As the U.S. Air Force draws closer to naming its preferred sites to receive new KC-46A refueling tankers, it can be assured that Wichita and McConnell Air Force Base welcome the responsibility and are uniquely qualified and prepared to fulfill it.
That willingness was evident by the crowd, 300 strong, that turned out Thursday for an open house on the tanker bid at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Residents wanted to publicly endorse McConnell as it hopes to be chosen to be either the first main operating base for 36 tankers or the formal training unit with eight tankers.
It’s unlikely the local support will waver as the Air Force continues to prepare the environmental impact statement on Wichita and the other communities whose bases are in contention for tanker missions.
McConnell is home to the Air Force’s 22nd Air Refueling Wing, the Air Force Reserves’ 931st Air Refueling Group and the 184th Intelligence Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard.
The Wichita area greatly appreciates the economic impact of the base, which is estimated at $619 million, and highly values current and retired McConnell personnel and their families as members of the community and workforce.
But Wichita also has an uncommon attachment to and appreciation for airplanes in general and air refueling in particular – feelings that have only deepened while McConnell has been home to 63 KC-135 Stratotankers. The Air Capital of the World is a tanker town.
Area residents can and should weigh in as the Air Force takes public comments on the selection of the bases through May 17. Comments can be made at www.kc-46a-beddown.com or by writing Jean Reynolds at U.S. Air Force, AFCEC/CZN Midwest Office, 507 Symington Drive, Scott Air Force Base, IL 62225-5022.
Meanwhile, the Kansas congressional delegation should continue its strong advocacy on the state’s behalf regarding the new tankers.
McConnell already has survived the process of narrowing the 54-base field to four contenders for the main operating base and two for the training base. And as Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said when McConnell passed that hurdle in January, “Not only does McConnell have the world-class airmen, facilities, runways and location that the Air Force needs, but it has an amazingly supportive community in Wichita, Derby and the entire south-central Kansas region.”
McConnell and Wichita now await their next assignment with pride as well as optimism – ready to go to work and eager to be a part of the mission as the new tankers support the nation’s warfighters around the globe.