Pictured is the crew of the "Question Mark," including, from left to right, Lieutenant Harry Halvorsen, Capt. Ira Eaker, Staff Sgt. Roy Hooe, Maj. Carl Spaatz (mission commander), Lt. Elwood "Pete" Quesada, and an unidentified crewmember. During a 1929 refueling operation dubbed "Question Mark," a Fokker C-2A was refueled in flight by two modified Douglas C-1 transport aircraft. (Courtesy photo)
Lt. Elwood "Pete" Quesada, a member of the historic "Question Mark" aerial refueling operation, adjusts an aircraft gas line. During a 1929 operation dubbed "Question Mark," a Fokker C-2A was refueled in flight by two modified Douglas C-1 transport aircraft. The operation began on New Year's Day in 1929 and ended 150 hours and 40 minutes later on Jan. 7. The two refueling aircraft passed 5,660 gallons of fuel, completing 43 sorties, 12 of which occurred at night. (Courtesy photo)
by Ellery D. Wallwork
Air Mobility Command History Office
12/24/2008 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- On Jan. 1, 1929, a tri-engined Fokker C-2 aircraft with a crew of five climbed into the southern California sky. This aircraft, dubbed the "Question Mark," was not history's first air refueling mission, but it played a crucial role in the beginning of air refueling efforts and the development of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
The flight, born from the ingenuity of Airmen through their experiences in World War I, lasted from Jan. 1-7, 1929; a total of 150 hours and 40 minutes. The crew flew a 110-mile racetrack from Santa Monica, Calif., to San Diego, Calif. 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 seven and a half minutes, with the two aircraft about 15 to 20 feet apart. Day-time contacts took place at an altitude between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, and the 10 night-time contacts took place between 5,000 and 7,000 feet.
The Question Mark 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-1 single-engine bi-planes with two 150-gallon tanks for offloading and a refueling hose that passed through a hatch cut in the floor.
All told, the Question Mark received 5,700 gallons of fuel. During the contacts, the tanker crews also passed oil, food, water and other miscellaneous items, by means of a rope. Neither the Question Mark nor the two refuelers were equipped with radios because of a radio's weight and unreliability. The crews maintained communications via notes dropped to the ground, hand and flashlight signals, and written messages displayed on ground panels and on both planes.
The Question Mark's crew consisted of Maj. Carl Spatz (he later changed the spelling to Spaatz), Captain Ira Eaker, Lieutenant Elwood Quesada, Lt. Harry Halverson and Staff Sgt. Roy Hooe. The crews of the tankers were Capt. Roy Hoyt and Lts. Auby Strickland and Irwin Woodring in the No. 1 aircraft, and Lts. Odas Moon, Joseph G. Hopkins and Andrew F. Solter were in the No. 2 aircraft. Capt. Hugh Elmendorf was in charge of ground operations and logistics for the mission.
Air refueling still was considered by many to be a modern marvel, and it had humble beginnings. The first attempts were in 1921 with the employment of five-gallon gas cans when a U.S. Navy lieutenant, in the back of a Huff-Daland HD-4, used a grappling hook to snag a gas can from a float in the Potomac River. In another attempt, a wing walker with a gas can strapped to his back, climbed from an airborne Lincoln Standard to a Curtiss JN-4 to pour gas into the aircraft's tank.
While these two publicity stunts deserve mention, the first air-to-air refueling using a gravity-flow hose occurred in 1923. Earlier that year, the Army Air Service had equipped two de Haviland DH-4Bs with in-flight hoses. After installation, testing and preparation, the Army Air Service was ready to put it to use. On June 27, one of the DH-4s flew a six-hour-and-38-minute flight that included two air refuelings.
However, the early days of air refueling weren't without danger. Navy Lieutenant P. T. Wagner, the pilot of a refueler was killed during testing in 1923 when the refueling hose became entangled in the right wings of the two aircraft.
At that time, the Army's budget was very limited, and the aviation branch in particular, had not recovered from the 1919 demobilization. The tests in 1923 attempted to show the practicality of air refueling with a flight demonstration that consisted of a more than 37-hour long record-setting flight in August that covered some 3,293 miles, and again with a border-to-border flight from Lamas, Wash., to Tijuana, Mexico, in October.
Between the budgetary constraints and the lack of an actual application, the air refueling testing slowly ground to a halt. The Nov. 18 accident caused the Air Service to stop it altogether.
The idea for the Question Mark flight started with Lt. Quesada. Years later, by-then retired General Quesada recalled that the mission was actually an incidental thought rather than a planned objective.
Additionally, by 1928, officials in Belgium had restarted air refueling experiments, picking up where those in other countries had left off. In the process, the Belgians set a new record of 60 hours and 7 minutes aloft.
Also 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 U.S. State Department, Army Air Corps officials accepted the task.
Maj. Gen. James Fechet, head of the Army Air Corps, led a flight team which consisted of Lt. Quesada and Capt. Eaker. Despite poor weather and periods of heavy ground fog, they found The Bremen and her crew safe and sound.
Lt. Quesada said he was surprised when Captain 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, 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."
Captain Eaker took that idea a step further and began organizing the effort for a prolonged refueling technique, with a demonstration that would attract a lot of attention for the Army Air Corps.
The Question Mark's mission portended little militarily. Based on the success of this air refueling mission, Army Air Corps officials scheduled a formal demonstration in the spring of 1929 as part of an Army war game maneuver.
