Founded during World War I with the emergence of military aircraft, it was dissolved after the war, as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. On February 26, 1935, Adolf Hitler ordered Hermann Göring to re-instate the Luftwaffe, although the treaty was still in force.
By 1939, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II, the Luftwaffe had become the most powerful air force in the world. As such it played a major role in Germany's early successes in the war, and formed a key part of the Blitzkrieg concept, much thanks to the use of the innovative Junkers Ju 87 dive bomber (Sturzkampfflugzeug - "Stuka"). A contingent from the Luftwaffe (The Legion Condor) was sent to support Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War with planes (notably the Ju 87) and personnel.
The inability of the Luftwaffe to control the skies in the Battle of Britain after the tactical mistake of bombing industrial targets in cities instead of British airfields formed a key point in the war, and German air power diminished further with the arrival of the Americans, though it remained strong, especially on the Soviet front. The Luftwaffe was the first air force to fly a jet fighter - the Messerschmitt Me 262.
Following the war, German aviation in general was severely curtailed, and military aviation completely forbidden until the admission of West Germany into NATO in the 1950s. Throughout the following decades, the West German Luftwaffe was equipped mostly with US-designed aircraft manufactured locally under licence. The Luftwaffe of East Germany flew Soviet-built aircraft. Since the 1970s, the Luftwaffe of West Germany and then the reunited Germany has actively pursued the construction of European combat aircraft such as the Panavia Tornado and more recently, the Eurofighter.
In 1999, for the first time since 1945 the Luftwaffe engaged in combat operations as part of the NATO-led Kosovo War. No strike sorties were flown and the role of the Luftwaffe was restricted to providing support, for example with suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) sorties.
No Luftwaffe aircraft were lost during the campaign, but the force's role proved to be controversial in Germany because of the strong sentiment still present in the population that is opposed to the use of force by Germany in international affairs.