Sitting on 18,000 acres north of Colorado Springs, the United States Air Force Academy currently enrolls 4,400 cadets as the primary undergraduate educational institution of the Air Force. The Academy was founded in April 1954, making it the youngest of the five military service academies whose establishment came only after the National Security Act of 1947 recognized the Air Force as an independent military service equal to the Army and the Navy.
Various factors contributed to the selection of Colorado Springs as the home of the new Academy. First, the State of Colorado contributed $1 million to the purchase of land for the Academy, and President Eisenhower—whose wife was from Colorado—lobbied for the location. Second, as the Armed Forces sought broader integration throughout the U.S., it wanted to establish a major site in the West that wasn’t located on the coast. Finally, officials believed that by placing the Academy in the middle of the country, it would lessen the risk of a nuclear attack on what was becoming a dominant arm of the United States military.
Among a list of requirements, academy applicants must secure a nomination from a member of Congress, each of which have 5 nominations per admission cycle. Accepted cadets go on to complete 4 years of tuition-free education that culminates in a Bachelor in Science degree in one of 27 majors ranging from aeronautical engineering to military strategy studies. In exchange for their education, graduates commit to a minimum of 5 years of active military service and 3 years of reserve service post-graduation.
In addition to the Cadet Wing, which is the term used to refer to the student body, the Academy also houses various active military units and facilities, such as the 3,000 personnel 10th Air Base Wing and the Bullseye Auxiliary Airfield. The latter, for example, originally opened in 1990 after congested USAF airfields led to a plane collision, but was shut down due to budget cuts and then re-opened in 2014 in a geographically separate location north of Ellicott and away from Colorado Springs. The new location, in part, aimed to mitigate complaints made by local Colorado Springs residents about aircraft safety and noise, all while reconciling this with the central importance of the Airfield to the cadet’s Airship Program.
Recent studies have identified four locations on the Air Force Academy campus that contain a high concentration of pollutants with chemical levels higher than an Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per billion. Most of these toxic chemicals are foams used to extinguish fires—used for decades by the military and also found in myriad household products—that have seeped into the ground. The discovery of these chemical compounds has intensified the Pikes Peak region’s cleanup of a contaminated aquifer that supplies water to more than 64,000 people just twenty miles south, outside of Peterson Air Force Base. Health threats associated with these chemicals include potential kidney and testicular cancers, high cholesterol, and low infant birth weight. Currently, the Air Force has shown a willingness to financially assist those who have suffered damage or who may be at risk from the base’s pollution and environmental damage.
Porter, Melissa. “Academy Changes Flying Patterns, Opens Auxiliary Airfield; Primary Focus is Safety of Neighborhoods, Cadets.” June 2, 2014. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Rodgers, Jakob and Ellie Mulder. “High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Found in Water at Air Force Academy, Officials Say.” Colorado Springs Gazette, August 23, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2021.
U.S. Air Force Academy. “Air Force Academy Information.” Accessed September 4, 2020.
U.S. Air Force Academy. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed September 4, 2020.
U.S. Air Force Academy. “Home.” Accessed December 13, 2020.
Wikipedia. “United States Air Force Academy.” Accessed September 4, 2020.