Billy Mitchell was the founding father of what is now the Air Force. His legacy of tragedy and triumph resonates with the proposition that success always starts with failure. The tragedy of his court martial, subsequent resignation after a long military career, and early death ended in triumph because his vision became a reality in the creation of today’s independent Air Force. Mitchell’s vision for the Air Force past and present was a theory of airpower not based on a single idea but on the combined ideas of the strategic value of airpower, operating under the command of an Airman, within a separate and independent service department. His leadership created a forward-looking organizational culture in the United States Army Air Corps and Air Forces centered on technology and airpower and that contribution is his legacy that endures in the Air Force today.
Consider first Mitchell’s leadership role in the creation of organizational culture in the United States Army Air Corps and Air Forces and the role technology played in his formation. It began with his birth in France as the son of a United States senator whose leadership style was refined by his military experience. The Army Signal Corps where Mitchell served as officer was the most technologically advanced of the Army’s branches and required familiarization with subjects ranging from aeronautics to electricity. This acceptance of the role of technology in warfare developed into a worldview embraced by Mitchell that, through his leadership, influenced the organizational culture in the Army Air Corps and Air Forces and even today’s Air Force toward an insatiable appetite for the latest technology. The burgeoning contributions of a new technology introduced as airpower influenced Mitchell who envisioned its strategic role as a rival to that of the Navy. Advances in aeronautics were quite promising for the role of airpower in the war chest but the restrictions imposed by being subordinate to the Army while...
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