California’s March Air Reserve Base is on track to become the next home of the Air Force’s newest tanker plane, the service announced Monday.
Officials tapped March as their preferred installation to host 12 KC-46 Pegasus refueling jets for the Air Force Reserve. The fleet would replace older KC-135 Stratotankers — first deployed in 1956 — with a more advanced design.
Each base faces an environmental inspection to gauge how the fleet would affect local resources, noise pollution and the surrounding nature.
The Air Force will make a final decision in fall 2023 on whether to stick with March, or to turn to runners-up Grissom ARB, Indiana, or Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. March also beat out Reserve components at Beale AFB, California, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Niagara Falls ARB, New York.
“March is expected to begin operating the new aircraft in 2025 and the unit will be fully operational by 2027,” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office said in a release Tuesday.
The base, located about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, would consist of more than 700 military and civilian personnel, Feinstein’s office said. That’s about 200 more employees than currently work with the KC-135 unit there.
March offers “the only Reserve candidate location with a current active [duty] association,” meaning it would be responsible for the tankers but share them with at least one active duty unit, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said in September.
The KC-46 aims to gas up planes in midair with two different refueling systems and carry as much as 65,000 pounds of cargo in airlift missions and aeromedical evacuations. Pegasus planes can refuel almost three-quarters of U.S. Air Force aircraft in need of fuel on flights around the world.
Its progress has been delayed by multiple design problems that make it unable to reliably fill up other planes, such as faulty camera systems that obscure the receiver aircraft outside. Still, a fix for the remote vision system won’t be available for at least a year, and the KC-46 is banned from servicing certain jets for fear of scratching their stealth coating.
Boeing is building the fleet of 179 tankers under a $4.9 billion contract.
KC-46s are already, or are expected to be, stationed at MacDill AFB, Florida; McConnell AFB in Kansas; Altus AFB in Oklahoma; Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina; Travis AFB, California; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.
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.