Altus Air Force Base held their official Groundbreaking Ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 7, to celebrate the new construction projects to begin in preparation for the KC-46A Pegasus Formal Training Unit. Altus AFB leadership, with Gen. Robin Rand, Commander of the Air Education and Training Command, and dignitaries, thrust their shovels into the dirt at the site where contractors and workers will soon begin building. Both Air Base and Civic leaders reflected on the base’s history, it’s bright future, and the exemplary partnership that has brought so many Air Force missions to Altus.
“Today’s ground breaking is a momentous day for Altus Air Force Base, our surrounding community, Air Education and Training Command, and the United States Air Force,” Col. Bill Spangenthal, Commander of the 97th Air Mobility Wing said to an audience of AAFB leaders, airmen, and Altus community civic leaders.
“Today we proudly train the greatest airmen in the world to operate C-17’s and KC-135’s, and soon the KC-46 will take to the skies of Altus, continuing our legacy of creating the world’s best mobility air command,” Col. Spangenthal said after recalling the earliest demonstrations of air refueling (circa. 1929), and highlighting the numerous training missions in the history of AAFB.
Oklahoma Senator Mike Schulz also spoke during the ceremony, bringing to memory his early days as a boy working the cotton fields and watching the beloved KC-135 aircraft fly in the Oklahoma sky.
“But as a much older kid, now still working those same cotton fields, I look forward to seeing the new aircraft in the Air,” Senator Schulz said.
Schulz commended the partnership between the USAF and Boeing Co., stating he is glad to have another Boeing aircraft in Altus and in the skies of Southwest Oklahoma. “This day signifies the beginning of a new tool that will be a vital part in continuing the United States air superiority around the world,” he said.
Following the ceremony, Col. Spangenthal offered several comments about the momentous day saying, “This is a great feeling to have this ground breaking on the KC-46A Pegasus. It has been a long time coming. And to be here and be part of this is truly fantastic and as we look forward to 2016 where we get a few aircraft on the ramp, I can tell you the whole base is excited.”
“The KC-46 brings a unique blend of capabilities that we don’t have today. It’s going to offer both air refueling from a boom and a drogue. Offer up airlift movement, medical-evac, but it also brings an element of survivability that our tankers don’t have today. So the across the board capabilities for this platform really make it a game changer for our nation.”
“The future of Altus Air Force Base looks bright,” Col. Spangenthal said.
Altus Mayor David Webb shared his thoughts about the occasion stating, “It’s a great day for the City of Altus and Southwest Oklahoma. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this day for what seems like for years. We’ve been working on the partnership with the base, so this is just another way that we can work together to further the mission of the Air Force in Southwest Oklahoma.”
Webb stated that Altus is a “show place” for community and base relationships. “Other parts of the country look to Altus,” Webb said. “We are very well known for the great relationship we have with the base. Webb stated that the most significant piece of preparing for the new mission is the added housing needs for and estimated 570 new residents.
The Altus Military Affairs Committee has been a key component to help bring the Formal Training Unit and other missions to Altus.
“We have a group of business leaders that make contributions on their own to the Committee that does all sorts of things in building the relationship with the airbase,” Mayor Webb said. “We work very closely when key visitors come to the base. We make them feel at home. We want them to see the best side of the base and the community… We have a very active group of business leaders and community members that feel very strongly about the Air Force base and want to do everything we can to further the mission of the base in Altus.”
The estimated total project will cost about $56 million dollars, to include a simulator, fuselage, and trainer buildings, explained Maj. Jonathan Mackay, Chief of the KC-46A Wing Staffing Office. Maj. Mackay oversees the project to ensure that that the simulator and trainers are ready before the first two KC-46A aircraft arrive in 2016. AAFB anticipates receiving one or two aircraft each following year until they have at least six, with the possibility of having eight total. Demolition has already begun to prepare the site for a new addition to the 56th Operations Air Refueling Squadron building.