After years of planning, the 916th Air Refueling Wing is a step closer to some substantial new hardware.
The wing hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for its new KC-46A hangar Wednesday, expected to be operational some time in 2020. Held on the flightline, the ceremony included representatives from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro and Wayne County leadership and the private companies working to create the new hangar.
Col. Scovill Curran, commander of the 916th ARW, thanked the audience for attending, and said that the selection of the 916th for the new planes fit in with the wing's legacy of leadership.
"If you look at these wonderful and venerable KC-135s over here, you'll see our wing motto on the tail flap, it's 'First in Flight,'" he said. "To this wing, that is not just a slogan, it's part of our culture. It's baked in. We have a long history of being pioneers and leading the way in our Air Force."
Curran said that the wing -- the first integrated wing in Air Force history -- has benefited from a strong relationship with the local community.
"The relationship between this base and the town of Goldsboro is legendary across the Air Force," he said. "And I'm telling you, that relationship played a part in what we're doing today."
The new hangar will take the place of the current KC-135 hangar, which is already the largest structure on the base. Once complete, the new building will have twice the footprint of the old hangar, Curran said. Overall, the 916th is primed for a full-on facilities rework in the coming years.
"There is not a building on this campus that isn't being either renovated or torn down rebuilt," Curran said.
For the actual groundbreaking portion of the ceremony, Curran was joined by Rep. Jimmy Dixon and Sen. Louis Pate, as well as representatives from the companies working to put the project together. Chris Morgan, vice president and general manager of general contractor Walbridge, said that the new hangar will be state of the art.
"For our part of it, it's about $67 million," he said. "We've built large manufacturing complexes with thousands of square feet. This doesn't have the same square footage, but it's pretty cool and complex, and we haven't done anything quite like this before."
The KC-46A will both improve the crews' ability to carry out their refueling missions and expand the roles they are able to fulfill, Curran said. The new planes have similar fuel capacity to the KC-135, but are far more fuel efficient, which means that more fuel is available for other jets. The major difference between the two, Curran said, is in cargo capacity. Where the KC-135 could fit six pallets of cargo -- and was not designed to carry cargo at all -- the KC-46A will handle 18 pallets. In addition, the KC-46A will be capable of carrying out medical transport operations, flying injured soldiers from their area of deployment to hospitals in Europe before heading back to the United States. Curran, who has served in similar missions, said this capacity is a major step up for the wing.
"Some day soon, because of the work we're starting today, there will be an injured American service member, and our airmen in this new airplane will deliver them safely back to their family. Some day soon, because of the work we're starting today, we're going to send a daily message to the entire world that the Air Force stands ready, always poised to take the fight to enemy and help those less fortunate," he said. "That's what we're doing today. We're going to change lives and protect national security with this groundbreaking."