Exactly 100 years ago the first fuel transfer between two aircraft in flight was carried out. Wesley May was the man that refuelled a Curtiss Jenny, from a Lincoln Standard biplane. Together with his barnstorming friends, the pilots Frank Hawks and Earl Daugherty.
Wesley May climbing on to the wing of the Curtiss Jenny from the Lincoln Standard
The plan seemed simple.
Wesley May would take off in the Lincoln Standard flown by Frank Hawks seated in the passenger seat. Earl Daugherty would take off in his Curtiss Jenny. They would both climb to an altitude of 1000 feet, and carefully approach each other with the left wing of the Curtiss Jenny just above the right wing of the Lincon Standard. Wesley May would exit the passenger seat of the Lincon Standard with a 5-gallon fuel tank strapped to his back and wing walk towards the right upper wing, wingtip. He would then pull himself up onto the lower left wing by grabbing the struts and wires of that wing. He would then walk to the forward cockpit of the Curtiss Jenny and refuel the aircraft.
May was an experienced stuntman and wing walker and had assessed the transfer as well within his capabilities The fuel tank of the Jenny was located between the rear of the engine and the forward cockpit of the aircraft. Once inside the forward cockpit, May would remove the 5-gallon tank from his back, open the fuel cap and pour the fuel via a spout on his back-tank into the tank of the Jenny. With the fuel transferred he would strap himself into the forward cockpit of the Jenny and Daugherty would land the aircraft as normal. Followed by Frank Hawks in the Lincoln Standard. They also organised a chase plane with a photographer to take a picture of the event. This is the photo at the beginning of this blog.
On the 12th of November 1921, it was the day Aerial Refuelling became reality when the three men set off and executed the plan exactly as described above. The only thing that was different for Wesley May was the extra weight of the tank (around 30 pounds - ~13.6 kg) which made it harder for him to pull himself up onto the wing of the Jenny. just over 18 months later, on the 27th of June 1923, the next step in Aerial Refuelling development was set, when the first fuel transfer using a hose was carried out. Click here to go to our blog from the 27th of June to read more about this next step in aerial refuelling.