Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

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Refueling Innovation

Previously considered impossible prior to 1964, a handful of US Air Force pilots and civilian engineers at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB), Ohio, took the concept of helicopter aerial refueling and turned it into a reality.

Conventional thought at the time was that a helicopter was too fragile to fly behind a fixed-wing aircraft. Major Harry Dunn, working at the H-3 System Office at WPAFB, theorized that an H-3 helicopter could safely fly in the turbulent air behind a four-engine aircraft. Air Force pilot Captain Don Eastman and Sikorsky pilot Richard Wright tested Dunn’s idea.

On December 15, 1965, taking off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC, Capt Eastman and Wright, flying the CH-3, with Maj Dunn aboard a Marine Corps KC-130F, made the first probe-and-drogue connection with a helicopter. A year later, the first helicopter in-flight refueling occurred between a modified CH-3 and C-130.

In 1967, two aerial refueled HH-3Es set the long-distance record for helicopters by flying non-stop from New York to Paris, France.

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