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The idea for the Question Mark flight started with Lieutenant Elwood R. “Pete”
Quesada. Years later, retired General Quesada recalled that it was actually an
incidental thought, rather than a planned objective. By 1928, Belgium restarted airrefueling experiments, picking up where other countries had left off. In the process,
the Belgians set a new record of 60 hours and 7 minutes aloft. Additionally in 1928,
a German aircraft, The Bremen, attempted to fly across the Atlantic. However, it
was forced to land in a barren area of Labrador. When the German government
requested help from the US State Department, the US Army Air Corps accepted the
task. Major General James E. Fechet, head of the Army Air Corps, led a flight team,
which consisted of Quesada and Captain Ira C. Eaker. Despite poor weather and
periods of heavy ground fog, they found The Bremen and her crew safe and sound.
Quesada said he was surprised when Eaker “decided to go over the ground fog. I said,
my God, what are we going to do if we get caught up here. So then I began to think,
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my God, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a gas station. We could just pull in to a gas
station and fill up with gas again.”
Eakertook the idea one step further and began organizingthe effortfor a prolonged
refueling technique, with a demonstration that would attract a lot of attention for
the US Army Air Corps. The receiving aircraft, the Question Mark, a Fokker C-2,
was a high-winged monoplane with two 96-gallon wing tanks supplemented by two
150-gallon tanks installed in the cabin. The two refueling aircraft were Douglas C-l
single-engine bi-planes with two 150-gallon tanks for offioading and a refueling hose
passed through a hatch cut in the floor. The Question Mark’s crew consisted ofMajor
Carl A. Spatz (he later changed spelling to Spaatz), Captain Ira C. Eaker, Lieutenant
Elwood “Pete” Quesada, Lieutenant Harry A. Halverson, and Staff Sergeant Roy W.
Hooe. The crews of the tankers were Captain Ross G. Hoyt and Lieutenants
Auby C. Strickland and Irwin A. Woodring in number 1, and Lieutenants Odas
Moon, Joseph G. Hopkins, and Andrew F. Salter in number 2. Captain Hugh M.
Elmendorf was in charge of ground operations and logistics for the mission.
The flight lasted from 1 through 7 January 1929, a total of 150 hours and 40
minutes. They flew a 110-mile track from Santa Monica to San Diego, California.
They also flew over the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl football game. During the flight,
they made 43 contacts with the tanker aircraft. Each contact lasted about 7.5 minutes,
with the aircraft about 15 to 20 feet apart. Day contacts took place at an altitude
between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, night contacts between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. All told,
the Question Mark received 5,700 gallons offuel. In addition, the tanker crews passed
oil, food, water, and other items, by means of a rope, during these contacts. Because
of their weight and unreliability, neither the Question Mark nor the two refuelers
were equipped with radios. The crews maintained communications via notes dropped
to the ground, hand and flashlight signals, written messages displayed by ground
panels, and messages written on blackboards carried on the planes.