January: The F-89D Scorpion enters Air Defense Command service with the 18th FIS. Whereas the F-89A/B/C models were all similar to each other, the D-model is revised substantially, replacing the cannon armament of earlier aircraft with wingtip pods for 2.75-inch unguided rockets.
January 2: Piloting an F-86F, WWII triple ace Colonel Willard Millikan establishes a transcontinental speed record of 4 hours and 8 minutes.
January 12: An F-86 crashes in Long Beach, California while attempting to land. The Sabre destroys several houses, killing six civilians and the pilot, as well as severely injuring a number of others.
February 27: A B-36 is burned out at Fairchild AFB, Washington.
March: Republic begins turning out the RF-84F in quantity.
March: Operational Matador GLCMs arrive in West Germany. Matadors will be used until the late 1950s, being replaced by the derived Mace with better guidance and armed with a W28 warhead.
March 1: At Bikini Atoll, the United States carries out the first ever test of a "weaponized" thermonuclear device. Codenamed Bravo, this weapon delivers a massive yield, equivalent to 15 megatons on TNT. This is beyond what had been projected, and Bravo's fallout is much more severe than anticipated.
March 4: The XF-104 flies. The first two prototype Starfighters, although capable of impressive performance, are not representative of later models, as the XFs are powered by interim Wright J65 engines and lack the sophisticated inlets of production aircraft.
March 18: Rollout of the first B-52A. Three of these slightly longer service-test Stratofortresses are built, and introduce side-by-side seating for the flight crew. Also new is a manned tail turret with four .50-caliber machine guns, which will be fitted to all the early B-52s save for the RB-52B. All three B-52As will be used as test machines, with one later being flown as an X-15 mothership.
April 1: The Air Force is authorized to operate its own service academy.
May 7: The YF-84J test program begins. This pair of Thunderstreak testbeds have J73 powerplants rather than the inadequate J65s of the F-84F. No production F-84Js are built, as J73s are needed for the F-86H program.
July 2: Four civilians are killed when an F-94C crashes into the town of Utica, New York. The Starfire's two-man crew manages to eject before impact.
July 3: Breaking all records for long-distance jet-powered flights, a trio of Stratojets fly from Japan to March AFB, California.
June 28: First RB-66A flight. Only five of these tactical recon versions of the Destroyer are built, but they do lead to the more numerous RB-66B/C versions. One RB-66A will subsequently serve as a testbed for the commercial version of the J79 turbojet.
August: Boeing is awarded a contract for an initial order of KC-135 Stratotankers, these being tanker derivatives of the smaller 367-80 "Dash Eighty" jet transport prototype. Over seven hundred Stratotankers are to be turned out, allowing the slower and less efficient KC-97s to be retired to the ANG. The KC-135 design has four J57 jet engines, a port side cargo door, and a Flying Boom refueling system. Tremendously useful and adaptable, the C-135 series will remain in service well into the 21st Century.
August 5: First B-52A flight.
August 14: Convair hands over the final B-36J, the last piston-engined heavy bomber accepted by the USAF. Like other later Peacemaker models, the J has had much of the defensive gunnery removed to save weight.
August 23: First flight of the Lockheed YC-130 Hercules, a tactical airlift replacement for the C-119. Powered by four Allison T56 turboprops, the "Herky Bird" soon becomes the USAF's transport workhorse, eventually being evolved into an interim medium strategic airlifter, as well as filling gunship, weather recon, and electronic warfare roles. The Hercules will set the standard for all following airlifters, and remains in production at the time of writing, with over two thousand examples produced. With the early models having a cargo capacity of over twelve tons and a top speed well exceeding three hundred mph, the C-130 is vastly superior to the piston-engined C-119 and C-123, and will quickly replace both types in frontline units.
August 25: Joseph McConnell is killed at Edwards AFB in the crash of an F-86H.
August 26: Just prior to turning the X-1A over the NACA, the USAF uses the rocket plane to achieve a record altitude of 90,440 feet. The pilot for this mission is Major Arthur Murray.
August 27: During an attempted night landing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, RB-36H 51-13722 crashes in a pasture some two miles short of the base. Of the twenty-seven aboard, 24 are immediately killed and two others later succumb, making this the deadliest Peacemaker crash to date.
September 1: ADC becomes a component of the unified Continental Air Defense Command, a joint-service organization under USAF control.
September 3: Flying an F-86 Major John Armstrong sets a world 500-kilometer closed circuit speed record of 649.302mph.
September 4: Captain Edward Kenny, flying an F-84F Thunderstreak, wins the Bendix Trophy Race, averaging 616.208mph over the 1,900-mile course.
September 5: Near Vandalia, Ohio, Major Armstrong is killed in the crash of his F-86 while trying to break his own two-day old speed record.
October: The 92nd Bomb Wing deploys its entire force of B-36s to Guam as part of an exercise.
October 8: First rocket-powered flight of the Bell X-1B.
October 12: The Cessna XT-37 begins flight testing. The first all-new jet trainer design to be bought by the USAF, the diminutive "Tweet" sits the student and instructor side by side. Intended to be the first step in an all-jet training program for prospective Air Force pilots, the Tweet will prove quite successful, although all-jet training will prove to be too expensive, prompting the addition of an initial phase with piston-engined aircraft.
October 12: George Welch is killed when the F-100 he is testing disintegrates in a supersonic pull-up. This accident leads to the F-100 being fitted with extended wings and a larger vertical tail for better stability.
October 29: The first production F-100A is flown.
October 31: The one thousandth Stratojet is handed over by Boeing.
November 1: The last SAC B-29s employed in their original bomber role are phased out, although Superfortresses continue in service as tankers, recon machines, and testbeds for various programs.
November 7: Flying near Hokkaido, Japan an RB-29 crashes after being riddled by cannon shells from MiG-15s. Ten of the Superfortress crew parachute to safety, but another is killed.
December: The U-2 is born. Lockheed's "Skunk Works" is given a covert Central Intelligence Agency contract to build a spyplane capable of overflying the interior of the USSR to bring back data on Soviet bomber and ballistic missile programs. The CIA has been given control over "Operation Overflight" for political reasons, although pilots for the program are to be transferred from the USAF, and SAC will fly the aircraft, given the U-2 utility designation, for other missions starting in the summer of 1957.
Derived from the original CL-282 offerred to the USAF, the U-2's sole purpose is to take large-format cameras and electronic intelligence gear to altitudes in excess of seventy thousand feet for missions up to five thousand miles in length. Extremely lightweight, with huge wings, a J57 tuned for high-altitude flying, and bicycle landing gear, the U-2 will be one of the most challenging aircraft in the world to fly, reflected by a high accident rate. Just over fifty original U-2s are built, and although unable to fly over the USSR after 1960, these aircraft will still be valuable intelligence platforms, and the last examples will not be retired until replaced by the TR-1 derivative in the 1980s.
December 20: The reworked YF-102A takes to the air. In order to better the original YF-102's dismal performance, Convair has produced an altered design with an area-ruled or "wasp-waisted" fuselage for less drag.
December 21: On its second flight, the YF-102A succeeds in going faster than Mach 1, putting the program back on course.