RIAT showcases 100 years of U.S. air refueling

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Symantha King
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa

The operational theme for this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo was SKYTANKER23, which highlighted the role of air-to-air refueling in military aviation.

The U.S. participated in the event with a display of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing.

The 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom is the only permanent U.S. air refueling wing in the European and African theater. The wing refuels U.S. and partner nation aircraft over a span of more than 20 million square miles, allowing for deployments around the globe on a moment's notice.

“RIAT was a great opportunity to meet servicemembers from other nations and inspire the next generation of pilots,” said 1st Lt Nicholas Beeson, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron. “It was exciting to celebrate 100 years of U.S. air refueling with our international Partners and Allies at such a large-scale, global event.”

On June 27, 1923, U.S. Army Air Service aviators accomplished the first aerial refueling. Flying a DH-4B, 1st Lt. Virgil Hine and 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline through a gravity hose to another DH-4B, piloted by Capt. Lowell H. Smith and 1st Lt. John P. Richter.

One hundred years later, RIAT23 celebrated this history of air-to-air refueling while also featuring the modern tankers seen across services and around the globe today.

The Air Tattoo provided the opportunity to showcase U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa’s mission and air-to-air refueling capabilities to over 200,000 airshow visitors, as well as European Partners and Allies.

Aerial refueling is essential for the success of Department of Defense missions, increasing the range, speed, and flexibility of combat aircraft. U.S. Air Force tankers also provide aeromedical evacuation and airlift and rapid contingency response options for U.S. and NATO fighter, bomber, and support and reconnaissance aircraft. These critical capabilities enable a greater global reach, promoting versatility across current and future security environments.

The U.S. Air Force is also welcoming a new era in its air-to-air refueling capability, with the ongoing acquisition of the KC-46A Pegasus. Announced in March, this next-generation air refueling system is the first phase in recapitalizing the Air Force's tanker fleet.

Refuelers remain an indispensable component and capability of the U.S. Air Force, as exhibited via SKYTANKER23, while the future of air-to-air refueling looks to push boundaries and support innovative, new missions.