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On Walkabout At: The US Air Force Academy

Basic Information

  • Place: US Air Force Academy
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Price: Free
  • More Info: USAF Academy website

Narrative

There is nothing in the Colorado Springs region that is more iconic than the beautiful Pikes Peak.  After that great peak I would have to say that the thing that most Americans remember about Colorado Springs is that it is also home to the US Air Force Academy:

The Air Force Academy is located just north of Colorado Springs and is the premier military school for officer candidates wanting to join the Air Force:


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The best place to start any tour of the Academy is by stopping by and checking out the Visitor Center:

The Visitor Center is easy to find with signs on all the major roads pointing visitors towards this facility.  The Visitor Center is located very close to the main campus which is spectacularly situated at the base of the rugged Rampart Range:

The Visitor Center has a number of displays about the history of the Academy and what the life of a cadet is like:

The US Air Force Academy is the youngest of the five military academies in the US having graduated its first class in 1959.  Cadets that enter the Academy has to receive a Congressional nomination by showing superior academic, leadership, and physical fitness traits.  The incoming freshmen classes usually have 1,200 students with about a 1,000 of them eventually graduating 4 years later.

Here is an interesting map that they had posted in the Visitor Center that shows with push pins the home states of each cadet at the Academy:

From the Visitor Center there is a short trail that takes visitors over to the main campus area:

The trail is about a half mile long and ascends up a small hill that provides some nice views of the Academy:

The trail ends at the most recognizable structure at the Academy, its beautiful Cadet Chapel:

According to its Wikipedia entry, the Cadet Chapel was completed in 1962 and was designed by renowned architect Walter Netsch. Construction was accomplished by Robert E. McKee, Inc., of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Originally controversial in its design, the Cadet Chapel has become a classic and highly regarded example of modernist architecture. The Cadet Chapel was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Inside the chapel on the top floor is the large meeting room for Protestant services since they make up the bulk of the religious denomination of the cadets.  This room can hold 1,200 people:

This main chapel room besides having its stunning appearance also had this impressive organ on display:

On the lower floors there are worship areas for Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic services.  I didn’t have time to walk down there and check out those rooms but I doubt they could be anywhere near as impressive as the Protestant area of worship.

Outside the chapel is the main campus area which was designed as a square pavilion known as The Terrazzo. The name comes from the terrazzo tiles that compose the main walkways like a checkerboard. The Terrazzo area was designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley.

Here is a F-15 that was on display on one of the corners of the square:

To the west of the main campus are beautiful views of the Rampart Range:

Besides checking out the Visitor Center and the main campus area it is well worth taking a cruise around the Academy grounds to see some of the aircraft static displays they have such as this B-52 near the Northgate entrance:

Here is a picture on an A-10:

Finally here is one of the Air Force’s famed Thunderbirds aircraft:

Aircraft static displays are not the only thing to see driving around the Academy, odds are pretty good that you may spot some of the local wildlife as well:

Conclusion

The US Air Force Academy is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Colorado Springs with about a million people visiting the Academy every year.  For those with the time available is well worth taking a half day to check out the Visitor Center and drive around the Academy.  For those that find anything military related boring then I highly recommend passing on a visit to the Academy because that is all there is to see there.  For those that like doing some hiking though, the Stanley Canyon Trail is open to the public that starts at the Academy.  This trail is well worth checking out even for those who find military related stuff boring.

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