A Brief History of the US Army's Development of Aviation
Few realize that the US Army has a history in aviation that stretches all the way back to the Civil War, or that the Army was a pioneer of jet combat. In fact, it was during the Civil War that US Army soldiers first took to the skies, of course it wasn't by way of jet, but instead with hydrogen-gas-filled balloons that they then used to coordinate their artillery. Later, during World War I, planes would come to replace balloons as the Army's primary means of taking flight. During the 1930s there was much discussion of how aircraft should be utilized by the US Armed Forces, and much conflict over whether aircraft were best used as a support to ground troops or in their own separate sphere of combat. The matter was settled shortly after World War II ended with much of the Army Air Forces being spun-off to create the separate US Air Force in 1947. At the time, it was decided that the US Army should maintain their aircraft as part of the US Army Aviation Branch, with a focus on providing logistical support for troops on the ground. But this meant that after World War II, the US Army, the progenitor of the fighter jet, was left without any combat focused airplanes.
Does the US Army Have Fighter Jets?
In short, yes, the US Army still flies jets today, however, there are some caveats to discuss. While the US Army still has a few jet-style planes among its active aircraft, almost all of the Army's jets are utilitarian, as opposed to offensive, in nature. The US Army lists three C-37 jets and one C-20H among its active aircraft, which are primarily used to transport VIPs. The only other type of jet that gets regular use by the Army is its group of 27 Cessna UC-35s, which are similarly used mostly for transportation and utility purposes.
So, what has happened to the US Army's air combat abilities? Has the Army decided to just cede the sky to their adversaries? Not quite. Since the Korean War the US Army has focused its energies into furthering its air capabilities outside of traditional fixed-wing aircraft. This focus has led the Army to develop the most capable helicopter force on the planet. Since the Vietnam War, the US Army has deployed a unique mix of helicopters to meet the needs of its combat missions. The helicopters it has relied on include the MH-47 Chinook, a multi-blade helicopter suitable for multiple mission purposes, and the AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopter, both made by Boeing. Helicopters like these have given the US Army unique agility that they continue to leverage in combat.
As the Army's mission evolves, however, so does its air capabilities. To see this today, one only needs to look at the plethora of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) the US Army deploys to the skies around the world. In this way the Army's mix of aircraft continues to evolve, just as it has since the first soldier took to a hot air balloon in aid of artillery all those years ago.