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Two F-16 Fighting Falcons begin to roll into position for a rapid descent during an Operation Noble Eagle training patrol over San Francisco.
The F-16s are assigned to the California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno.

First Air Force (1 AF) / Air Forces North (AFNORTH) is a numbered air force (NAF) in Air Combat Command (ACC) and the headquarters for the Air Force component of United States Northern Command. It is headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Basemarker near Panama Citymarker, Floridamarker.


First Air Force is an intermediate echelon responsible for air defense units in the continental United States (CONUS). The First Air Force also serves as the Air Force component of the United States Northern Command, and Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH), the Air Force warfighting headquarters supporting United States Northern Command.

First Air Force also serves as the CONUS geographical component of the binational North American Aerospace Defense Commandmarker.

The command is unique in both its mission and composition. With the transfer of responsibility for continental air defense from the active duty component of the Air Force to the Air National Guard, First Air Force became the first numbered air force to be made up primarily of citizen airmen.

Units aligned under First Air Force/AFNORTH include:

Additionally, First Air Force provides operational control of alert Air National Guard air defense fighter units:



  • Established as Northeast Air District on October 19, 1940
Activated on December 18, 1940.
Redesignated: 1 Air Force on March 26, 1941
Redesignated: First Air Force on September 18, 1942
Discontinued on June 23, 1958
  • Activated on January 20, 1966
Organized on April 1, 1966
Inactivated on December 31, 1969
  • Activated on December 6, 1985.
Redesignated First Air Force (ANG) on October 1, 1995


  • General Headquarters Air Force
(later, Air Force Combat Command), December 18, 1940
  • Eastern Theater of Operations
(later, Eastern Defense Command), December 24, 1941


Major Components

  • 1st Air Force Service (later, 1st Air Force Base; 1st Base): October 1, 1941 – May 13, 1942
  • 1st Air Support (later, I Air Support; I Ground Air Support): September 1, 1941 – August 17, 1942
  • 1st Bomber: September 5, 1941 – October 15, 1942
Redesignated: I Bomber: August 24, 1943 – March 21, 1946
  • 1st Interceptor (later, I Interceptor; I Fighter): June 5, 1941 – March 21, 1946

  • XVI Air Force Service: December 27, 1946 – April 1, 1949
  • XVII Air Force Service: July 1, 1948 – February 23, 1949
  • XIX Air Force Service: August 13, 1948 – February 23, 1949.



  • 3d Air : December 20, 1946 – June 27, 1949.
  • 4th Air : December 20, 1946 – June 27, 1949
  • 12th Air: July 1, 1948 – February 23, 1949
  • 21st Air: April 1, 1966 – December 31, 1967
  • 23d Air: December 6, 1985 – July 1, 1987
  • 24th Air: December 6, 1985 – September 30, 1990
  • 25th Air: December 6, 1985 – September 30, 1990
  • 26th Air Defense (later, 26th Air)
November 16, 1948 – April 1, 1949
November 16, 1949 – September 1, 1950
: Attached to Eastern Air Defense Force, November 17, 1949 – August 31, 1950
December 6, 1985 – September 30, 1990

December 8, 1949 – September 1, 1950
: Attached to Eastern Air Defense Force, September 1, 1950 – August 1, 1959
July 1, 1968 – December 31, 1969
  • 33d Air: April 1, 1966 – November 19, 1969
  • 34th Air: April 1, 1966 – December 31, 1969
  • 35th Air: April 1, 1966 – November 19, 1969
  • 36th Air: April 1, 1966 – September 30, 1969
  • 37th Air: April 1, 1966 – December 1, 1969
  • 69th Air: July 1, 1948 – February 23, 1949
  • 90th Air (formerly, 90th Reconnaissance Wing): December 20, 1946 – June 27, 1949
  • 91st Air (formerly, 91st Reconnaissance Wing): December 20, 1946 – June 27, 1949

Operational History

First Air Force region of the United States, World War II

World War II

During World War II First Air Force initially provided air defense for the eastern Atlantic Oceanmarker coastline of the United States (1940–1941) and flew antisubmarine patrols along coastal areas from after Pearl Harbor until October 1942 flying non-combat capable Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortresses" from Langley AAFmarker Virginiamarker. In addition, the command performed training through Army Air Forces Training Command of units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations.

