TOWN OF NIAGARA – The first of the tanker planes newly assigned to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station arrived Wednesday.
The KC-135R Stratotanker, transferred from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., landed at the base about noon, said Sgt. Kevin Nichols, public affairs superintendent for the 914th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve.
Officials scheduled a welcoming ceremony on the base for 1 p.m. Thursday.
"It's great news. We're excited," said John A. Cooper Sr., president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, a community support and lobbying group for the base.
The Pentagon decided last year to change the mission of the 914th, by reassigning its eight C-130 cargo planes and moving in eight KC-135s, which are designed to refuel other planes in mid-air.
Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., announced that one of the C-130s formerly stationed at Niagara Falls landed there Jan. 12.
The tanker plane's arrival comes sooner than expected. Base officials previously said they did not expect any of the KC-135s to arrive until spring.
The Air Force was to spend $25 million to convert the 914th to the refueling mission, which was to add about the equivalent of 27 full-time workers to the base's rolls, according to former President Obama's final budget.
The base employs 3,000 military personnel and full- and part-time civilian workers, making it Niagara County's largest employer.
"Not only does this mission fulfill a strategic role in our national security, this mission also protects thousands of good-paying jobs for Western New York residents, and provides a boost to the regional economy," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. "This $25 million federal investment is money well-spent, keeping people at work and enhancing the mission of NFARS for decades to come."
The local reserve unit expects to change its name to the 914th Air Refueling Wing in June, Cooper said.
So far, no KC-135 flight simulator has been shipped to Niagara Falls, although a building to house it was completed last summer. The building was originally constructed to host a C-130 simulator.
"As simulators become available, we're staying hot on that issue," said Cooper, whose council acts as a community support and lobbying group for the base.
The other unit at Niagara Falls, the 107th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, has been chosen as a control center for military drones.
Cooper said the operations center for the drone controllers is expected to be finished in June. The Niagara Military Affairs Council hopes drones will eventually be based at the base.