ST. LOUIS - The U.S. Air Force took to STL skies for an aerial refueling demonstration over the Gateway Arch on Tuesday, June 27.

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But for local cadets and airmen, this was more than a fun demonstration; it was a chance to honor military history. Tuesday’s demonstration marked the 100th anniversary of the first aerial refueling in 1923. The Air Force gave demonstrations in all 50 states.

“I’ve got guys that are all over the world right now doing this mission. So the ones that are here right now, for them to be able to showcase it and actually share that with the public is just a blessing,” Lieutenant Colonel Jason Knab said.

Knab serves with the 126th Air Refueling Wing, which is based out of Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. The 126th Air Refueling Wing completed flyovers across Illinois, Missouri and Kansas today as part of the celebration. Knab noted that aerial refuelings are a vital part of Air Force missions.

“We’re delivering unrivaled rapid global reach and maneuver for joint forces and allies across the globe,” Knab said. “Serving your country this way, there’s nothing better than that.”

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For cadets in the area, the flyover was also an opportunity to learn more about their future careers. Staff Sergeant Dereth Worrell works with the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program through Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. She said that a demonstration like this “demystifies” missions and shows prospective airmen what they can do.

“With the refueling demonstration, it gives them a taste of, ‘Hey, these are some of our mission sets. This is some of what we do in support of defending not only our country but our allies,’” Worrell said.

The AFROTC is a four-year military training program that allows students to earn their degrees while training to become Air Force officers. The program usually has between 30–50 cadets. Worrell encourages anyone who is interested to reach out or visit SIUC’s AFROTC website for more information.

“It is a very great opportunity to jumpstart careers, to learn leadership skills, to get a lot of experience,” Worrell said. “When you graduate, you would also commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.”

For current airmen, today’s celebration was a meaningful nod to Air Force history. Knab explained that the first aerial refueling was an early success for aviation, only 20 years after the first flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Using a hose and gravity, the Air Force fed 75 gallons of gasoline into an airborne aircraft, keeping it in the air for a total of roughly 37 hours.

Today, Knab said that flying, especially with the Air Force, is “a magical thing.”

“It’s a very long tradition, and there’s so many that have gone before us,” Knab said. “Now it’s our turn to carry the torch and to defend freedom, and there’s nothing better than that.”

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