Tankers: From a Question Mark to Today’s Fight

  • Published
  • By Gen. Arthur J. Lichte
  • Commander, Air Mobility Command

Air refueling operations continue to be amazing aerial feats, especially for people who witness the process for the first time. As mobility Airmen, we consider it simply part of what we do but, in reality, it is quite remarkable to have two aircraft meeting less than 50 feet apart at more than 20,000 feet above the ground traveling at speeds close to 400 miles per hour while a tanker replenishes another aircraft with the fuel necessary to continue the mission.


The amazement is even greater when one considers the first major air refueling operation happened 80 years ago when the Question Mark, a tri-engined Fokker C-2 aircraft with a crew of five, climbed into the southern California sky Jan. 1, 1929.  Over the next seven days, the crew kept the aircraft airborne through air refueling from two, three-manned crews operating Douglas C-1 single-engine transports that had been transformed into tankers with the addition of two 150-gallon tanks to off-load fuel.


Combined, those historic tankers made 43 take-offs and landings to deliver 5,660 gallons of fuel, 245 gallons of engine oil, storage batteries, spare parts, tools, food, clothing and mail during the Question Mark's 150-hour and 40-minute operation.


Today's tanker fleet continues to play the vital role of sustaining operations.  The tanker underwrites our nation's ability to project power; the aircraft extends our reach to deliver the clenched fist of US power to our adversaries, or the open hand of assistance to people in need.  Without tankers, our combat aircraft cannot reach their targets.  Without tankers, our resupply aircraft and humanitarian relief materials cannot always reach their destinations.  Without tankers, we cannot move our wounded warriors non-stop from the battlefield to the US for the medical care they need.


As a nation, we're overdue on building new tankers.  We must make delivery of this capability a high priority for our nation.  We simply must get on with it.  We're working hard to ensure Air Mobility Command is ready when the next effort begins to choose the industry partner to build our next-generation tanker.


I can understand how the group of Airmen felt at the beginning of the New Year 80 years ago.  Their thoughts were likely focused on how to not only successfully demonstrate the air-refueling capability, but also make people aware of its potential significant military contributions 

Today, the question isn't how critical is the tanker to our warfighters and our national security.  We know the need for a tanker is critical; it's a capability our nation simply cannot do without. 


Thank you for all you do -- every day -- for AMC, our Air Force, and our nation.   As mobility Airmen, you provide global air mobility -- the right effects at the right place at the right time.  I look forward to a successful 2009.