NEWS OK In the works for more than a year, the acquisition of former rail yard is step toward fixing the next generation of Air Force refueling planes. Oklahoma City, county and state officials worked with Air Force to make it happen.
WASHINGTON — The Air Force cemented a lucrative and long-term commitment to Tinker Air Force Base and the local community on Wednesday, officially accepting land on which to build the repair center for the next generation of aerial refueling planes.
At a ceremony at Tinker, Air Force officials took possession of the 158-acre site that was once a BNSF rail yard. State and local officials worked with the Air Force to acquire the land, which is on the west side of the base. The $44 million purchase price was shared among the Air Force, Oklahoma County and Oklahoma City.
Construction is set to begin soon on a maintenance center for the KC-46A Pegasus, a Boeing plane still in development. The first programmed maintenance is scheduled for April 2018. The KC-46A program at the new site is expected, eventually, to employ more than 1,300 people.
More than that, it further solidifies the future of one of the state’s largest employers, which has become a magnet for aerospace jobs.
Tinker’s massive repair depot has long been the base’s primary tenant, and that depot currently repairs the KC-135 refueling tanker, along with numerous other weapons systems. However, the depot isn’t big enough for the KC-46A, which is 52 feet high and 165 feet long and has a wingspan of nearly 158 feet.
The Air Force wanted a new site to base all of the KC-46A depot operations and looked at a few before selecting the rail yard as offering the best value for developing a campus with a single focus.
Congress last year approved $111 million in construction money for the project — $63 million for a two-bay maintenance hangar and $48 million for infrastructure to support the facility.
“The property adjacent to Tinker Air Force Base is not only the best value for our taxpayers, but it also places KC-46A operations in one centralized location on the base, making it easier for them to provide the air power our nation relies on,” said Kathleen Ferguson, a principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force.
“Our air refueling fleet is critical to our ability to reach any corner of the globe quickly, and Tinker plays a vital role in that mission.”
Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said last year that the construction would ultimately cost $500 million and involve more than a dozen hangars.
“It is huge,” Williams said then.
Altus Air Force Base, in southwest Oklahoma, was chosen by the Air Force in 2013 as the training site for the KC-46A. That was a major commitment to the pilot training base, and new construction also followed that decision. Student training is set to begin there next year.
McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kan., won the contest to be the active duty base to house the KC-46A. McConnell is expected to get 36 of the new tankers in 2016.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the KC-46A will be able to refuel any fixed-wing aircraft — on any mission — that’s capable of receiving mid-air refueling. The plane will provide the support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps as well as allied nation coalition force aircraft.
Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of Tinker’s Air Force Sustainment Center, said Monday, “Our Air Force’s global mission is underpinned by our ability to air refuel when and where needed.
“For more than 50 years the KC-135 Stratotanker has supported our Air Force mission across the world. Since this Eisenhower-era aircraft was introduced into the fleet, Tinker has been home to KC-135 sustainment and maintenance. The modernized KC-46 replacement tanker will support Global Reach, Power and Vigilance for generations to come.”
Boeing is expected to deliver 179 planes by 2028 at a cost of about $300 million apiece.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, prodded Air Force officials to choose Tinker and Altus. He and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, helped push through the money to buy the land and build the hangars.
Inhofe said Wednesday, “Today’s announcement will immediately assist Tinker Air Force Base in its planned investment in a new maintenance facility for the KC-46A, which will create roughly 1,300 new, middle-class jobs in Oklahoma.
“The purchase of the BNSF rail spur land will allow for the construction of KC-46A maintenance operations in one centralized location, beginning with the Depot Maintenance Complex and a Two-Bay Depot Hangar … I applaud the work of all of those involved as the purchase of the BNSF rail yard provides the best value for the taxpayer and allows the KC-46A operations to continue forward in a timely manner.
“Not only does this advance the future strength of our military, but the city’s and state’s economies will greatly benefit for generations to come.”