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Aerospace Defense Command
Air Defense Command.png
Air Defense Command emblem, later Aerospace Defense Command
Active 1946–1979
Country United States
Branch United States Army Air Forces
United States Air Force
(1947–1948) (1951–1979)
Type Major Command
Garrison/HQ Ent Air Force Base Colorado
CONAD (all caps) redirects here; for the Italian supermarket chain, see Conad (upper and lower case)

Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), was a major command of the United States Air Force from 1946 to 1979. Its mission was to provide air defense of the United States.




World War II

World War II Air Defense Districts and Numbered Air Forces.

The organization was created by the War Department as the Air Defense Command on February 26, 1940. As a component of the U.S. First Army, its mission was to plan for and execute the air defense of the continental United States.

During World War II, the ADC operated four distinct air defense districts within the US. These were:

The primary mission of these Air Districts initially was to fly antisubmarine patrols. By the fall of 1942 these patrols, in conjunction with naval operations, had succeeded in driving off the German U-boat packs that had been taking such a heavy toll of shipping in the western Atlantic Ocean. In addition, ADC flew patrols in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean Sea, and along the west coast of the United States.

The antisubmarine mission was turned over to the Navy in 1943, and for the balance of the war, these commands trained aircrews for overseas deployments to the various war theaters. Later, as the threat of an attack by enemy forces on the US homeland diminished, they were primarily engaged in replacement crew training.

The ADC Air District structure was abolished in April 1944 along with Air Defense Command. The numbered air forces and their training mission was turned over to the USAAF Continental Air Forces training command.

Postwar History


  • Established as Air Defense Command on March 21, 1946
Activated as a major command on March 27, 1946
Became a subordinate operational command of Continental Air Command on December 1, 1948
Discontinued on July 1, 1950
  • Reestablished as a major command, and organized, on January 1, 1951
Redesignated Aerospace Defense Command on January 15, 1968
Inactivated on March 31, 1980.



Regions of ADC Air Defense Forces and known Air Force Bases with ADC units, 1949 – 1960
Note: States containing ADC bases of Western & Central ADF and Eastern & Central ADF identified as Central/Western and Central/Eastern

Air Forces

  • First Air Force, March 21, 1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – December 31, 1969
  • Second Air Force, June 6, 1946 – July 1, 1948
  • Fourth Air Force, March 21, 1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – September 30, 1969
  • Tenth Air Force, March 21, 1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – October 8, 1976
  • Eleventh Air Force*, May 13, 1946 - 1 July 1948
  • Fourteenth Air Force, March 21, 1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – October 8, 1976

.Note: Assigned to Olmsted AFB, Pennsylvania, but never equipped or manned. Not to be confused with Eleventh Air Force, which was assigned to Alaskan Air Command

Defense Forces

March 1, 1951 – January 1, 1960
September 1, 1949 – January 1, 1960
September 1, 1949 – July 1, 1960

After January 1, 1960, the ADC Air Defense forces were replaced by regional Air Defense Sectors assigned to various air divisions, to which ADC allocated its CONUS forces. In addition, in 1962, ADC assumed Icelandic defense mission from Military Air Transport Service.

July 1, 1962 – October 1, 1979

Divisions (Assigned to ADC)

July 14, 1961 – July 1, 1968
January 20 – April 1, 1966; November 19, 1969 – October 1, 1979
November 19, 1969 – October 1, 1979
November 19, 1969 – October 1, 1979
December 1, 1969 – October 1, 1979
July 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966; December 1, 1969 – October 1, 1979
August 1, 1959 – April 1, 1966; December 1, 1969 – October 1, 1979
January 20 – April 1, 1966
July 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966
January 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966
July 1, 1959 – April 1, 1966
January 20 – April 1, 1966
January 20 – April 1, 1966
January 1, 1960 – July 1, 1961; January 20 – April 1, 1966
January 20 – April 1, 1966
January 20 – April 1, 1966
January 20, 1966 – September 30, 1969
December 1, 1969 – June 1, 1970
April 1, 1957 – July 1, 1963

Operational History

The second iteration of Air Defense Command (ADC) was established on March 21, 1946 as a component of the United States Army Air Forces. The mission of ADC was defined to provide for the air defense of the United States. ADC was headquartered at Mitchel Army Airfield, New York.

