The first of a dozen additional KC-135 refueling aircraft has arrived at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, ahead of the reactivation of the 97th Air Refueling Squadron.
The redeployed aircraft will bring the number of Stratotankers there to 59 and bring about 400 service members and their families to the area.
The aircraft arrived from the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Oct. 16. Two more Stratotankers are expected to arrive in another week or so from bases slated to receive the new KC-46 Pegasus. All 12 additional KC-135s will be in Washington by February.
Fairchild’s fleet of Stratotankers is shared by the active 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing. Fairchild’s is the largest air refueling wing in the world, and the additional KC-135s will increase base aeromedical evacuation, airlift and air refueling mission capabilities, according to an Air Force news release.
“We’ve been talking about increasing our KC-135 [numbers] for a couple years now; we’ve always talked about it in the future tense," said Col. Gene Jacobus, 92nd ARW vice commander, in a news release. "The future is now and we’re excited to be receiving our first aircraft.”
After strategic basing and environmental studies, Fairchild was chosen to get the additional aircraft due to its location, high demand for air refueling in the area, and lower construction and renovation costs, AMC said in April. The Air Force had said in 2017 that Fairchild was its first choice to house the tankers, but it also considered MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as an alternative.
“Having additional aircraft will enhance our mission in ways that we haven’t had in a long time; more aircraft means more opportunities to help the warfighter, to ensure that air refueling is being done in a more significant way, and enhance our ability to train aircrews,” said Col. Russell Davis, 92nd Operations Group commander, in the recent news release. “Having more aircraft available to fly means we’ll have a more proficient Air Force.”
The decision on the KC-135s came at a time when the Air Force was delaying the retirement of some Stratotankers due to delays in the delivery of the new KC-46 Pegasus. In March, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he intended to keep 28 Stratotankers — which first entered service when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House — beyond their planned retirement dates.
In addition to reactivating its 97th Air Refueling Squadron, Fairchild intends to stand up an unnamed maintenance unit, to handle the Stratotankers.
Col. Russell Davis, 92nd Operations Group Commander, said in April that the Air Force Personnel Center had already started increasing Fairchild’s aircrew numbers to prepare for the reactivation of the 97th. With that additional temporary manning, the wing started looking for airmen to move to the 97th and complete its rebuilding.
Fairchild intends to replace its base operations building over the next few years and add a new flight simulator to accommodate the new squadron, the Spokesman-Review reported.