By Chris Casteel
Years away, plane will replace aging KC-135 tanker.
WASHINGTON — Top Air Force generals have committed to sending the first KC-X aircraft, a tanker intended to replace the 50-year old KC-135 model, to Altus Air Force Base, Sen. Jim Inhofe and a senior Air Force official said Thursday.
The plane, which is the top acquisition priority for the Air Force, still is years away from completion.
The Air Force is expected to release the final request for proposal this month, allowing companies to compete for the contract.
Altus Air Force Base is home to the 97th Air Mobility Wing, which trains airlift and air refueling crews. The training includes work on the KC-135 Stratotanker, which has the primary mission of refueling planes in flight.
The KC-X is planned to replace the KC-135 and have air refueling as its primary mission.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that he had met with Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, and talked to Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, head of the Air Mobility Command. Inhofe said he received commitments from both that the first KC-X aircraft will go to Altus after testing is complete.
“While we are the very beginning of the KC-X program, we expect this to happen in approximately 2012, given our current timeline,” Inhofe said.
The senator said Altus was the logical place for some of the early KC-X planes to be located.
However, he said the Air Mobility Command, after a site review at Altus, had been considering sending the planes to operational bases instead of the training base in Altus.
Inhofe said he had a prior commitment for Air Force officials to send KC-X planes to Altus and that he got those commitments renewed after the site review produced some consternation at the Altus base.
“It’s a done deal,” he said.
In an interview, McNabb confirmed that, saying Altus “absolutely” would get some of the first new tankers. He said the Air Mobility Command, located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, had looked at stationing the planes at the bases from which they deploy but ultimately decided to send them to flight training units. He said Altus is “first class” and trains crews “superbly.”
“I couldn’t stress enough how tremendous the operation at Altus is,” he said. “This will be one more big part of what we do for the nation.”
McNabb said he is hoping the first planes are ready by 2011.