Candidates must be between 17 and 22 years old and meet special physical and educational qualifications. An applicant must obtain a nomination to be considered for an appointment to the academy. The sources of nomination are the President of the United States; the Vice President; U.S. Senators and Representatives; and the representatives of the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Special appointment categories include children of deceased and disabled veterans or of career military personnel, foreign students, regular U.S. air force, U.S. air force reserve, honor graduates of military and naval schools and ROTC, and children of Medal of Honor recipients. Approximately 4,000 cadets are enrolled in the four-year course of instruction that leads to a bachelor's degree and a position of second lieutenant. The curriculum includes standard academic subjects as well as military training, flight instruction, and athletics. Cadets receive free tuition and room and board and a monthly allotment to pay for supplies, clothing, and personal expenses.
The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA or Air Force), is an accredited college for the undergraduate education of officers for the United States Air Force. Its campus is located immediately north of Colorado Springs in El Paso County, Colorado, United States. The Academy's stated mission is "to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation." It is the youngest of the five United States service academies, having graduated its first class in 1959. Graduates of the Academy's four-year program receive a Bachelor of Science degree, and most are commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Air Force. The Academy is also one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado, attracting more than a million visitors each year.
The Air Force Academy is among the most selective colleges in the United States. Many publications such as U.S. News and World Report do not rank the Academy directly against other colleges because of service academies' special mission. However, a few do; Forbes Magazine recently ranked the Academy 16th in the nation (just behind MIT and just ahead of Stanford and Pomona) in its "America's Best Colleges 2008" publication. Candidates for admission are judged on their academic achievement, demonstrated leadership, athletics and character. To gain admission, candidates must also pass a fitness test, undergo a thorough medical examination, and secure a nomination, which usually comes from one of the candidate's members of Congress. Recent incoming classes have usually consisted of about 1400 cadets; just under 1000 of those usually make it through to graduation. Cadets pay no tuition and receive a monthly stipend, but incur a commitment to serve a number of years in the military service after graduation.
The program at the Academy is guided by its core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do," and based on four "pillars of excellence": military training, academics, athletics and character development. 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." 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. 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 the Naval Academy for the Navy." 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.
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.
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 April 1 of that year. 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 June 24, 1954. Meanwhile, Air Training Command (ATC) began developing a detailed curriculum for the Academy program.
The early Air Force Academy leadership faced monumental tasks, including the development of an appropriate curriculum, establishment of a faculty, design of a distinctive cadet uniform, oversight of the construction of the permanent site, and the creation of a structure for military and flight training. To establish the foundations of the Academy program, officials ultimately drew from sources within the Air Force, from West Point and Annapolis, and occasionally from outside the military entirely.
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 July 11, 1955. While at Lowry, they were housed in renovated World War II barracks. 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 had been graduates of West Point or Annapolis. They acted as surrogate upper class cadets until the upper classes could be populated over the next several years. The Academy's dedication ceremony took place on that first day and was broadcast live on national television, with Walter Cronkite covering the event.
In developing a distinctive uniform for cadets, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott was looking for "imagination" in the design. Talbott initially used military tailors, but was unhappy with their products. As a result, the first classes of cadets wore temporary uniforms while the official uniform was developed. Secretary Talbott then sought out legendary Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille for help. DeMille's designs — most notably his design of the cadet parade uniform — won praise from Air Force and Academy leadership, were ultimately adopted, and are still worn by cadets today.
The Class of 1959 established many other important traditions that continue until the present. Most notably, the first class adopted the Cadet Honor Code, and chose the falcon as the Academy's mascot. In 1957, the Air Force cadets marched in the Inaugural Parade of President Dwight Eisenhower in Washington, D.C.. On August 29, 1958, the wing of 1,145 cadets moved to the present site near Colorado Springs, and less than a year later the Academy received accreditation. The first USAFA class graduated and was commissioned on June 3, 1959.
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. 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 SERE program was expanded, and light aircraft training started in 1968.