As a result of limited budgets Air Defense Command was incorporated into Continental Air Command (ConAC) on December 1, 1948 and reduced to an operating agency. This was the result of an effort by the new USAF to concentrate all fighter forces deployed within the continental United States to strengthen the air defense of the North American continent.

The air defense mission received much more attention as Cold War tensions heightened. Following the explosion of a nuclear weapon by the Soviet Union in August 1949, the Air Force issued requirements for an operational air defense system by 1952. The perceived threat of an airborne atomic attack by the Soviet Union with its Tu-4 copy of the B-29 or Tu-95 strategic bomber force to the separation of Air Defense Command from ConAC, and its reestablishment as an Air Force major command, effective January 1, 1951 to counter the perceived Soviet threat. The reestablished Air Defense Command was headquartered at Ent AFB, Colorado.

Fighter Defense

North American P-51D-25-NT Mustang Serial 44-84857 of the Minnesota Air National Guard in the early 1950s. This aircraft is now in private hands as civil registration N5019F.
1952 photo of Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfires of the 27th Air Division's 354th Fighter Interceptor Squadron based at Oxnard AFB, California. Serial 51-5642 is in foreground.
The 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron showing off their brand-new Starfighters at Hamilton AFB California in 1958. Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighters 56-0772 and 56-0776 are identifable
Convair F-102A-65-CO Delta Dagger Serial 56-1206 of the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Texas Air National Guard, Ellington AFB.
Convair F-106A-130-CO Delta Dart Serial 59-0119 of the Air Defense Weapons Center, Tyndall AFB Florida, 1979. This aircraft was retired in 1983, converted to a QF-106 Drone and expended over the White Sands Missile Range near Holloman AFB, NM on September 13, 1991.

The growth and development of the ADC air defense system grew steadily throughout the Cold War era. From four day-type fighter squadrons (FDS) in 1946, the ADC interceptor force grew to ninety-three (93) active Air Force fighter interceptor squadrons, seventy-six (76) Air National Guard fighter interceptor squadrons, several Naval fighter squadrons, USAF and USN airborne early warning squadrons, radar squadrons, training squadrons and numerous support units that have played important roles in our nation's defense.

Interceptor aircraft of Aerospace Defense Command were:

