It happened today - June 25, 2016

Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter receiving the first mid-air refueling on June 27, 1923, from a plane flown by 1st Lt. Virgil Hine and 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert. (Wikipedia) Hey buddy, got a match? That is NOT funny. At least, it wouldn’t have been on June 25, 1923, when Captain Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter became the first men to perform an aerial refueling.

It’s amazing. Not twenty years after Kitty Hawk. It’s a tribute to human ingenuity and courage, not to say recklessness (Smith had personally already had an airplane destroyed by fire, albeit on the ground, during the 1919 Great Continental Air Race, which he completed anyway by mooching a plane off Major Carl Andrew Spaatz.) But it’s also a warning about the blinding speed with which progress occurs nowadays.

Before you can blink, Lowell’s commanding the first ever flight right around the world. Not consecutive. They kept landing or, in the case of one of the four planes, crashing in thick fog in Alaska. But they also kept taking off, except that one, and they made it. In 1924.

Lowell himself, interestingly, died a rather old-fashioned death, not from the dysentery he contracted during the flight around the world but on falling from a horse. But he certainly was part of the amazing acceleration of airplane technology that took us from Kitty Hawk to Hiroshima, which happened months before he died in November 1945.

Aged just 53, he had lived from the railway into the atomic age. If he’d lived to be, say, 80, he’d have seen LSD as well. And things are just getting faster.

Not safer, though. Even if we no longer smoke much, we can sure still explode.