U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Space Zine music (audio file)


Witnesses' Waltz (audio file)

Air Force Heritage of America band

Many units of the U.S. Air Force have bands, choruses, and other musical groups. This photo shows the 61-member USAF Heritage of America Band that is stationed at Langley Air Force Base.

Air Force Singing Sergeants

The Singing Sergeants, the 24-voice official chorus of the United States Air Force, is one of the world's most versatile and traveled choral organizations. Originally formed in 1945 from within the ranks of The United States Air Force Band, the chorus is now composed entirely of professional vocalists who have come from leading colleges, universities and music conservatories throughout the world; and who are all sergeants in the United States Air Force.

Air Force ceremonial band

The origins of the U.S. Air Force Ceremonial Brass trace back to 1964, when The United States Air Force Headquarters Command Band was incorporated into The United States Air Force Band as a separate ceremonial unit. Since its creation, it has evolved into an elite ensemble consisting of world-class brass players, percussionists and drum major. The Air Force Song is one of the musical compositions that the group performs regularly.

Aviation and Space Music


From Rimsky-Korsakov's classic "Flight of the Bumblebee" to World War I's "A Hymn for Aviators" through the dozens of inspired (and not so inspired) songs penned to commemorate Charles Lindbergh's epic transatlantic journey to the instrumental "Telstar", the Tornadoes rock n' roll ode to the first commercial communications satellite, flight and space travel have motivated composers and musicians to capture its mystery and freedom in song. In the century since the Wright brothers' first powered flight, tributes to aviation, pilots, rockets, astronauts, and space travel have been composed and recorded in virtually every musical genre, from classical to opera to jazz to rock n' roll.


Perhaps the earliest musical composition dedicated to aviation was "March for the Flight of an Air Balloon," composed around 1784 by Samuel Wesley, in honor of the flight of "Mr. Lunardi's Air Balloon." Vincenzo Lunardi was a ballooning pioneer, making the first lighter-than-air flight in the United Kingdom on September 15, 1784, followed by subsequent ascents in a hydrogen-filled balloon in 1785-1786.


World War I sparked many patriotic and popular songs on both sides of the Atlantic, but few acknowledged the contributions of the fledgling Air Forces, in spite of French composer Claude Debussy's boast, "The century of aeroplanes deserves its own music. As there are no precedents I must create anew." (A search of Debussy's musical compositions reveals that he did not fulfill his promise).


The May 1927 transatlantic solo flight of Charles A. Lindbergh inspired at least 300 songs with Lindbergh-related themes to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office within two years of that pioneering flight. L. Wolfe Gilbert and Abel Baer's hit tribute, "Lucky Lindy," was completed just as word of Lindbergh's safe landing at Paris' Le Bourget field was broadcast over the radio; within two days, sheet music went on sale and the song was being played at New York nightclubs. A popular foxtrot dance named the "Lindy" swept the country (though, within a decade, the "Lindy" was renamed as the "jitterbug" in response to Lindbergh's unpopular views about Nazi Germany).


Other famous composers, most notably George M. Cohan ("When Lindy Comes Home"), Woodie Guthrie ("Lindbergh") and the "Tin Pan Alley" songwriting team of DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson ("This Song Is Not about Lindbergh", a satire), achieved commercial success with their compositions, but the vast majority of Lindbergh-related songs such as "Lucky Lindy Do," "The Eagle of the Sea: Montana's Official Lindbergh Song," and 30 different versions titled "Spirit of St. Louis" are forever mired in obscurity. A more notable orchestral work, "The Lindbergh Flight" ("Der Lindberghflug"), a radio cantana by German composers Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht, was broadcast in 1930 by the British Broadcasting Company and Radio Paris (via relays from Berlin Radio), complete with narration in German, French, and English.


The Second World War provided the inspiration for "aviation music" such as Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson's 1943 hit "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer," a favorite among aviators on both sides of the Atlantic. Most notable are the soundtracks to movies about wartime aviators and battles. British composer Ron Goodwin wrote and conducted the music to 61 feature films, including the Battle of Britain, Where Eagles Dare, 633 Squadron, and less seriously, the theme to the lighthearted 1965 movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Other notable military aviation works include Victor Young's score for 1955's Strategic Air Command and Jerry Goldsmith's music for Tora! Tora! Tora!, the 1970 film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Harold Faltermeyer's driving "Top Gun Anthem" and Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" provided the musical backdrop to the 1986 movie about modern-day fighter jocks, Top Gun.


Probably the most famous flying song of all time, with its opening line of "Off we go into the wild blue yonder" known by young and old alike and probably found in every school music anthology in America, was composed in response to a 1938 contest sponsored by Liberty magazine for a "spirited, enduring musical composition" to become the official song of the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force). Known today simply as "The Air Force Song," composer Robert Crawford's score was selected from a field of 757 entries and was officially introduced at the 1939 Cleveland Air Races with Crawford singing the lyrics. In a historical footnote, the first page of Goodwin's score was carried to the Moon on the 1971 Apollo 15 mission by its all-Air Force crew of Col. David Scott, Lt. Col. James Irwin and Maj. Alfred Worden. A worldwide television audience listened to a taped recording of the "Air Force Song" broadcast by Worden in the orbiting Command Module Endeavour as the Lunar Module Falcon, piloted by Scott and Irwin, blasted off from the lunar surface.


