Aviation History

USAF KC-46 and KC-135 tankers to conduct flyovers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of air refueling on Jun. 27

100th anniversary of air refueling

On Jun. 27, 2023, the US Air Force (USAF) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of air refueling with global flyover events. The 97th Air Mobility Wing will be celebrating this historic milestone by conducting air refueling in several significant locations across Oklahoma and Texas.

According to a 97th Air Mobility Wing news release, with 100 years of experience, today’s USAF air refueling capabilities deliver unrivaled rapid global reach for US forces and Allies and partners through the mobility air forces fleet of KC-46, KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. Air refueling increases the speed, range, lethality, flexibility, and versatility of combat aircraft.

“Air refueling propels our Nation’s air power across the skies, unleashing its full potential,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander. “It connects our strategic vision with operational reality, ensuring we can reach any corner of the globe with unwavering speed and precision. Air refueling embodies our resolve to defend freedom and project power, leaving an indelible mark on aviation history.”

KC-46 and KC-135 tankers.

USAF KC-46 and KC-135 tankers flyovers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of air refueling

The 97th Air Mobility Wing will be conducting a flyover utilizing the KC-46 Pegasus and KC-135 Stratotanker over the Oklahoma State Capitol, Texas State Capitol, Temple VA Hospital, as well as the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma, and Baylor University.

“Air refueling has been a cornerstone of our nation’s ability to outmaneuver our adversaries on a global scale for 100 years now,” said Col. Blaine Baker, 97th Air Mobility Wing commander. “Our demonstrations celebrating the 100th anniversary of first contact gives Mobility’s Hometown the chance to honor our history of training exceptional mobility Airmen as we continue to shape the future of mobility airpower.”

On Oct. 5, 1922, Lts. John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly set a world endurance record of 35 hours, 18 minutes, 30 seconds in their Fokker T-2 airplane over San Diego, Calif., for which they received the Mackay Trophy. Had they not run low on gasoline, they could have remained in the air until personal fatigue or mechanical difficulty with the T-2 forced them to land.

The first successful aerial refueling

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. KC-46A Pegasus 97th AMW, 56th ARS, 17-76028, Altus AFB

To eliminate the fuel limitation problem, the fliers at Rockwell Field, San Diego, developed a system for mid-air refueling between DH-4B airplanes. The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 27, 1923, when a DH-4B carrying Lts. Virgil Hine and Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B flying beneath it carrying Lts. Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter.

The next day another refueling flight was made in an attempt to break the world record set by Macready and Kelly in the T-2 on Oct. 5, 1922. Unfortunately, a gasoline valve in the receiver airplane became plugged, and Smith had to make a forced landing in some mud flats near North Island after almost a full day in the air. The airplane flipped onto its back on landing, and its propeller was cracked.

Two months later on Aug. 27-28, Smith and Richter made an endurance flight which lasted 37 hours, 15 minutes, with 16 refueling contacts. During this flight, they set 16 new world records for distance, speed and duration. On Oct. 25, 1923, Smith and Richter flew nonstop from the Canadian to the Mexican border, a distance of 1,250 miles, by being refueled three times while in the air. The theory of extending the range of an airplane by mid-air refueling became a demonstrated fact.

Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter performing the first aerial refueling on 27 June 1923. The DH-4B biplane remained aloft over the skies of Rockwell Field in San Diego, California, for 37 hours. The airfield’s logo is visible on the aircraft.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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