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The art of aerial refueling marks 80 years

by Tech. Sgt. JR Foster
6th Air Mobility Wing historian

The refueling mission at MacDill started almost seven years ago, Oct. 1, 1996. This is the second time MacDill has been a refueling base, previously utilizing the KC-97 from 1951 through 1962.

Although the mission at MacDill is relatively young, the origin of aerial refueling itself dates back 80 years. On June 27, 1923, the first successful aerial refueling took place above Rockwell Field, San Diego, Calif. Both planes involved were Havilland DH-4Bs.

The "tanker" piloted by 1st Lt. Virgil Hine, and the "receiver" piloted by 1st Lt. Frank Seifert, transferred 75 gallons of fuel utilizing a 50-foot rubber hose dangling between the two planes. Refueling the aircraft enabled Seifert to stay airborne six hours and 38 minutes setting the first aerial flight record. It wasn't until Seifert's aircraft began having engine trouble, that he was forced to land.

Like anything else, once a record is set that immediately makes for a challenge. On Aug. 27 and 28, 1923, Hine and Seifert along with Capt. Robert Erwin and 1st Lt. Oliver McNeel set out to break the standing record.

The team worked together with two refuelers, refueling Capt. Lowell Smith and 1st Lt. John Richter. The team wanted to see just how long an airplane could stay airborne when low fuel was not an issue. Together the team was able to achieve a flight time of 37 hours and 25 minutes tallying 3,293 miles.

 

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