After October 1942, the antisubmarine patrols were turned over to the Coast Guard and other agencies and the command was engaged primarily in training replacements for combat units.

In 1944, the majority of the Numbered Air Forces of the USAAF were fighting in various parts of the world, such as the Eighth Air Force in Europe and the Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific. They were supported by four numbered air forces located within the United Statesmarker (known as the Zone of the Interior, or "ZI".) On December 13, 1944, First, Second, Third and Fourth Air Force were all were placed under the unified command of the Continental Air Forces, the predecessor of the later established Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command, which were all established in 1946.

Postwar Era

At the end of the war, First Air Force was assigned to Air Defense Command in March 1946 and to Continental Air Command in December 1948 being primarily concerned with air defense. In 1949 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units were placed under its command.

The command was inactivated on June 23, 1958.


First Air Force was reactivated at Stewart Air Force Basemarker, Newburgh, N.Y., on January 20, 1966. During this period, the command was again charged with the air defense of the northeastern United Statesmarker, Greenlandmarker, Icelandmarker and parts of Canadamarker. By July 1968, First Air Force had again assumed total responsibility for the air defense of the eastern seaboard, just as it had during World War II.

Its second period of service was short lived, however, and the command was again inactivated as the result of an air defense reorganization on December 31, 1969.


An F-15 Eagle from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102d Fighter Wing flies a combat air patrol mission over New York City in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon of the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard prepares to land at the Atlantic City International Airport.
As part of realignment of military assets. the Aerospace Defense Command was deactivated in the summer of 1979. The air assets of ADC were assigned to TAC. With this move many Air National Guard units that had an air defense mission also came under the control of TAC, which established a component called Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC).

On December 6, 1985 HQ USAF reactivated First Air Force at Langley Air Force Basemarker, Virginia, and assigned it to Tactical Air Command (TAC). First Air Force was given the mission to provide, train and equip ADTAC combat ready forces for the air defense of the North American continent.

Upon its reactivation, First Air Force was composed of units of the active Air Force and the Air National Guard. Because of its unique mission and its binational responsibilities, First Air Force works closely with the Canadian Forces. Canadian personnel are stationed at First Air Force Headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Basemarker Floridamarker, and at the various regional air defense sectors located throughout the United States.

Activation of the Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Regions on October 1, 1986, resulted in a new structure for the 30-year-old, binational North American Aerospace Defense Commandmarker (NORAD). Although the U.S. Air Force had already deactivated Aerospace Defense Command, the continental U.S. region, along with Alaskan and Canadian regions provided an improved command and operational system for North American air defense.

Air National Guard

In the years since its third activation, more of the responsibility for the defense of American air sovereignty has shifted to the Air National Guard. Also, reorganization of the command structure of the U.S. Air Force saw the assignment of air defense to Tactical Air Command and later, its successor, Air Combat Command.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the role of the Air National Guard in the defense of North America increased. As this role changed, discussions between the active Air Force and the Air National Guard commenced concerning roles and responsibilities.

As the Cold War began to wind down and budgetary constraints became realities, more and more of the missions previously carried out by active duty forces began to be transferred into the reserve components. By the 1990s, 90 percent of the air defense mission was being handled by the Air National Guard.

In October 1997, First Air Force became a primarily Air National Guard numbered air force charged with the air defense of the North American continent. Today, First Air Force consists primarily of members of the Air National Guard. Its headquarters is located at Tyndall Air Force Basemarker, Florida. It comprises 10 Air National Guard fighter wings and three air defense sectors for the Northeast, Western and Southeast regions of the country.



Much of this text in an early version of this article was taken from pages on the First Air Force website, which as a work of the U.S. Government is presumed to be a public domain resource.

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