  • Republic F-47D/N Thunderbolt
  • North American F-51D/H Mustang
  • Northrop F-61C Black Widow
    With the end of World War II, large numbers of wartime pistoned-engined fighters were allocated for air defense mission. The long range P-47N/P-51H models, developed for the invasion of Japan, were especially well-suited for the air defense role and were used into the mid-1950s by Air National Guard units. Generally P-47s were based east of the Mississippi River, while P-51s were stationed to the west. The twin-engined P-61 night fighter was the first American aircraft specifically designed from the outset for the night fighting role, and with its long range was also well-suited for air defense. On June 11, 1948, the newly-formed United States Air Force eliminated the P-for-pursuit category and replaced it with F-for-fighter.
  • North American F-82F/G Twin Mustang
    In 1948, the F and G night-fighter versions of the Twin Mustang were placed in service with the Air Defense Command. They were painted all-black and had flame-damped exhausts and replaced the F-61 Black Widow by 1949. It was anticipated that the service life of the Twin Mustang would be relatively brief, since the F-82 was seen as only an interim type, filling in the gap only until adequate numbers of jet fighters could be made available. In 1950, some units based in the United States were already beginning to replace their Twin Mustangs with jets.
  • Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star
    In 1948, F-80Cs began to reach operational ADC units, the first being the 57th Interceptor Group (64th, 65th, and 66th Squadrons) based in Alaska. However, during the Korean War the introduction of the MiG-15 into Korean combat On November 1, 1950 proved to be a nasty surprise. It was soon apparent that the F-80C was no match for the swept-wing MiG-15, being almost 100 mph slower than its Russian-built opponent. F-80s were withdrawn from Korea and served in ADC units for a few years before being sent to Air Force Reserve squadrons where they were flown until the late 1950s.
  • Lockheed F-94 Starfire
    Between 1950 and 1953, the F-94 played a vital role in the defense of the continental United States from attack by nuclear-armed Soviet Tu 4 bombers. It was the only jet-powered all-weather interceptor available in quantity at that time, and filled in a vital gap until more advanced equipment could be provided.
  • Republic F-84 Thunderjet
    Versions of the F-84 were used by ADC groups in the early 1950s, however during the Korean War it was found that the straight-winged F-84E was much too slow to match the swept-wing Soviet MiG-15. The total air-to-air score ended up as nine MiGs downed as opposed to 18 Thunderjets lost, which gave the Thunderjet a 2 to 1 inferiority against the MiG-15.
  • Northrop F-89 Scorpion
    The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was one of the primary defenders of North American airspace during the Cold War. Production was authorized in January 1949, with the first production F-89A entering USAF service in September 1950. The final production model, the F-89H served with the ADC through 1959 and with the Air National Guard through 1969.
  • North American F-86D/L Sabre
    The F-86D was the interceptor version of the F-86 Sabre air superiority fighter. The F-86D was originally designated as the F-95A, however for political reasons the designation of the F-95 was changed to F-86D on July 24, 1950. The F-86D entered ADC service in 1953 however it only saw active ADC service for a few years. The phaseout of the F-86D from the ADC began in August 1956, and was essentially complete by April 1958. As ADC F-86Ds were phased out, some of them were turned over to the Air National Guard. Many of the ANG's F-86Ds were quickly supplanted by F-86Ls, and by June 1961, the F-86D no longer appeared on either the USAF or ANG rolls. The F-86L was the designation given to late-1950s conversions of existing USAF F-86Ds to use the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) datalink system. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, six ANG F-86L squadrons were on alert. The last F-86Ls were withdrawn from ANG service during the summer of 1965.
  • Convair F-102 Delta Dagger
    The single-seat F-102 was ADC's first supersonic interceptor that could exceed Mach 1 in level flight with area ruling and internally carried Falcon and Genie missles. It soon became the backbone of the United States air defenses beginning with its introduction in 1956, replacing subsonic types. F-102s served in large numbers with both Air Force and Air National Guard units well into the 1970s. George W. Bush, later President of the United States, flew the F-102 as part of his Air National Guard service in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the mid-1970s, F-102s began to be converted to QF-102 drones under the Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) program.
  • Lockheed F-104A Starfighter
    By 1958 delays in the delivery and development of the Convair F-106A Delta Dart Mach 2+ fighter-interceptor for ADC Command had at that time become worrisome, and the USAF decided to go ahead and accept the F-104As originally destined for the TAC and assign them to the ADC as a stopgap measure. The selection of the F-104A for the ADC was sort of curious, since it had not been originally designed as an interceptor and it lacked an adequate endurance and had no all-weather capability. However, its high climb rate made it attractive to the ADC and it was hoped that the Starfighter could fill in until the F-106 became available. The F-104A was not very well suited for service as an interceptor. Its low range was a problem for North American air defense, and its lack of all-weather capability made it incapable of operating in conjunction with the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system. Most F-104As were replaced by the end of 1960, however the 319th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Homestead AFB Florida retained their F-104As until the unit was deactivated in 1969. The last USAF F-104 aircraft remained in service with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard until 1975.
  • McDonnell F-101B/F Voodoo
    With the relative failure of the F-104A in the interceptor role, ADC units were re-equipped with the F-101B Voodoo. The F-101Bs were modified versions of the SAC F-101A nuclear attack aircraft (designed for one-way missions carrying tactical nuclear weapons) by modifying the avionics systems and fire control systems for air to air missiles. The last F-101Bs were delivered in March 1961, and once the teething troubles with its fire control system issues were corrected, the F-101B proved to be a quite successful interceptor. Along with the F-101Bs, The dual-seat F-101F trainer was also flown. F-101Fs were equipped with dual controls, but carried the same armament as the F-101B and were fully combat-capable. The F-101 was operated by both Regular Air Force and Air National Guard ADC units.
  • Convair F-106A Delta Dart
    The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was considered by many as being the finest all-weather interceptor ever built. It was the primary air defense interceptor aircraft for the US Air Force from the 1960s through the early 1980s. It was also was the last dedicated interceptor in U.S. Air Force service to date. It was gradually retired during the 1980s, though the QF-106 drone conversions of the aircraft were used until 1998 as aerial targets under the FSAT program.

