Strategic Air Command

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The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was both a major command and a "specified command" in the U.S. Air Force and was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based bomber aircraft and land-based ballistic missile strategic nuclear arsenal from 1946 to 1992. SAC also controlled the infrastructure necessary to support the strategic bomber and ICBM operations, such as tanker aircraft to refuel the bombers in flight, strategic reconnaissance and command post aircraft, and, until 1957, fighter escorts.



Operational history

On 21 March 1946 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) was divided into three separate commands: Tactical Air Command (TAC), Air Defense Command (ADC), and Strategic Air Command (SAC). SAC's original headquarters was Bolling Field, the headquarters of the disbanded Continental Air Forces (First, Second, Third and Fourth) in Washington, DC Its first commander was General George C. Kenney. SAC Headquarters then moved to Andrews AFB, MD on 20 October 1946.

SAC's original mission statement, expressed by General Carl Spaatz, then commanding general of the USAAF, was:

The Strategic Air Command will be prepared to conduct long-range offensive operations in any part of the world, either independently or in co-operation with land and naval forces; to conduct maximum-range reconnaissance over land or sea, either independently or in co-operation with land and naval forces; to provide combat units capable of intense and sustained combat operations employing the latest and most advanced weapons; to train units and personnel of the maintenance of the Strategic Forces in all parts of the world; to perform such special missions as the Commanding General Army Air forces may direct.

That mission makes no specific reference to nuclear weapons, which in any case SAC did not yet possess. In the wake of World War II, the United States underwent a major drawdown of military forces, and the few USAAF units involved in the dropping of the atomic bombs were not spared.

SAC retained its organization and mission after the USAAF became the U.S. Air Force on 18 September 1947. On 9 November 1948, SAC relocated its headquarters to the center of the nation at Offutt AFB, south of Omaha, Nebraska.

On 19 October 1948, Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay took over as commander of SAC and set about a dramatic rebuilding of the command's forces, as well as their mission. Subsequently promoted to the rank of full General, LeMay, who had masterminded the American attacks on the Japanese mainland during the war (including the firebombing of Tokyo and other cities), was a staunch believer in the power of strategic bombing: the destruction of an enemy's cities and industrial centers. LeMay believed that the existence of the atomic bomb made this type of warfare the only workable strategy, rendering battlefield conflicts essentially obsolete.

Under LeMay's command, SAC became the cornerstone of American national strategic policy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This policy was based primarily on nuclear deterrence. In 1962, there were 282,723 USAF personnel assigned to SAC (217,650 airmen, 28,531 civilians and 38,542 officers). SAC's motto became "Peace is Our Profession," symbolizing the intention to maintain peace through the threat of overwhelming force.

LeMay was not a great believer in mutually assured destruction (MAD): he felt strongly (particularly in SAC's early years, when Soviet nuclear capability was still in its formative stages) that SAC should be prepared to carry out a preemptive and overwhelming attack on the USSR before the Soviets had a chance to do the same to the United States.

From its initial handful of wartime B-29 Superfortress bombers, only a few of which were "Silverplate" aircraft capable of dropping a nuclear weapon, SAC transitioned to its first, truly intercontinental bomber, the Convair B-36. Though a major improvement over the under powered B-29, the B-36, with its six piston and four jet engines, was slow to get to its target.

SAC built up a substantial force of jet-propelled bombers. At its peak, the SAC force included more than 1,500 bombers, most of them the swept-wing B-47. Airborne command post arrangements were also developed, resulting in the EC-135 Looking Glass program.

When the first operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) became available in the late 1950s, they were placed under SAC command. This led to a gradual decline in SAC's bomber strength.

Wartime experience in Europe had shown the inability of bombers to survive without fighter escort, so for a number of years SAC had a fighter force as well as bomber squadrons. Despite some USAF efforts to develop long-range escort fighters, the range of fighter aircraft was too limited for truly intercontinental range, and SAC philosophy held that interception of bombers was of limited value in the atomic age. As a result, on July 1, 1957, SAC's fighter squadrons were either disbanded or passed to TAC.

Curtis LeMay left SAC to become USAF Vice Chief of Staff in 1957, and was succeeded by General Thomas S. Power, who served as SAC commander until December 1964. He was followed by General John Dale Ryan (1964-67) and General Bruce K. Holloway (1968-72).

In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, SAC was eliminated in a large-scale reorganization of the major USAF commands. SAC, Tactical Air Command (TAC), and Military Airlift Command (MAC) were reorganized into two commands, AMC (Air Mobility Command) and ACC (Air Combat Command). These two commands were essentially given the same missions that MAC and TAC held respectively, with AMC inheriting SAC's tanker force and ACC inheriting SAC's strategic bombers and, initially, its land-based ICBM force, until the ICBMs were transferred to the newly established Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). The USAF nuclear component was combined with the U.S. Navy's strategic nuclear component, i.e., nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, to form USSTRATCOM (USSTRATCOM), which is headquartered in SAC's former headquarters complex at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.

Strategic Air Command insignia

The insignia of SAC was designed in 1951 by Staff Sergeant R.T. Barnes, then assigned to the 92nd Bombardment Wing. Submitted in a command-wide contest, it was chosen as the winner by a three judge panel: General Curtis E. LeMay, Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command [CINCSAC]; General Thomas S. Power, Vice Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command; and Brigadier General A. W. Kissner, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command. Staff Sergeant Barnes' winning design netted him a $100 United States Savings Bond.

