171st Air Refueling Wing among candidates to host new aircraft

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The 171st Air Refueling Wing has been selected as one of five candidates to become the first Air National Guard base to host a fleet of new tanker aircraft in 2018.

"It's been a big day for us," said Colonel Steven Painter, vice commander of the air refueling wing at the Pittsburgh International Airport. "We have a long history in Pittsburgh of air refueling and right now we're very excited to be considered for this."

The Air Force announced plans today to survey a handful of Air Force and Air Guard bases to determine the best three in the county to receive the first fleets of the KC-46A, a refueling aircraft that will offer greater cargo, refueling, communication and navigation capabilities than the KC-135 units that have been in use since 1956.

Initially, the planes will deploy in 2016 to two different Air Force bases. One of the bases will serve as a formal training unit and the other as a main operating base.

Two years later, the Air Guard will get a crack at them when one of the five candidates opens a main operating base. Among the hopeful are the Forbes Air Guard Station in Kansas, Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Pease Air Guard Station in New Hampshire, Rickenbacker Air Guard Station in Ohio and the Pittsburgh base.

The Air Force plans to deliver 179 KC-46A aircraft to bases by 2028 in the first of three phases to replace more than 400 KC-135 units and 59 KC-10 planes currently in use by the military.

The Air Force said site surveys at the potential bases will begin in the next few weeks. Three preliminary bases will be selected this spring pending the outcome of studies to examine possible environmental impacts.

Official announcements of the three bases to host the new planes are expected by spring 2014.

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Taryn Luna: tluna@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.


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