RADAR Defense

A rough map of the RADAR warning lines

By 1953, a modern United States continental RADAR system had been completed and additional radar units were programmed to blanket the country with medium and high-altitude radar cover. At the same time, the decision was made to extend radar coverage as far from the American borders as possible. An agreement with Canada for mutual defense resulted in the extension of radar coverage into southern Canada in 1952 (the Pinetree Line), and permission was granted by the USAF to erect the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, which became operational under ADC control in 1958. The DEW line consisted of radars and continuous-wave stations along the Arctic Circle from Alaska to Greenland.

Coverage of BMEWS is shown in red, complementing the coverage provided by the PAVE PAWS system in blue. Coverage for both systems extends over the North Pole and both report back to Cheyenne Mountain Air Base in Colorado.

The massive construction project employed over 25,000 people. The line consisted of sixty-three stations stretching from Alaska to Baffin Island, covering almost 10,000 km. The project was finished in 1957 and was considered an engineering marvel. The next year, the line became a cornerstone of the new NORAD organization of joint continental air defence.

Quite quickly after its completion, the DEW line lost much of its purpose. It was useless against ICBMs and submarine-launched attacks. A number of stations were decommissioned, but the bulk were retained to monitor potential Soviet air activities and to assert Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

Work was begun in 1953 to erect a number of off-shore radars platforms known as Texas Towers to extend the range of RADAR into the Atlantic Ocean. To provide even more distant off-shore coverage, the Airborne Early Warning program was begun, consisting of two wings of Lockheed RC-121 Warning Stars. The RC-121s, EC-121s and Texas Towers, it was believed, would contribute to extending contiguous east-coast radar coverage some 300 to 500 miles seaward. In terms of the air threat of the 1950’s, this meant a gain of at least 30 extra minutes warning time of an oncoming bomber attack.

One of the Texas Towers (TT-4) collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean with significant loss of life in January 1961. The tragedy of TT-4, as much as anything else, sealed the fate of the others. While both remaining towers were immediately checked for safety and structural strength, and pronounced sound in this regard, their days were numbered. The entire project was ended in 1963, and the remaining facilities were decommissioned and sunk in 1964.

To provide far distant early warning of missile attacks, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was begun in 1958, with huge radar stations destined for Alaska, Greenland and England. These radars were capable of detecting missiles in flight, deep in the Soviet Union or in other similarly distant territory.

SAGE Air Defense System

SAGE operator's terminal. The light gun is resting on the terminal. The terminal's desk contains a built-in ash tray just left of the light gun.

In 1953, development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system began. It was destined to become the nerve center of air defense. It was an automated control system used by NORAD for collecting, tracking and intercepting enemy bomber aircraft from the late 1950s into the 1980s. In later versions, the system could automatically direct aircraft to an interception by sending commands directly to the aircraft's autopilot.

The first of the SAGE sectors was put into operation in July 1958, and was rapidly joined by others in the eastern and northern United States during 1959 and 1960. This electronic network is based on the provision of digital computers and ancillary data-transmitting equipment at strategic locations throughout the country. A major purpose of this system is to provide instantaneous information to interceptor aircraft in flight as well as trigger other defensive measures.

By the time it was fully operational the Soviet bomber threat had been replaced by the Soviet missile threat, for which SAGE was entirely inadequate. Nevertheless, SAGE was tremendously important. It led to huge advances in online systems and interactive computing, real-time computing, and data communications using modems. It is generally considered to be one of the most advanced and successful large computer systems ever developed.

Anti-Aircraft Missiles

Bomarc missile launch

for list of BOMARC missile units.

The Bomarc Missile Program (BOMARC IM-99A) was a joint United States of America-Canada effort between 1957 and 1971 to protect against the USSR bomber threat. It involved the deployment of tactical stations armed with Bomarc missiles along the east and west coasts of North America and the central areas of the continent.

