If March Air Reserve Base is selected to receive a fleet of new KC-46A Pegasus tankers, it could be a boon for the local economy.
The Riverside County, California, base brings more than $500 million in revenue to the surrounding area, and a KC-46A unit would add more than 200 new jobs to the base, according to a press release from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office.
This could translate to a roughly $100 million to $160 million annual increase in revenue across the Riverside region, according to Jamil Dada, president of the March Field Air Museum.
“Once the military has picked a base, it never really reneges on it,” Dada said.
The base, located nearly 70 miles east of Los Angeles, currently operates 12 KC-135 tankers, which will soon be phased out, Feinstein said in the release.
In addition to his day job as a financial advisor, Dada, 66, has also acted as chairman of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee for more than 35 years and serves on the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command Civic Leader Program. In recent years, Dada has advocated for the service to bring new tankers to March.
But before Congress finalizes the decision to bring 12 new KC-46As to March, the base must pass an environmental impact assessment, which will consider the effects of the new aircraft on local wildlife, pollution and noise levels, among other subjects.
To prepare for the assessment, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce is working with local communities to ensure new buildings aren’t constructed too close to March. Officials also are encouraging county health care and child care programs to increase their capacities to support the new airmen and families that would arrive at March with the new tankers.
Creation of the KC-46A
Boeing is contracted to build 179 KC-46As for the Air Force and has been developing the aircraft since 2011. The new tanker is a modified version of the Boeing 767, a commercial freight aircraft used by shipping companies like FedEx, Amazon and UPS. Most notable among its modifications are an armored cockpit and infrared countermeasures.
The KC-46A is a competent replacement for its predecessor, the KC-135 Stratotanker, which has been in service for more than 60 years. Capable of both drogue and boom refueling in the same flight, the Pegasus offers more adaptable support and greater capacities for cargo and medevac operations.
“It’s like going from an old work truck to a modern pickup,” said Staff Sgt. Corey Miller, an operations intelligence analyst with the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease ANGB. “What you’re doing with it hasn’t changed but all the creature comforts make doing it better… There’s tons of new technology added on compared to the legacy aircraft, many of which enhance the crew’s capability to safely/efficiently operate under all types of conditions.”
With its proximity to the Pacific and consistent fair weather, March offers the new tanker a strategic location and good flying conditions year round, according to Dada and local weather data.
March ARB’s aviation history
The likely next home of the KC-46A also has a long history in U.S. military aviation.
The Army established March Field in 1918 as a training ground for World War I pilots. After the creation of the Air Force in 1947, the field became an official Air Force base. The service downgraded March to its status as a Reserve installation in 1996.
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“That was devastating to the local economy,” Dada said. “This region became number one in foreclosures in the country at that time because they had 10 or 11,000 active-duty personnel that were gone.”
For Dada and other citizens of Riverside County, the Air Force’s recent announcement sparked hope of March’s renewed growth.
“March ARB is one of the premier Air Mobility Wings and we have operated the KC-135, the current refueling aircraft here at March, with excellence for many years,” said Wendy Day, chief of media engagement for the 452nd Air Mobility Wing. “Our airmen are some of the best the Air Force has to offer, and their service will continue, regardless of the aircraft we operate.”
Should Congress decide in their favor, March officials expect the KC-46As to reach full operational capability by 2027. Air Force officials announced the preference for March ARB in January.
Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma are considered reasonable alternatives should March fail its assessment, according to the Air Force’s announcement. All three bases are expected to receive impact assessments later this year, with a final decision to follow in 2023.