Championed by a small group of Air Force Association (AFA) and Air Force Sergeant’s Association (AFSA) executives, the building of an Air Force Memorial in the National Capital Region gained momentum in 1991. Led by Mr. Oliver R. “Ollie” Crawford, the AFA president at the time and former WWII Curtiss P-40 Pilot, the Air Force Memorial Foundation incorporated as a 501c3 organization in January 1992. Authorized by Congress in 1993 to establish a national memorial honoring the men and women who have served in the United States Air Force and its predecessors, the Foundation raised funds, governed a design competition and surveyed locations in the national capital region.
The Foundation, with the assistance of the National Parks Service, surveyed 18 possible sites including the Arlington Ridge Park in the spring of 1994. While suitable and supported by two of the federal commissions governing memorials in the national capital region, the Arlington Ridge Park location became a contentious issue. Over the course of the next seven years from 1997 to 2002, the location of the Air Force Memorial would change, the enabling legislation deadline would be extended to December 2005 and a new design would be approved by the Foundation. The FY2002 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the siting of the Air Force Memorial on three acres at the former Navy Annex.
Selected by the Foundation in April 2002, the architect, James Ingo Freed, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, used the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision ‘bomb burst’ maneuver as inspiration. The design challenge to make air palpable while simultaneously evoking the continual technological advances of the Air Force resulted in the three stainless steel spires “Soaring to Glory.” From 2004 to 2006, the Centex Construction Company oversaw the work to prepare the site, construct the formal processional, parade ground and Chamber of Contemplation and build, assemble and erect the spires and the inscription walls. A bronze sculpture of an Air Force Honor Guard by Zenos Frudakis, stands as a tribute to the very essence of the Air Force, its essential humanity. Positioned at the Air Force Memorial in September 2006, the bronze Honor Guard maintains a constant “salute” day and night, to all the members of the United States Air Force and its predecessor organizations.
The Air Force Memorial is a gift to the United States and is managed by the Air Force. Dedicated on October 14, 2006, the Air Force Memorial rises on a promontory overlooking the Pentagon and the Potomac River and is the Virginia gateway into the National Memorial Corridor.