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100th Anniversary of Air Refueling Operation

  • Published
  • 126th Air Refueling Wing & 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The United States Air Force invited the American public on June 27 to observe flyovers of our air refuelers above communities across the country and around the world, honoring 100 years of aerial refueling excellence.

Aircrews assigned to the 126th Air Refueling Wing, an Illinois Air National Guard unit, and the U.S. Air Force’s 906th Air Refueling Squadron, both stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, will perform total force flyovers in Missouri with two KC-135 Stratotankers. 

The aircraft was visible over Swope Park and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City at 11:48 a.m., and over the Mississippi River, passing in front of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis at 12:40.

The flight will also feature an aerial refueling rendezvous with two B-2 Spirit Bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

With 100 years of experience, today’s U.S. Air Force air refueling capabilities deliver unrivaled rapid global reach for U.S. forces and our Allies and partners through the mobility air forces fleet of KC-46, KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. Aerial refueling serves as a force multiplier, increasing the speed, range, lethality, flexibility and versatility of combat aircraft. Tankers also carry cargo and passengers, perform aeromedical evacuations, and enable strategic deterrence for the United States.

“Air refueling propels our Nation’s air power across the skies, unleashing its full potential,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander. “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.”

Innovation and tenacity, hallmark characteristics of Airmen throughout the service’s history, delivered the game-changing capability, once deemed impossible.

In the continued pursuit of advanced capabilities and increased endurance, U.S. Army Air Service aviators pulled off the impossible on June 27, 1923. On that day, 1st Lt. Virgil Hine and 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert, flying a DH-4B, passed gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B flying beneath it carrying Capt. Lowell H. Smith and 1st Lt. John P. Richter, accomplishing the first aerial refueling.

One hundred years later, the United States Air Force celebrates these Airmen’s tenacity and innovative will that is still thriving in Airmen’s spirits today. 

This critical capability is essential for the Department of Defense’s most vital missions. To remain relevant in the current and future security environments, the Air Force is in the process of recapitalizing its tanker fleet with the ongoing acquisition of the KC-46A and accelerating its pursuit of the next-generation air refueling system (NGAS), announced in March – propelling forward the capability developed and entrusted to Airmen a century ago.

“As we embark on the next 100 years of air refueling, we will continue to strengthen our air mobility excellence,” said Minihan. “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.”

Air Mobility Command salutes the visionaries who challenged the status quo of yesteryears while we inspire the next generation of dreamers and out-of-the box thinkers for the challenges ahead.  

The primary mission of the 126th Air Refueling Wing is to provide air refueling support to major commands of the Air Force as well as other U.S. military forces and the military forces of allied nations. In addition to air-to-air refueling of military aircraft, the unit provides trained, capable men and women who are ready to defend our nation anywhere in the world; to protect our state through civil defense and disaster relief; and to serve in the surrounding communities.

For more information, please contact Ken Stephens at the 126th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office, phone: (618) 222-5761. You can also view the unit fact sheets at https://www.126arw.ang.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/ .