Tactical Aviation Rotor

The Air Force celebrated 100 years of aerial refueling

Since the first successful aerial refueling, the Air Force has mastered the art and used it to project air power for 100 years.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
refueling mid air
A KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle test aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on Oct. 29th, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt Michael Jackson).

On June 27, 1923, the U.S. Army Air Service did something that had never been done before. 1st Lts. Virgil Hine and Frank W. Seifert used a gravity hose to pass gasoline from their DH-4B biplane to another DH-4B piloted by Capt. Lowell H. Smith and 1st Lt. John P. Richter. Since that first successful aerial refueling, the Air Force has mastered the art and used it to project air power for 100 years.

army air service aerial refueling
The art of aerial refueling began in 1923 (U.S. Air Force)

On June 27, 2023, the Air Force conducted flyovers across all 50 states to celebrate the 100th anniversary of aerial refueling. Over 150 tanker aircraft from 26 bases participated in the event. The Air Force’s tanker fleet consists of the KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-10 Extender and KC-46 Pegasus. Acting as gas stations in the sky, these planes provide the Air Force, its sister branches and America’s allies with unrivaled reach to conduct missions around the world.

aerial refueling
Aerial refueling allows aircraft to extend their range beyond the fuel that they can carry (U.S. Air Force)

Simply put, without aerial tankers, the Air Force couldn’t do what it does. “Air refueling propels our nation’s airpower across the skies, unleashing its full potential,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, in a public affairs release. “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.”

The KC-135 was the Air Force’s first jet-powered tanker and Boeing’s first production jet (U.S. Air Force)

The aerial refueling mission is the responsibility of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. Looking to the future, the Air Force and AMC are phasing out the KC-135 for the newer KC-46. Despite new aircraft and technology, the most important factor remains the airmen using them. “As we embark on the next 100 years of air refueling, we will continue to strengthen our air mobility excellence,” Gen. Minihan said. “We must leverage the remarkable capabilities of air refueling to preserve peace, protect freedom and bring hope to the world. As Mobility Airmen, we write the next chapter of air refueling.”