By Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon, 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs / Published August 08, 2014
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) --
Officials broke ground on a new construction project on Altus Air Force Base, Okla., Aug. 7.
The ceremony marked the beginning of a months-long effort to prepare for the arrival of the newest refueling aircraft in the Air Force fleet, the KC-46A Pegasus.
Air Education and Training Command commander Gen. Robin Rand, Oklahoma Senator Mike Schulz and 97th Air Mobility Wing commander, Col. Bill Spangenthal attended the event, along with civic leaders from the area and members of the wing.
Spangenthal spoke of the refueling heritage the men and women of the 97th have thus far accomplished and declared the future to be just as successful. "It's clear we've come a long way from our humble beginnings of communicating via flashlight signals and pumping fuel by hand into aircraft wing tanks," said the colonel. "Today, we proudly train the greatest Airmen in the world to operate both C-17s and KC-135s. And soon, the KC-46 will take to the skies of Altus continuing our legacy of creating the world's best mobility aircrew members."
The new construction is estimated at $56 million and will include a flight training center, a fuselage training facility, new aircraft hangars and renovations for a combined squadron operations and aircraft maintenance unit facility.
The 97th Air Mobility Wing, already home to the Air Force's C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft and KC-135 refueling aircraft formal training units, was announced in April as the new training host for the Pegasus.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Airmen at Altus in April and confirmed the Oklahoma base as the future home of the KC-46 during an Airmen's call. "The studies are done, the evaluation is complete and the verdict is in," said James. "I am very pleased and honored to tell you that Altus will be the formal training unit for the KC-46A Pegasus."
Training is expected to begin sometime in 2016, once the first aircraft are delivered and instructor pilots have received the necessary qualifications.
Altus was selected as the formal training unit for the KC-46A because it provides great training opportunities, said Timothy Bridges, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations. Altus AFB also has better infrastructure capacity and requires considerably less new construction to train aircrew on the new airframe.
Bringing the KC-46 to Altus is an important phase of modernizing the current refueling fleet. The first KC-135s entered service in 1957, and though there have been numerous upgrades through the years, the KC-46 will provide improved capability, including boom and drogue refueling on the same sortie, world-wide navigation and communication and airlift capability on the entire main deck floor. It is also capable of receiver air refueling, improved force protection and survivability, and multi-point air refueling capability.
"Tankers are the lifeblood of our joint force's ability to respond to crises and contingencies," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III of the new tanker. "The Pegasus will be capable of day and night operations and enable a rapid, global capability that will support U.S., joint, allied and coalition forces. The aircraft will also underpin our humanitarian missions."
With 179 new KC-46 aircraft expected to enter service through fiscal year 2028, the training mission at Altus is expected to be fully operational by 2023 and will train approximately 475 aircrew each year.
"The Mighty 97th looks forward to training on our newest tanker and assisting the Air Force in meeting future warfighter needs. In fact, as the Air Force becomes leaner, more efficient and more innovative, the sky's the limit for what the Airmen of Altus Air Force Base can achieve with our new mission set," said Spangenthal.