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Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing to seek new tanker planes

Tom Fontaine
| Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 11:46 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing remains a long shot to receive the Air Force's first batch of new tanker planes that will carry more fuel and cargo than their aging predecessors, officials said Tuesday.

But at a sparsely attended public hearing, officials with the Findlay unit said they are finalizing their application for a dozen KC-46A tankers in case the front-runner's bid hits a snag.

If it doesn't, they say the 171st could be better positioned for the next round of tankers, which could be ordered in the mid-to-late 2020s.

“Although the preferred alternative has been announced, no final decision has been made. Until a final decision is made, all alternatives are still under consideration,” said Col. Edward E. “Ted” Metzgar, the wing commander.

The Air Force plans to establish two operating bases for the KC-46A within five years, with one being run by the active-duty Air Force and one by the Air National Guard. It also will set up a training base.

After those bases are outfitted with the new planes, other active-duty bases will receive them, officials said. The Air Force plans to order 179 KC-46As through 2028, records show.

The 171st is one of five Air National Guard bases competing for the KC-46A. Last spring, the Air Force said New Hampshire's Pease Air National Guard Station was the preferred guard candidate.

If the 171st lands the tanker, Metzgar said it would experience a slight bump in employment — 59 jobs on top of the current 1,200 members. Studies predict a 2 percent increase in flights, in part because of the increased cargo capacity of the new planes that could have the unit's pilots making more deliveries in addition to refueling airborne planes.

The Air Force is expected to finalize its decision in June. The chosen Air National Guard base is expected to start receiving new tankers in 2018 or 2019, said Maj. Karen R. Bogdan, spokeswoman for the 171st, home to 16 1950s-era tankers.

One person spoke at the public hearing. Dan Alwine, a staffer for state Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, expressed support for the 171st's bid for the tankers.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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