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Altus AFB celebrates a century of air refueling

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.-- The 54th and 56th Air Refueling Squadrons memorialized the centennial anniversary of air refueling with an in-air refueling flyover demonstration over Texas and Oklahoma landmarks, June 27, 2023.

The flight consisted of three separate air refueling maneuvers over Oklahoma City, the Texas State Capitol and Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

“I can’t believe I’m flying on the 100 year anniversary of air refueling,” reflected Master Sgt. Lucas Treat, 54th ARS boom operator instructor, during the flyover as he realized the momentous achievement he has taken part in.

Treat explained exactly how far the Department of Defense has come in terms of air refueling 100 years ago when men were maneuvering from one plane’s wings to another with a gas tank strapped to their backs.

“What started as a silly air show stunt 100 years ago has become a necessity to protect our country and defend our allies,” said Treat. “Our adversaries are watching this, knowing that we can be anywhere we want at any time.”

According to several refueling mission historians, air refueling began as a means of entertainment during a time when most “everyday people” had never seen the inside of an aircraft. Folks attended air shows, or the ‘Flying Circus,’ to see the incredible stunts, which included grappling hooks and hoses being used to transfer fuel from one aircraft to another.

For years, Army Air Service generals saw the potential of air refueling, especially with the technological advancements that came with World War I just a few years prior. It was not until June 27, 1923, when four U.S. Army Air Service pilots completed the first successful in-air refueling above Rockwell Air Field in San Diego with a 50-foot rubber hose, that air refueling became utilized within the Department of Defense.

That advancement set off a chain of events leading the evolution of air refueling into the modern-age.

Exactly 50 years after the record-breaking flight, the first air refueling aircraft came to Altus AFB in October 1953 in the form of the KC-97 Stratofreighter, under the 96th Bomb Wing, which was colocated with the 97th Bomb Wing at Altus. Since then, Altus AFB has played an integral part in shaping the history of air refueling.

In 1974, Altus AFB cemented their legacy when one of their KC-135 Stratotanker’s successfully refueled a C-5 Galaxy for the first time ever, between Amarillo, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico, completely changing the landscape for air refueling at that time.

The 97th Air Mobility Wing was activated at Altus AFB in 1992 and took over training KC-135 aircrews in 1998. Then, more than 20 years later, the 97th AMW made history once again when it became home to the formal training unit for the KC-46 Pegasus, the newest refueling aircraft.

“Global reach really begins here at Altus AFB,” said Melissa Sims, 97th AMW historian. “We train the aircrews that provide the capabilities for our airlift, cargo planes, bombers and fighters in order to carry out the mission in other theaters. They cannot do that without air refueling and that refueling training starts here.” With the future on the horizon, Altus remains at the forefront of air refueling, ensuring the continued success of this vital aerial capability for years to come.