27 June 2008
Celebrate June 27
On 27 June 1923, Capt Lowell H. Smith and Lt John P. Richter performed the first ever inflight refueling, in a DH4B biplane (an early DeHavilland); they received 75 gallons of fuel from a tanker (also a DH4B) flown by Lts Virgil Hine and Frank Seifert. Smith and Hine flew the aircraft while Richter and Seifert handled the refueling duties; essentially, Seifert dangled a 50-foot length of rubber house out of the back cockpit, while Smith flew the aircraft into position so that Richter could reach out and grab the hose. Richter then plugged it into an opening in the gas tank, and he and Seifert both opened manual quick-release valves at each end of the hose. The fuel was then gravity transferred; no pumps. We've come a long way since those days, but everything starts somewhere. Take a look at this picture; in the larger resolution you can actually see Lt Richter standing up in the back of receiver aircraft to grab the hose. In the early days of aviation most pilots were relatively crazy, as this demonstrates; you could argue that not much has changed.