Operation Centennial Contact: 100 Years of Aerial Refueling

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Morris
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Aviators from Grissom helped fuel Operation Centennial Contact, a nation-wide series of historic flights aimed at commemorating the hundredth anniversary of aerial refueling. The KC-135R Stratotanker, assigned to Grissom, took to the skies on June 27, 2023 and soared over multiple states including Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

The flight, organized and conducted by the 74th Air Refueling Squadron, marked a significant milestone in the advancement of aerial refueling capabilities. Operation Centennial Contact celebrated a century of progress, highlighting the critical role played by mid-air refueling in extending the operational range and endurance of military aircraft.

“As we embark on the next 100 years of air refueling, we will continue to strengthen our air mobility excellence,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander. “We must leverage the remarkable capabilities of air refueling to preserve peace, protect freedom, and bring hope to the world.”

Aerial refueling was first demonstrated by the United States Army Air Service on June 27, 1923 when a De Haviland DH-4B passed 75 gallons of gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B flying beneath it. Now, a century later, this capability has been significantly refined and become essential for strategic and tactical operations, as well as humanitarian relief efforts, and is conducted daily by various U.S. Air Force aircraft including the KC-135, KC-10, and KC-46.

Despite the excitement surrounding this commemorative display, the Grissom-operated flight was not without challenges. Upon takeoff, the aircraft encountered a significant limitation – a thick layer of smoke and haze blanketing the skies. The obstruction was the result of ongoing wildfires in Canada and significantly impeded visibility for both crew members and spectators.

While visibility may not have been perfect Capt. Ryan Maroney, 74th Aerial Refueling Squadron pilot, embraced the significance of having the sticks for such a historic flight.

“Although our fly over was in some ways impacted by smoke from the ongoing wildfires in Canada, our crew and the entire 434th team were extremely proud to participate in celebrating 100 years of air refueling.”