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Anyone holding out hope that the first cohort of new air-refueling tankers would be located at Fairchild Air Force Base can give it up. Pegasus won’t be landing on the West Plains any time soon.
The Air Force confirmed Wednesday the first new KC-46As will go into regular service at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. McConnell was named the Air Force’s preferred choice for the first operational KC-46A tanker unit last May, with Fairchild as its backup.
But McConnell had to get through an environmental impact study with no unexpected barriers. On Wednesday the Pentagon said it completed studies for McConnell and Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which will be the new training base. Both passed. . .
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Fairchild Air Force Base is one of several bases on a short list for receiving the nation's newest air refueling tanker.
Washington's congressional delegation is a diverse group that doesn't agree on much, whether it's who's waging a “war on women” or what's the right policy on taxes, budget cuts, health care reform or immigration.
But they managed to rally around one favorite topic this morning: Putting the first new KC-46A tankers at Fairchild Air Force Base.
OK, so it's kind of a no-brainer that planes assembled in the state at a Boeing plant would stay in the state at Fairchild. Still, all nine representatives and both senators signed on to a letter today to Air Force Secretary Mike Donley and various generals that Fairchild would be a really great spot for the first '46As because it has both Active Duty and Air National Guard units that fly tankers, an improved runway, and is close to the Asia-Pacific theater. That plus the federal government has spent about $400 million on a wide range of improvements over the last few decades. (Stuff that we assume the secretary and the generals already know, but hey, they're busy guys so it probably doesn't hurt to remind them.)
The Air Force released the criteria today for deciding which of its bases will get the first new air refueling tankers, and Fairchild will be among about 60 bases being considered.
That means the Air Force won't limit those first KC-46As to a base that already serves as a current home for tankers, but will look at most facilities in the continental United States. The main criteria for making this first list for consideration?
“A runway,” a spokeswoman for the officer of the Secretary of the Air Force said after a short description of the criteria was released. That's essentially all bases with airplanes, although not every Air Force base has planes, Ann Stefanek said.
From that most basic of necessities for a jet patterned after the Boeing 767 commercial airliner, the Air Force will consider other important details, such as the capacity of the fueling system, available space on the runway, size of hangars, proximity to planes needing to be refueled, airspace availability, environmental considerations and costs.
The Air Force expects to have scores for all the potential bases sometime this summer, Stefanek said, and narrow the list further to a small group of top scorers from which the preferred site and reasonable alternatives will be chosen late this year.
The Air Force began briefing members of Congress and posted the criteria briefly on its website this afternoon. It later removed the criteria, even though it kept a link with a picture of a prototype of the new tanker refueling a cargo plane that promised information about the criteria.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said she believes the criteria puts Fairchild Air Force Base in a ” very competitive position” to be an early home for the new planes, which will be built in Everett: “I'm confident that Fairchild's long tanker history, strong community support and joint operations between the Active Duty and Guard place it in an ideal position to succeed.”
The West Plains base has a new runway and a new wing headquarters under construction, Murray said in an e-mail. A letter from the state's congressional delegation to Air Force leaders on how the base stacks up to the criteria could be sent as soon as Tuesday.
To read the Air Force announcement of criteria for the first two new tanker bases, and the tanker “formal training unit, click here to go inside the blog.