These American Heroes Changed The Face Of The Military
Imagine standing on the wing of a 1920’s-era biplane, a five-gallon container of gasoline secured to your back, preparing to jump and hoist yourself onto the wing of a second plane. Now imagine you are attempting this feat while in mid-flight, high above Long Beach, California.
This scenario was reality for Wesley May on November 2, 1921, when he became the first person in history to refuel an aircraft while in flight. Although May and stunt pilots Frank Hawks and Earl Daugherty may not have intended to change history, their act has become a symbol of the beginning of an era of aerial innovation.
Lieutenant Alexander P. de Seversky (a Russian naval aviator during World War I who later established the Seversky Aircraft Company in Long Island, New York), developed the idea of mid-air refueling using a hose between two aircraft.
In 1921, he received the first air refueling patent for his invention. On June 27, 1923, the U.S. Army Air Service successfully used de Seversky’s method to transfer fuel through a hose between two Airco DH-4B biplanes flown by Captain Lowell H. Smith and Lieutenant John P. Richter. As air refueling became more of a reality, its application for transatlantic flights and quicker mail delivery sparked an increased interest.
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