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Time Flies: Marking 100 Years of Aerial Refueling

The Air Force marked the 100-year anniversary of the first aerial refueling with flyovers across all 50 states, honoring the aviators who pulled off the seemingly impossible in 1923 and celebrating the promise of current and future airmen.

Aerial refueling has brought global capabilities to U.S forces, allowing increased range, flexibility and lethality for combat aircraft, but in the early years of the 20th century, the notion was still a dream.

Three men stand next to each other.
Refueling Airmen
Maj. Henry “Hap” Arnold, left, Capt. Lowell H. Smith and 1st Lt. John P. Richter pose for a photo in front of a De Havilland DH-4B in San Diego.
Photo By: National Museum of the USAF
VIRIN: 230627-F-IO108-003A
Two men stand underneath a plane.
Refueling Airmen
Lts. Frank Seifert, left, and Virgil Hine with the refueling apparatus of their De Havilland DH-4B in early 1923.
Photo By: National Museum of the USAF
VIRIN: 230627-F-IO108-001A
But on June  27, 1923 — just 20 years after the Wright brothers' first flight — Army Air Service 1st Lts. Virgil Hine and Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline from their aircraft through a gravity hose to another plane flying beneath it piloted by Capt. Lowell H. Smith and 1st Lt. John P. Richter, a feat that unleashed the nation's air power potential.


The dynamic aircraft that took to the skies for the Air Force's "Operation Centennial Contact" flyovers served as a soaring reminder of this achievement, and a promise of innovations still to come.

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