Flying High

Monday, November 11, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Colorado Springs, CO

After the Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. military in 1947, support began building for a separate training academy.  President Eisenhower signed the authorizing bill for the Air Force Academy in 1954, and subsequently more than 500 sites were proposed for the academy's permanent location. Of the three finalists, Colorado Springs was the favorite of the selection committee but they worried that the nearby mountains would affect flight training.  To help seal the deal for the Colorado location, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh flew over the proposed site and declared it fit for flying.  With that endorsement and other supporting evidence, the Air Force announced the selection of Colorado Springs.

With the site determined, the Air Force selected a Chicago architecture firm to design the academy.   Skidmore, Owings & Merrill employed a distinctly modernist style for campus structures, making extensive use of aluminum on building exteriors to mimic the outer skin of aircraft.  Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the academy is the 17-spired Cadet Chapel (pictured above).  Though initially reviled for the extremity of its design, it is now considered a prominent example of modernist American architecture and has won numerous awards.

Housing many different worship spaces under one roof, the chapel enables cadets of all faiths to exercise their religious beliefs.  In keeping with the proportion of cadets practicing the various religions, the Protestant Chapel seats 1,200 worshipers; the Catholic Chapel, 500; the Jewish Chapel, 100; and the Buddhist Chapel, 20.  The architectural design of each reflects the beliefs and values of the respective religion.  Cadets of other faiths hold services in available multi-faith rooms.

Protestant Chapel
Catholic Chapel
Jewish Chapel
Buddhist Chapel
Near the chapel are the two Academy dormitories.  At a quarter of a mile long, Vandenberg Hall, named after the second Air Force chief of staff, is the second largest dormitory in the U.S. with 1,325 cadet rooms.  The nearby cadet dining area in Mitchell Hall contains 1.7 acres of uninterrupted floor space, seating 4,600 people.  All cadets eat meals at the same time, with family-style service, in and out in 25 minutes.

Vandenberg Hall
All the buildings in the Cadet Area of the campus where students live, eat, and attend classes face a large square pavilion known as the Terrazzo because the walkways are made of terrazzo tiles interlined with marble strips.  During their freshman year, cadets must walk along the strips of white marble on this main quad area of the campus.  They are not allowed to wander freely nor speak except to greet upperclass cadets.

A small corner of the Terrazzo
The visitor center houses a museum where we learned quite a bit about the Academy's history and about being a cadet.  We gained a new appreciation for the young men and women who make this special commitment to themselves and their country.  Could you make it as an Air Force cadet?

Air Force cadets are housed in two dormitories on campus, two to three cadets to a 13- by 18-ft room.  Within the room, there is a designated place for every permitted item.  When they enter the Academy, cadets are not allowed to bring personal possessions with them except for a few essential items such as eyeglasses and prescription medications.  Most teens (and adults) would be shocked to learn that cell phones and other personal electronics are considered nonessential items at the Academy.  Each cadet is issued a personal computer for use upon arrival, preloaded with necessary software.  As they progress through the Academy, cadets are permitted additional items, such as a radio (second semester freshmen), coffee pot (sophomore), or other electrical appliances (junior).  Only seniors are allowed to have a television in their rooms.
Academy Cadet Area
To enforce these requirements, regular room inspections are conducted to assess each cadet's compliance with very specific standards for maintaining their living quarters.  For example, "Trashcans shall have a plastic liner.  Trash shall not exceed the rim of the trashcan."  "Soiled laundry shall be concealed and neatly stored in closed containers or bags and shall not become excessive to exceed one container or bag."  "Window ledges are clean, free of debris, and no items are stored or placed on them."  How many of us could pass such a rigorous inspection of our homes?

The typical cadet class is scooped from the cream at the top of high school classes across the United States.  Here are some statistics on Air Force cadets.
  • 11% - Valedictorian or salutatorian
  • 18% - Served as president/VP of high school class or student body
  • 29% - Involved in Scouting
  • 52% - Top 10% of their high school class
  • 64% - National Honor Society
  • 80% - Lettered in some high school sport
Since today was not a game day, we were able to drive right up to Falcon Stadium, home of the Air Force football team.  That done, our campus tour was complete, just in time for us to get to our appointment for car service at Pikes Peak Acura.  When we had our car serviced last year in Reno, our service advisor there told us proudly that their dealership's service department ranked top in the nation for customer satisfaction.

And it's true, they were good.  But Pikes Peak Acura offered us homemade cookies and free beverages, completed the service in half the time they estimated, and washed, dried and vacuumed our car.  What about that, Reno?

Following lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, we tried to make the summit drive to Pikes Peak, but we missed the 3:00 deadline for starting the drive by half an hour.  So we'll start there tomorrow.

Air Force Academy Stats:
  • 4,000 - current cadet enrollment
  • 1,200 - houses on campus
  • 38 - miles of road on the campus
  • 11 - miles of water mains
  • 16 - miles of sewer
  • 15,000,000 - cubic yards of dirt moved in construction
  • 800,000 - cubic yards of concrete poured
  • 2,500,000 - square feet of glass used in construction  space  

Aircraft wing reference easy to see in this shot of Chapel
Pew ends in Protestant Chapel resemble World War I airplane propeller.