Columbus base puts in bid for new tanker home

Rickenbacker in running to house Air Force’s KC-46A aircraft.

Ohio lawmakers are pushing the Air Force to make Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus its next choice to house the KC-46A aircraft, the Air Force’s newest tanker.

Last May, the Air Force chose Pease Air National Guard Station in Portsmouth, N.H., as its first Air Guard base for the tanker. The Air Force also chose an active duty base and a training base for the new aircraft.

But Rickenbacker — as well as three other Air Guard bases — is undergoing environmental impact studies just in case Pease falls through or the Air Force decides that Columbus would be a good home for another 12-aircraft KC-46A wing. Also still in the running: Forbes Air National Guard Station in Kansas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix in Lakehurst, N.J.; and the Pittsburgh Air National Guard Station.

“We don’t expect to hear anything quickly,” said Mark Wayda, chief of the Joint Staff for the Ohio National Guard.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are among those supporting Rickenbacker. Both sent a letter of support to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

“Rickenbacker is prepared to accept this mission and this unit has a proven record of performance, along with active support of local partners, which give the location unique benefit to the Air Force,” they wrote. Columbus area Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township; Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington and Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, also signed the letter.

Rickenbacker lost six of 18 KC-135R tankers and around 180 positions in a recent downsizing at Air Guard bases across the nation, according to Wayda. He said Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine have also sent letters backing Rickenbacker’s bid.

Victor Wilson, a legislative co-chair for the Ohio National Guard Association and a member of Columbus Mayor Coleman’s veterans board, said the KC-135s are slowly being phased out of the Air Force. Landing the new tankers could ensure a strong future for Rickenbacker, he said. The new tankers are modeled on Boeing’s 767 passenger jetliner and expected to be available by 2017.

“With the KC-46, you’re getting a whole new air frame and a whole new lifeline,” he said.

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