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NGA in History - Defining Moments

Aeronautical Division, U.S. Army Signal Corps

On Aug. 1, 1907, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James Allen sent out Office Memorandum No. 6, which established the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, an early predecessor of the U.S. Air Force. “This division will have charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines, and all kindred subjects,” the memo read. At its inception, the Aeronautical Division had three people – Capt. Charles deForest Chandler, an experienced signal corps officer and balloonist, and two other enlisted men – and no airplanes.

In 1908, the Aeronautical Division, at the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt, purchased an airship (Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1) from balloonist Thomas Baldwin and an airplane (S.C. No. 1) from the Wright Brothers for just over a combined $30,000. By 1911, the Aeronautical Division had five planes in its inventory and direct appropriation from Congress – a modest $125,000, of which the division spent $40,000.

On Oct. 1, 1917, the Aeronautical Division was renamed the Air Division and was abolished altogether by the War Department the following year. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force was formed as a separate branch of the military – continuing the legacy started by the Aeronautical Division.

Two years later, the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center – a NGA heritage organization – was founded and charged with developing cartographic and flight information for use by the Air Force in military operations around the world. NGA continues this mission by providing safety of navigation data to pilots and mariners around the world.

Associated Document(s)

The First of the Force (Air Force Magazine, August 2007)
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