systems Engineering in February 2003. The CSE builds on AFIT’s twenty plus years of systems engineering expertise, working to strengthen and expand the existing SE program within the Graduate School of Engineering and Management, and to provide additional assistance to the Air Force in the areas of policy recommendations, consultation, and case study development. This collaboration across AFIT has resulted in a revised graduate degree program, a new graduate certificate program in Systems Engineering, and new continuing education short courses.
Early in 2004, leaders from the University of New Mexico and the U.S. Air Force signed an agreement to allow Air Force officers and civilians to earn advanced degrees in science, technology and management by combining credits from the University of New Mexico and the Air Force Institute of Technology.
In March 2004, more than 200 scientists and engineers received graduate and doctoral degrees from AFIT, bringing the total number of graduates to more than 15,000. Under the initiative of the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. James G. Roche, the school’s first enlisted students received master’s degrees as part of that class—eight Air Force and six Marine Corps senior noncommissioned officers.
From Colonel Bane’s viewpoint to that of Institute graduates who have walked on the moon, the Air Force Institute of Technology has progressed far. What started as a school for select officers has grown into a premier educational institution for both officer and enlisted students, international students, Department of Defense civilians, and members of all branches of the armed services. However, some things never change. The commandant continues to stress excellence in education and research and to move AFIT through the twenty-first century, retaining its flexibility and resourcefulness in accomplishing its mission, just as it has done since its inception more than 90 years ago.