Many Academy graduates of this era served with distinction in the Vietnam War. F-4 Phantom II pilot Steve Ritchie '64 and F-4 Phantom II weapon systems officer Jeffrey Feinstein '68 each became aces by downing five enemy aircraft in combat. 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. 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. 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.
One of the most significant events in the history of the Academy was the admission of women. On October 7, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation permitting women to enter the United States service academies. On June 26, 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 May 28, 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.
Many of the women from those early classes went on to achieve success within the Cadet Wing and after graduation. Kathleen Conley '80 was the first woman to graduate from the Academy, finishing eighth in her class. Michelle D. Johnson '81 was the first woman to serve as the Academy's Cadet Wing Commander — the senior ranking cadet — and was the Academy's first female Rhodes Scholar. Terrie Ann MacLaughlin '86 was the first female cadet to graduate top in her class. Susan J. Helms '80 is the first woman graduate astronaut; she flew on four Space Shuttle missions and served five months on the International Space Station. Heather Wilson '82, another Rhodes Scholar, became the first female veteran to serve in the House of Representatives in 1998. Brigadier General Dana H. Born '83 is currently the Academy's Dean of Faculty, and Brigadier General Susan Y. Desjardins '80 is currently the Academy's Commandant of Cadets. They are the first women to serve in their respective positions.
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. 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 disillusionment over such issues. The Class of 1979, the last all-male class, went so far as to unofficially label themselves "LCWB," or "Last Class With Balls" (sometimes also interpreted as "Last Class Without Bitches") an abbreviation that appeared on many of their class-specific items and still appears at reunions, sporting events and other Academy alumni functions.
The campus of the Academy covers 18,000 acres (73 km²) on the east side of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Colorado Springs. Its altitude is normally given as 7,258 feet (2,212 m) above sea-level, which is the elevation of the cadet area. The Academy was designed by architect Walter Netsch with the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
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. On April 1, 2004, fifty years after Congress authorized the building of the Academy, the Cadet Area at the Academy was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The main buildings in the Cadet Area are set around a large, square pavilion known as The Terrazzo. The most recognizable building in the Cadet Area is the 17-spired Cadet Chapel. The subject of controversy when it was first built, it is now considered among the most beautiful examples of modern American academic architecture. Other buildings on the Terrazzo include the two dormitories, Vandenberg Hall and Sijan Hall, 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") and contains numerous aeronautical research facilities, including transonic, subsonic, low speed and cascade wind tunnels, engine and rocket test cells and simulators. 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.
The cadet social center is Arnold Hall which houses a 3000-seat theater, a ballroom and a number of lounge 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, the Cadet Gymnasium, the Cadet Fieldhouse (with Clune Arena), the ice hockey rink and an indoor track that doubles as a practice facility for a number of sports throughout the year. Falcon Stadium', located outside of the Cadet Area, is the home of Air Force Academy football and is the site of the graduation ceremonies for each year's graduating class.
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, steal, or cheat, 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 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."
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 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. The Code itself is simple:
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. The oath remains unchanged since its adoption in 1984 and consists of a statement of the code, followed by a resolution to live honorably:
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 Character and Leadership Education Division 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.
The Academy is organized on several levels. The entire base is set up much like a regular Air Force Base, but the Cadet Wing has an internal structure that operates somewhat independently from the rest of the base.
The organization of the Academy has characteristics of both a military unit and a civilian college. Like a civilian college, the students, called "cadets", are divided into four classes, based on their year in school. 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 sometimes referred to as "doolies," a term derived from the Greek word δουλος ("doulos") meaning "slave" or "servant. Members of the three lower classes are also referred to as "4 degrees," "3 degrees" or "2 degrees" based on their class. First-class cadets are referred to as "firsties." In the military structure of the Cadet Wing, first class cadets (seniors) act as the cadet officers, second class cadets (juniors) act as the cadet non-commissioned officers and third class cadets (sophomores) as cadet junior non-commissioned officers or senior airmen.
The Cadet Wing is divided into four cadet 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 their members of their squadron, and take part in many activities, notably military training and intramural athletics, by squadron as well. Each cadet squadron and 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.