During the demonstration, a Keystone B-3A bomber was to fly, accompanied by a Douglas tanker, from Dayton, Ohio, on a simulated bombing mission over New York City's harbor, and then return. Refueling was to occur over Washington, D.C., during both parts of the mission. However, a network of thunderstorms between Ohio and Washington caused the aircraft to become separated.
Icing conditions forced the tanker to make an emergency landing in Uniontown, Penn., where it lodged itself in the mud. The bomber successfully pressed on to New York City and returned to Washington without the tanker's support.
With this disappointment, the U.S. Army Department shelved the idea of air refueling for another 12 years.
Still, in its primary objective, the Question Mark was a huge success.
"It got tremendous public attention, which is exactly what [we] had in mind," said General Quesada. "The Question Mark had no noble purpose. It wasn't going to create an operational procedure that would plunge the Air Force into a great superior power that would make it unnecessary to have an Army or a Navy. The purpose was to attract attention. I think it would be somewhat abusive not to recognize that."
In fact, it captured the public's imagination. American aviators were enthralled with the concept of air refueling. By May 26, 1929, a pair of commercial pilots in Texas, using a reconditioned Ryan Brougham monoplane, broke the Question Mark's record with 172 hours and 32 minutes in the air. From then on, the record continued to be extended.
Other Comments: Deployed Airmen memorialize air mobility legend through mural
Posted 4/27/2010 Updated 4/27/2010
by Capt. Cathleen Snow
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
4/27/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Retired Master Sgt. Roy Hooe died April 18, 1973, but in a way he came back to life some 37 years later to the day in the form of art.
Airmen deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing put the finishing touches on a mural April 18 highlighting Sergeant Hooe's legacy, in Roy's Flight Kitchen, a dining facility named after Sergeant Hooe run by the 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron.
Sergeant Hooe, a 2001 inductee to the Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame, is most widely known for his work as an "airborne mechanic" on the famed "Question Mark" flight, according to Air Mobility Command history. Sergeant's Hooe's famed flight was for 151 hours beginning on Jan. 1, 1929.
Then Staff Sgt. Hooe was responsible for keeping the "Question Mark" aloft during a record-setting endurance flight that at one point required him to go outside the aircraft on a catwalk to make engine repairs, his biography states.
In addition to serving as airborne mechanic, Sergeant Hooe operated the pump that transferred fuel from the cabin tanks to the wings. Along with the rest of the "Question Mark" crew that included Maj. Carl Spaatz, Capt. Ira Eaker, 1st Lt. Harry Halverson and 2nd Lt. Elwood Quesada, Sergeant Hooe received the Distinguished Service Cross for his participation in the flight.
"The idea to do the mural was brought up by the rotation of Airmen before us; we just made it happen," said Tech. Sgt. Johnette Chun, the NCO in charge of the flight kitchen. "I wanted all of us to be able to work on a project together but wasn't sure what. Since this is a first time deployment for some of my crew, I wanted them to be able to leave something behind for others after us to enjoy. When this idea came up I knew that this was it."
After crafting a rough draft of a design, Sergeant Chun and other Airmen from the dining facility staff enlisted the help of Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol, the superintendent of 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs office. Sergeant Sturkol, has an associate's degree in commercial art and regularly donates paintings to AMC and other Air Force units.
"Two of my deployed roommates work at Roy's (Diner) and one day they asked me about aiding in the design of their mural," Sergeant Sturkol said. "We took a concept, improved on it and today it's a lasting memory of an air mobility hero. Now people can relate the facility's name with an image. I was happy to make him come to life."
Senior Airman Levar Kinard, a services journeyman with the 380th EFSS who also works at Roy's Flight Kitchen, also helped with the mural.
"I believe because of our ability to work well together and our structure which allows for group opinion allowed this mural to come forth as it stands today," Airman Kinard said. "I don't think most even knew who the man was before, or what he looked like before we created the mural, Airman Kinard said. "I believe now people can put a name to a face and a point in time, and understand what he meant and what he did for the Air Force during his era.
"I had a lot of fun on this mural," he said. "I didn't think I would enjoy it at first until some friends and my roommate (Sergeant Sturkol) came to participate and join in on the creation of a work of art. I think by doing it by hand it means more to me and it makes this mural stand out as something special that all can appreciate for years to come."
"I'm not much of an artist so I admit I was a little worried in the beginning but with help from friends, we made it happen and had fun in the process," Sergeant Chun said. "I am honored to have been able to participate in this project."
During his aviation career, Sergeant Hooe also served as a crew chief for other aviation pioneers including Ameila Earhart, his biography states. He retired from the Air Force after 30 years of service in April 1950.
Sergeant Sturkol said now every time he goes to Roy's Flight Kitchen it'll be nice to see the history of Sergeant Hooe being represented through the mural.
"The fact that he was enlisted, alone, is a perfect reason to honor him, but also because his career represents so much about the people who frequently stop at the flight kitchen, Sergeant Sturkol said. He was an aircraft maintainer and had a hand in the success of the very first air refueling mission.
"In the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, with the KC-10 Extenders and their air refueling support for today's war effort as well as hundreds of maintainers who keep planes flying in the wing every day, it shows Sergeant Hooe had a direct affect on today's Air Force," Sergeant Sturkol said. "My part in this mural was as a member of a team of Airmen who are so proud to remember an enlisted Airman who is a treasured part of our Air Force heritage."