New Air Force tankers will head to Wichita, but not Topeka

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Top-of-the-line tankers are coming to Kansas.

The U.S. Air Force chose Wichita’s McConnell air force base to house new air refueling tankers. In a separate consideration however, the Air Force decided not to operate any at Forbes Field in Topeka.

The 50-year-old KC 135 tankers are sticking around Forbes Field a little longer.

Forbes was one of five Air National Guard locations across the country considered to house the Air Force’s new KC 46 tankers.

“The KC 46 represents that next generation, technological advances that are put in there, they’re bigger, they’re more powerful, they can carry more fuel, they can carry more cargo,” says Major Joe Blubaugh, Wing Executive Officer.

A base in New Hampshire will get the aircraft instead. One reason for that, the Kansas Adjutant General says, is because the force chose McConnell in Wichita as the Air Force base for the tankers, which was selected in a separate category.

“It would be a very difficult decision in, to end up with both Forbes and McConnell being selected, both being in the same state,” says Major General Lee Tafanelli.

“It makes sense to have these capabilities throughout, geographically throughout the different states, to cover those regions,” adds Blubaugh.

So it’s not necessarily a surprise, but it is a disappointment.

“The KC 46, it brings with it some active duty personnel, so we would obviously have more folks working in the Topeka community who have brought extra jobs to the community,” Blubaugh says.

200 jobs at competitive salaries and benefits, according to Doug Kinsinger at the Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

“That really would have solidified a stand in the Topeka area for the next 30, 40, 50 years,” Blubaugh says.

There’s still hope for the capital city – three more Air National Guard bases will get the KC 46 tankers, but the selection isn’t for another 10 years.

Kinsinger says Forbes offered the least expensive construction costs out of the five bases considered, at nearly 26 million dollars. He believes that will make it a competitive candidate in the future for these tankers.

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