The Superintendent of the Academy is the senior officer and is normally an active-duty lieutenant general. The Superintendent oversees all aspects of the Academy, including military training, academics, athletics, admissions and the administration of the base. The superintendent's role is similar to that of the president of a civilian university. The Academy is a Direct Reporting Unit within the Air Force, so the Superintendent reports directly to the Air Force Chief of Staff.
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.
Congressional oversight of the Academy is exercised through a Board of Visitors, 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, through the Secretary of the Air Force and to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Services of the United States House of Representatives. The 15 members of the board are 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. In 2006, the Board organization was changed to require inclusion of two Academy graduates. The initial two appointees were Charles P. Garcia '83 and Nancy R. Kudla '80.
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. Basic cadets learn military customs and courtesies, learn proper wear of the uniform, practice marching, 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.
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 "Global Engagement") and may participate in flying gliders 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. It is scheduled to be reintroduced in a modified form in the summer of 2008. 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 Air Force Academy is an accredited four-year university offering Bachelor's degrees in a variety of subjects. Approximately 75 percent of the faculty are Air Force officers, with the remaining 25 percent 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. All graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree, regardless of major, because of the technical content of the core requirements. The Dean of the Faculty is usually an active-duty brigadier general, although a civilian may hold the position. Each academic department is chaired by a "permanent professor," an academic rank and position somewhat analogous to a tenured senior professor at a civilian university.
Cadets may major in a variety of divisional, disciplinary or inter-disciplinary subjects, including majors in engineering, the basic sciences, social sciences and humanities. 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 courseload is mandated by the core curriculum. As a result, most of a cadet's first two years are spent in core classes. During the third and fourth years, cadets have more flexibility to focus in their major areas of study, but the core requirements are still significant.
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 aeronautical, astronautical and communications systems. As a result, the Academy's engineering programs have traditionally been ranked highly. Over time, however, the Academy broadened its humanities offerings and many cadets have selected majors in non-technical disciplines (notably more than the other U.S. service academies). This has been seen by some as inconsistent with the original academic focus of the Academy. Former Air Force Secretary James Roche was concerned enough that he ordered a revamping of the curriculum to reduce the workload of engineering majors. His goal was to encourage more cadets to pursue science or engineering studies. This effort was opposed by those who believed that engineering expertise could be provided by the defense industry, and that leadership, management and foreign studies requirements are at least as significant as historical demands for technical preeminence. Since Roche left the position, however, his effort appears to have been abandoned.
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. The primary elements of the athletic program are intercollegiate athletics, intramural athletics, physical education, and the physical fitness tests. The Academy's high altitude makes the physical fitness program particularly demanding and often gives the acclimated cadets a distinct advantage over visiting athletic teams from lower altitudes.
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 gymnastics teams and men's soccer teams compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation; the men's hockey team competes in Atlantic Hockey and the water polo team competes in the Western Water Polo Association. The men's boxing team competes in the National Collegiate Boxing Association. The men's lacrosse team competes in the Great Western Lacrosse League. 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 16 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.
Air Force teams have had great athletic success. The boxing team, led for 31 years by Coach Ed Weichers, has won 18 national championships and has never finished lower than second in the nation. 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. 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. The men's 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.
Admission to the Academy is particularly selective. To be eligible to enter the Academy, a candidate must:
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 the second semester of their junior year of high school.
Despite the exceptionally high standards expected of cadets, faculty and staff, and the fact that the selection processes are among the most thorough and most rigorous to be found, the Academy has not been immune from scandal.
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 rocked the Academy again in 1967, 1972, 1984, 2004 and 2007. 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.
In late 2006, a military judge dismissed a rape charge against an accused cadet because the accuser's mental health professional refused a court order to release medical records of statements the accuser had made to her. On January 10, 2007, the Associated Press reported that civilian prosecutors declined to file charges in an alleged sexual assault that started the aforementioned 2003 sexual assault scandal because they could not meet the required burden of proof.
An Air Force panel investigated the accusations and issued its report on June 22, 2005. 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.
For a list of well-known graduates of the Academy, see:
For a list of well-known alumni who did not graduate, see: