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Royal Air Establishment

Air Refueling Developlllent Lags After the publicity success of the Question Mark’s flight and the operational shortcomings of the spring 1929 Army war-game maneuver, the US Army Air Corps spent little time thinking about aerial refueling. This is not to say that nothing was done with the air refueling concept through the 1930s, but most was accomplished thanks to civilian aviators. The Question Mark also rekindled Britain’s interest in air refueling. From 1930 until 1937, the Royal Air Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire, England, conducted a series of air refueling experiments. The Royal Air Force looked at air refueling not so much as to a way to extend an aircraft’s reach, but more to help lighten take-off weights, reducing wear and tear on the aircraft and grass airfields. They also looked at it as, perhaps, a way to supplement the capability of bombers if the League of Nations implemented size restrictions then under consideration–Iess fuel on take-off meant more bombs could be loaded on the allowable aircraft. These experiments began with the Question Mark’s techniques (improved by US barnstorming efforts) ofthe dangle-and-grab method. To accomplish this, the tanker aircraft would feed out hose that someone in the receiving aircraft had to reach out and grasp. In September 1934, Flight Lieutenant Richard Atcherly introduced his newly patented looped-hose aerial refueling system. This new technique put most of the operational effort on the tanker crew. Both the tanker and receiver trailed cables with grapnels on the ends. The receiver flew a straight line, while the tanker crossed its path from behind allowing the grapnels to catch. The receiver than reeled in the cables, along with a hose from the tanker. Once the two aircraft were connected with about 300 feet of hose, the tanker pilot would then maneuver to a higher position and let gravity do the rest. These experiments continued until 1937, but, by then, even the Royal Air Force had decided that air refueling offered a limited application at best. Aircraft technology had surpassed any perceived need for air refueling. Before this date, the standard aircraft were bi-planes (although monoplanes had started becoming more frequent), which used “doped” linen fabric and fixed landing gear, with only a little consideration given to aerodynamics. By 1933, two American corporations built the first all-metal, low-wing monoplanes–the Douglas DC-1 and the Martin B-10 bomber. These aircraft, each weighing about 17,000 pounds, had retractable landing gear, cowled engines, and high-lift devices to improve take-off. They also utilized the new controllable pitch propeller. These advances did not do much for payloads, but they doubled t