If you are in Colorado anytime as a tourist, one special place to visit that might easily be overlooked is the Air Force Academy, which is just a little north of Colorado Springs. Because of the sleek modern architecture, monumental scale of the Academy, and dramatic setting, the Air Force Academy is truly a national monument. The whole Academy is a “living embodiment to the modernity of flying.” The gleaming aluminum, steel, and glass buildings are a reflection of modern architecture. More than a million people visit every year.
The Air Force Academy was established during the first decade of the Cold War, to protect against the threat of nuclear war, when Communist expansion loomed large. The Academy symbolized the importance of air power to our country’s security. When the Air Force became the primary military arm during the 1950’s, the Air Force Academy had to train officers who could meet the challenges of the nuclear age.
“The Academy is a bridge to the future, gleaming with promise in a stable, sane world,” Air Force Secretary Harold E. Talbott testified before Congress, July 11, 1955. “Our airpower has kept the peace….is keeping the peace, God willing, it will continue to do so. The Academy we are founding today will carry forth that great effort.”
There are no guided tours, except for potential cadets for the Academy that was established by President Dwight Eisenhower. The Academy is open to the public daily from 5:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Despite the lack of guided tours, when you enter you can visit the Visitor Center and Gift Shop and view a 14-minute video on the life of a cadet. The center has exhibits for you to explore and a map that will guide you to the chapel and field house.
It took five years of planning before the Air Force Academy was built. As you tour the field house, you can see cadets working out or practicing with a team. The school was dubbed the “most athletic in the country” by Sports Illustrated. Many athletic teams compete at the field house, where lacrosse and football teams practice during bad weather. The Clune Arena, the most impressive of the field house, seats 6,000. As you leave the field house, you can see 57 athletic fields that cover 140 acres.
The campus itself covers 18,000 acres on the east side of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains. It was designed by architect Walter Netsch. The Air Force Academy was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2004.
One of the most impressive buildings in the Air Force Academy is the 17-spired Cadet Chapel. It is considered among the most beautiful examples of modern architecture. It has 100 identical aluminum tetrahedrons, with colored glass in the spaces between the tetrahedrons. The chapel reaches a height of 150 feet, with an overall length of 280 feet and a width of 84 feet. According to Netsch, he built it after being inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral in Paris, the Cathedral of Chartres, and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Italy.
The Cadet Chapel is built on two levels, with the upstairs portion housing a 1,300 seat Protestant chapel. The downstairs includes a 500-seat Catholic chapel, a 100-seat Jewish chapel, and interfaith rooms used for services of other religions.
Fairchild Hall, the cadet academic building, is named after General Muir S. Fairchild, the first commander of Air University and contains academic classrooms, laboratories and research facilities, faculty offices, and the Robert F. McDermott Library.
Vandenberg Hall was the first cadet dormitory and was named for Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
The dining facility, Mitchell Hall, has the ability to feed the entire Cadet Wing at one time and was named after air power pioneer Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell.
The cadet social center, Arnold Hall, contains a 3000-seat theater, a ballroom, and a number of lounge and recreation facilities for cadets and visitors. Arnold Hall was named after General of the Air ForceHenry H. “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
The Aeronautics Research Center (also known as the “Aero Lab”) contains numerous aeronautical research facilities. These include transonic, subsonic, low speed and cascade wind tunnels, engine and rocket test cells and simulators.
There are several gyms in the Cadet Gymnasium, as well as two swimming pools, weight training facilities and facilities for playing a multitude of sports.
There are a variety of other places to tour and displays and memorials on the campus of the Air Force Academy.
Displays and memorials include the War Memorial, a black marble wall etched with the names of Academy graduates who have been killed in combat and the Honor Hall, overlooking the Terrazzo, is inscribed with the Academy’s Honor Code: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” There are also air- and spacecraft displays on the Academy grounds, including: 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 SV5-J lifting body next to the aeronautics laboratory; and a Minuteman III missile in front of the Field House, and others.
There are many things to see at the Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado. You will remember your visit.