NEWINGTON — The first of 12 KC-46A Pegasus refueling tankers arrived at the New Hampshire Air National Guard Base at Pease on Thursday afternoon.
With a wingspan of 156 feet and the capacity to carry 212,299 pounds of fuel, the Air Force’s next-generation tanker has been highly anticipated for years.
Matthew Donovan, acting secretary of the Air Force, was at an arrival ceremony held for dignitaries and members of the military. The Peterborough native is a former fighter pilot.
“I fully appreciate the importance of our air refueling mission and I can tell you no tanker air crew will ever have to buy a drink when I am around them,” Donovan said.
“I really can’t think of a better place to welcome Air National Guard’s first KC-46 aircraft than right here at the 157th Air Refueling Wing. This wing is a model for total force integration, representing the strong partnership between active duty and reserve component airmen,” Donovan said.
Boeing Vice President Bob Simmons said the KC 46-A is much more than a tanker.
“It is a full combat system,” Simmons said.
Pease was selected in 2013 as the first Air National Guard base to receive the new tankers.
Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster, were at the ceremony. Shaheen spoke about the efforts made to bring the new tankers to Pease.
“It has been a real bipartisan effort over the last few years to make sure that the support and the resources that are needed to support this tanker, to continue to support the 157th, is there. I know that the entire delegation will continue to work to make sure you have what you need to do your job,” Shaheen said.
Prior to the ceremony, Capt. Jordan Gauvin, 31, of Newmarket, said he will be an instructor pilot after he is trained up on the KC-46. In civilian life, Gauvin is a pilot for American Airlines.
“We have a lot of traditional Guardsmen who are airline pilots,” he said. “... We bring a significant amount of experience with this airframe because it is very similar as it is a next-gen Boeing aircraft and a lot of the crews have flown a similar aircraft.”
The KC-46A is derived from Boeing’s 767 widebody airliner.
Capt. Joy DeWitt, 30, of Portsmouth, enlisted in 2010, and said she has been looking forward to flying the new tankers for years.
“I commissioned a couple years ago and became a pilot, knowing I would eventually fly this plane,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt says she looks forward to being part of more air medical evacuation missions — one of the additional roles the new tanker is capable of performing.
The KC-46A refueling tankers replace the KC-135R Stratotanker fleet at Pease. The oldest working KC-135 in the Air Force left Pease in March.
On Thursday, Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the director of the Air National Guard, landed the first KC-46A to come to Pease. It was his last flight as a member of the U.S. Air Force.