Space travel has also been the subject of popular music, starting with a 1917 orchestral suite composed by Gustav Holst titled "The Planets," one of the most influential and best loved musical representations of outer space. Another classical composition by Richard Strauss, "Also Sprach Zarathustra," was selected as the theme to the landmark 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Orchestra leader Les Baxter's 1950 album "Music Out of the Moon" featured the sounds of the mysterious theremin (an electronic musical instrument) along with other unusual instruments and wordless vocals, creating a unique "space sound" that is often duplicated. In fact, selections from the album were carried on the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission at the request of commander Neil Armstrong.


The 1957 launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union motivated a group named Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos to record a rock n' roll song titled "Sputnik" (Satellite Girl)" with its meaningful lyrics of "we're goin' to get a kick out of a little thing called a Sputnik ...Flying all around the world, like a crazy satellite girl." The epic 1961 flight of the first human in space, the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin, inspired Soviet composers to record such memorable tributes as "The Constellation of Gagarin" and "Motherland Knows Her Son is Flying in Orbit."


The pioneering space missions of the Mercury astronauts, particularly John Glenn's 1962 orbital flight, were the theme for a number of then popular, but quickly forgotten, songs as "The Ballad of John Glenn" by Roy West, "The Epic Ride of John H. Glenn" by Walter Brennan and the Johnny Mann Singers and "Happy Blues for John Glenn" by Houston blues-man Sam "Lightnin" Hopkins.


Popular music dating from the 1960s into the new millennium has continued to reflect the public's fascination with aviation and spaceflight. Jimmy Webb's whimsical 1968 "Up, Up and Away (in my Beautiful Balloon)," recorded by the 5th Dimension, won four Grammy Awards including Song of the Year; the simply titled "Flying"was recorded by The Beatles in 1967 for their Magical Mystery Tour album; The Byrds hymn-like "Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins" commemorated the Apollo 11 lunar landing; David Bowie's 1969 song about a stranded astronaut, "Space Oddity," became a hit at the time of the first Apollo lunar landings, later proving to be strangely prophetic, the near-tragedy of Apollo 13 occurred only months after the song's release; and Bill Conti's theme to the 1983 movie about test pilots and the Mercury astronauts, "The Right Stuff," won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.


The space shuttle era has also provided subject matter for songwriters and musicians. The maiden voyage of shuttle Columbia was celebrated with "Blast Off Columbia,"by Roy McCall and Southern Gold and "Countdown," recorded by the Canadian group Rush. America's first woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride, was the heroine in 1983's "Ride Sally Ride" by Casse Culver (who borrowed liberally from Wilson Pickett's 1960's hit "Mustang Sally" which featured a "ride Sally ride" refrain). The most moving space song to-date has been 1987's "Flying for Me," a tribute to the crew of the ill-fated shuttle Challenger, written and recorded by singer/songwriter John Denver, himself a early candidate to become a civilian passenger on the shuttle. Tragically, Denver's life was also cut short when the lightweight experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay, California in 1997.


Today, a number of new artists continue to use space as a theme for their music. The popular Dave Matthews Band's 1993 song "Satellite" with its evocative lyrics of "Satellite in my eyes ...Like a diamond in the sky... How I wonder. Satellite strung from the moon... And the world your balloon... Peeping Tom for the mother station" is a staple of adult contemporary radio. The National Space Society has even issued a CD of space music.


Beautiful music can be found anywhere in the cosmos. Using detection instruments on several NASA deep-space probes as Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini, University of Iowa physicist Dr. Don Gurnett recorded the plasma waves that course through the thin, electrically charged gas pervading the near vacuum of outer space. These recordings were converted into sounds by Dr. Gurnett, which, in turn, inspired a 10-movement musical composition titled "Sun Rings," establishing the new genre of "deep space music."


-Roger Guillemette


Online sources:

"Charles Lindbergh: An American Aviator. Charles Lindbergh Music." http://www.charleslindbergh.com/music/index.asp

"MusicSpace: Listening to the Cosmos... " http://www.hobbyspace.com/Music/

"NASA Music Out of This World." NASA Release 02-207, October 24, 2002. http://www.nasa.gov/releases/2002/02_207.html (includes links to "sounds")

Forman, MSgt Peter D. History of the Air Force Song. U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. http://www.af.mil/accband/sounds/airforce_song.html

Fries, Colin. "Space Milestones in Song." http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/music_tributes_000822.html

Lichtmann, Kurt. "Lindy: The Man and the Dance." http://people.cornell.edu/pages/kpl5/Char_les1.html

Scowcroft, Philip L. "Aviation in British Music." Classical Music on the Web. http://www.musicweb.force9.co.uk/music/Aviation.html

"Songs of the U.S. Air Force." http://www.af.mil/accband/sounds/afsongs.html

"Witnesses’ Waltz" performed by Kristoph Klover, from the album "To Touch the Stars" - Various Artists on Prometheus Music


Further Reading:

Farmer, Henry George. The Rise & Development of Military Music. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Tuso, Joseph F. Singing the Vietnam Blues: Songs of the Air Force in Southeast Asia. College Station: Texas: A&M University Press, 1990.

White, William Carter. A History of Military Music in America. New York: The Exposition Press, 1944.


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Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 4

Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 7

Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.