MacDill Air Force Base in central Florida is poised to become the next home of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker, the new refueling jet that is replacing older models around the world.
The Air Force named the Gulf Coast installation as its preferred location for a group of 24 active duty KC-46s on Tuesday. It beat out Fairchild AFB, Washington, after the Air Force compared factors like the bases’ missions, infrastructure capacity and cost.
“We do not have encroachment issues like other bases and have well-paved runways, capacity in our hangars and accessible refueling areas,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., in a May press release. “MacDill would make logistical and financial sense. Tampa is a ‘tanker town,’ and we intend to keep it that way.”
MacDill hosts U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters, as well as one active duty air refueling wing and one Air Force Reserve wing of older KC-135R Stratotankers. The KC-46 would replace two dozen of those jets as part of a push to modernize the tanker inventory. Fairchild flies Stratotankers as well.
Air Force officials will make a final decision on the move to MacDill after looking at how it could affect the surrounding environment, considering issues such as toxic waste and noise pollution.
Both MacDill and Fairchild will undergo environmental impact studies over the next two years. A verdict is slated for fall 2023.
Pegasus tankers are already, or are expected to be, stationed at McConnell AFB in Kansas, Altus AFB in Oklahoma, Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, Travis AFB in California, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.
Those jets are coming online as the Air Force works through a litany of design problems with plane manufacturer Boeing, which range from a faulty fuel boom viewing system to subpar cargo restraints. The company had delivered 48 of 179 KC-46s to the U.S. military under a $4.9 billion contract as of Oct. 31.
The new tankers received limited permission to refuel aircraft in July, and now can service 10 types. That covers nearly 70% of planes that depend on the Air Force for aerial refueling, Lt. Col. Kevin White, Air Mobility Command’s deputy chief of aircraft and logistics requirements, said in a Dec. 6 release.
“Despite existing restrictions and deficiencies, the KC-46A continues to demonstrate its growing operational capabilities,” the Air Force said. “The Pegasus has completed over 6,000 missions, offloading over 37.8 million pounds of fuel, and making 28,000 boom and 1,900 drogue contacts since January 2019.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.