The supersonic Bomarc missiles were the first long-range anti-aircraft missiles in the world. They were capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads. Their intended role in defence was in an intrusion prevention perimeter. Bomarcs aligned on the eastern and western coasts of North America would theoretically launch and destroy enemy bombers before the bombers could drop their payloads on industrial regions.

BOMARC and the SAGE guidance system were phased out in the late sixties as they were ineffective and costly. When the BOMARC missile was phased out, the SAGE guidance system (TDDL, Time-Division Data Link) continued to be used for sending commands to Nike missiles and interceptor autopilots.

NORAD Development

The command and control of the massive North American air defense system was a significant challenge. Discussions and studies of joint systems between the United States and Canada had been ongoing since the early 1950s and culminated on August 1, 1957, with the announcement by the U.S. and Canada to establish an integrated command, the North American Air Defense Command. On September 12 operations commenced in Colorado. A formal NORAD agreement between the two governments was signed on May 12, 1958.

Phasedown and deactivation

On 15 January 1968 Air Defense Command was redesignated as Aerospace Defense Command, reflecting a shift in emphasis from soley bomber defense to the operation of a system to detect and track ballistic missles and space satellites as the threat of enemy aircraft over United States airspace sharply diminished. Many ADC units were consolidated during the 1970s, and as the air defense of the United States shifted more and more to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, the need for ADC diminished. Many ADC Radar Squadrons and Air Defense Groups (Radar Squadrons with BUIC computers) continued operating well into the 1970s.

On 1 July 1973 consolidation of the staffs of Continental Air Command and ADC began in a streamlining move. Six months later in Feb 1973, ADC was reduced to 20 fighter squadrons and a complete phaseout of air defense missile batteries. Continental Air Command was disestablished on 1 Jul 1975 and ADC was designated as a specific command, reporting directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for operational control.

Lastly, as part of a realignment of military assets, Aerospace Defense Command was inactivated as a Major Command on 1 October 1979. All assets of ADC were reassigned to Heqdquarters, Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC). which was established compatible to a Numbered Air Force under TAC. With this move many Air National Guard units that had an air defense mission also came under the control of TAC. ADTAC was headquartered at North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ent AFB Colorado. In essence, Tactical Air Command became the old Continental Air Command.

The Aerospace Defense Command was disestablished on March 31, 1980.

ADC Historical Timeline

March 27, 1946 
The United States Army Air Force activates the Air Defense Command at Mitchel Field (later, Mitchel Air Force Base), New York
December 1, 1948 
The United States Air Force establishes the Continental Air Command under both the Air Defense Command and Tactical Air Command
June 27, 1950 
United States air defense systems begins 24-hour operations two days after the start of the Korean War
July 1, 1950 
Air Defense Command deactivated because the Continental Air Command gradually assumed full charge of United States air defense
January 1, 1951 
Air Defense Command re-established, again at Mitchel Field
January 8, 1951 
Air Defense Command headquarters moves from Mitchel Field to Ent Air Force Base, Colorado
July 14, 1952 
Air Defense Command begins 24-hour Ground Observer Corps operations
September 1, 1954 
The Continental Air Defense Command is established at Ent Air Force Base as a joint-service force, taking control of Air Force Air Defense Command forces, Army Anti-Aircraft Command forces, and Naval air defense forces
September 12, 1957 
The North American Air Defense Command is established at Ent Air Force Base as an international organization, taking operational control of Canadian Air Defense Command air defense units and United States Continental Air Defense Command air defense units
July 31, 1959 
The Ground Observer Corps, active since July 1952, is abolished because of improvements in radar technology
January 15, 1968 
Air Defense Command is redesignated as Aerospace Defense Command
July 1, 1973 
Continental Air Defense Command and Aerospace Defense Command headquarters begins consolidation and streamlining
February 4, 1974 
The Department of Defense announces plans for cutbacks in air defense forces showing increasing emphasis on ballistic missile attack warning and decreasing emphasis on bomber defense
June 30, 1974 
Continental Air Defense Command dis-established
July 1, 1975 
Aerospace Defense Command designated a "Specified Command" taking over Continental Air Defense Command roles and responsibilities
October 1, 1979 
Aerospace Defense Command inactivated as a Major Command; Air Defense, Tactical Air Command established as a Numbered Air Force equivalent under Tactical Air Command

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links


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