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First Air-to-Air Refueling

The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 25, 1923. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 25, 1923. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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.

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.

Click here to return to the Endurance Flights Overview.

 

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