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Ohio air base among finalists to get new airplanes

The Air Force has picked Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base near Columbus as one of the five Guard bases across the country competing for the new KC-46A refueling tanker, a move that would provide a financial boost to central Ohio.

The new air tanker, which is developed by Boeing and is slated to replace the aging KC-135, is modeled after the company’s 767 passenger air liner, is expected to be available by 2017. Rickenbacker currently is facing the possible loss of six of its 18 KC-135s because of military cutbacks.

In addition to Rickenbacker, the other finalists are National Guard bases in New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. A final decision will be made by the spring of next year.

General Mark Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, said the new tanker “will have enhanced refueling capacity and capabilities’’ compared to the KC-135, which first entered service in 1957 and whose appearance is similar to Boeing’s old 707 airliner.

In a statement, Welsh added that the new jet “will achieve better mission-capable rates with less maintenance downtime,’’ adding that it would “improve our ability’’ to take part in missions with U.S., allied and coalition forces.

The new jet would be in service for at least the next 40 years.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said it was “great to see the Air Force’’ recognize the “capabilities of the Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base,’’ adding he would “do all I can to see that they are among the first’’ to receive the new tanker.

Meghan Dubyak, a spokeswoman for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said if Rickenbacker is selected, it “would mean more jobs and long-term stability for the base.’’ She said that Brown is convinced that a “team effort among the Guard, the city of Columbus, the business community and elected leaders will ensure that Rickenbacker stands out among the five finalists.’’

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