It has a sky-blue field with two white shaded blue-gray clouds, one in the upper left and one in the lower right extending to the edges of the shield. Upon this is a cubit arm in armor issuing from the lower left and extending toward the upper part of the shield. The hand is grasping a green olive branch, and three red lightning bolts.

Azure, two clouds proper, one issuing from sinister chief and one issuing from dexter base, a cubit arm in armor in bend, issuing from the sinister, the hand grasping a branch of olive proper, and three lightning bolts gules.

The blue sky is representative of USAF operations. The arm and armor are a symbol of strength, power and loyalty and represents the science and art of employing far-reaching advantages in securing the objectives of war. The olive branch, a symbol of peace, and the lightning flashes, symbolic of speed and power are qualities underlying the mission of the Strategic Air Command.

The blue background of the SAC crest meant that SAC's reach was through the sky and that it was global in scope. The clouds meant that SAC was all-weather capable. The mailed fist depicted force, symbolized by lightning bolts of destruction. The olive branch represents peace.

In addition to the SAC crest, non-camoflauged SAC aircraft bore the SAC Stripe. The stripe consisted of a very dark blue background speckled with stars. The stripe appeared on the sides of SAC aircraft in the area of the cockpit running from the top to the bottom of the fuselage at an angle from 11:00 O'clock to 5:00 O'clock. The SAC crest was a bit wider than the stripe and was placed on over of the stripe. The stripe indicated that SAC was always ready to fulfill its mission.

Numbered Air Forces within SAC

Subordinate components

Air Divisions


SAC Bases

Aircraft and Missiles

Boeing B-52D bomber #56-0687 on display at B-52 Memorial Park, Orlando International Airport, Florida (Former McCoy Air Force Base).  Photo taken April 4, 2003.
Boeing B-52D bomber #56-0687 on display at B-52 Memorial Park, Orlando International Airport, Florida (Former McCoy Air Force Base). Photo taken April 4, 2003.

Aircraft - Primary Mission

[edit] Aircraft - Support

Missiles fielded by the Strategic Air Command

Titan II missile launching from silo.
Titan II missile launching from silo.

SAC sayings

  • "To err is human. To forgive is divine. Neither of which is current SAC policy" -- from a poster using SAC's gauntlet emblem. Instead of lightning, the gauntlet was redrawn to hold a pair of bloody testicles.
  • "Peace Through Strength -- Victory Through Devastation"
  • "Peace Is Our Profession"
  • "Peace Is Our Profession. War Is Just Our Hobby."
  • "Peace Is Our Profession. Mass murder is just a hobby."[1]
  • "The Cold War didn't just end, it was WON!" Motto of the Society of the Strategic Air Command
  • "In God We Trust. Everybody else has to have the right (SAC security) badge and know the right (response) numbers."
  • SAC's Motto was also: "PRIDE" or "Professional Results In Daily Effort." In 1969, the inside joke was that it was changed from "PRIDE" to "SHAME" or "Sustained Half-Assed Minimum Effort."[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Henley, Gary. We Were Crewdogs, p. 62.


  • Adams, Chris, Inside The Cold War; A Cold Warrior's Reflections, Air University Press, 1999;2nd Printing 2004;3rd Printing 2005.
  • Adams, Chris, "Ideologies in Conflict; A Cold War Docu-Story,Writers' Showcase, New York, 2001.
  • Boyne, Walter, Boeing B-52. A Documentary History, Jane Publishing Company, 1981.
  • Clark, Rita F. Major, From Snark to Peacekeeper, Office of the Historian, HQ. SAC, Offutt AFB. NE. 1990.
  • Clark, Rita F. Major, SAC Missile Chronology 1939 - 1988, Office of the Historian, HQ. SAC, Offutt AFB. NE. 1988.
  • Clark, Rita F. Major, Strategic Air Command, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Goldberg, Sheldon A., The Development of the Strategic Air Command, Office of the Historian, HQ. SAC, Offutt AFB. NE. 1986.
  • Knaack, Marcelle Size, Post-World War II Bombers 1945-1973, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington D.C. 1988.
  • Knaack, Marcelle Size, Post-World War II Fighters 1945-1973, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington D.C. 1986.
  • Lloyd, Alwyn T., B-47 Stratojet in detail & scale, TAB Books, 1988.
  • Lloyd, Alwyn T. A Cold War Legacy: A Tribute to Strategic Air Command, 1946-1992. Missoula, Mont: Pictorial Histories Pub, 2000. ISBN 1575100525.
  • Mixer, Ronald E., Genealogy of the STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND , Battermix Publishing Company, 1999
  • Mixer, Ronald E., STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, An Organizational History, Battermix Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Moody, Walton S. Dr., Building a Strategic Air Force, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998.
  • Polmar, Norman, Strategic Air Command, 1st Edition, Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co., 1954
  • Polmar, Norman, Strategic Air Command, 2nd Edition, Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co., 1996.
  • Ravenstein, Charles, A., Air Force Combat Wings 1947 - 1977, Office of Air Force History, USAF, 1984.
  • Russell, Ed., Air Division Histories, USAF Historical Research Agency historical documents. SAC Society, Strategic Air Command, Turner Publishing Company, 1985.
  • Yenne, Bill, History of the U.S. Air Force, Exeter Books, 1990.
  • Yenne, Bill, SAC, A Primer of Modern Strategic Airpower, Presido Press, 1992.

External links