A KC-46A refueling tanker flew into the Pease Air National Guard base late Thursday afternoon, which made Pease the first guard base in the country to receive what is the next generation of air refueling tankers.
The pilot of the KC-46A Pegasus taxied the tanker in between two Pease fire trucks that sprayed an arc of water for the plane to pass through as several hundred people stood nearby and applauded as it approached.
The event at the 157th Air Refueling Wing was attended by airmen and their families, retirees and a host of federal officials on a sun-bathed Thursday afternoon.
The celebration at times almost felt like a rock concert as guardsmen blared a series of classic rock songs before and during the event, including “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by the Scorpions, “Back in Black” by AC/DC and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.
The crowd heard speeches from U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, Wing Commander Col. John Pogorek, New Hampshire Air National Guard Commander Brig. General Laurie Farris and others.
Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the director of the Air National Guard, piloted the KC 46 Pegasus to Pease, and was joined by his son Capt. Lee Rice, who was part of the crew.
He told the crowd he decided to become a pilot almost 50 years ago after his father took him to an air show at Pease to see the Thunderbirds.
He decided immediately that “I’ve got to do that,” Rice said Thursday.
“To come here, and if you’re a pilot and you see those water cannons shooting up, you know that’s the end of a journey for you. That’s the end of your flying. This represents my last landing that I will accomplish in the United States Air Force,” he said to loud sustained applause.
Rice had no idea how big the crowd would be until after he landed the new tanker.
“What a fitting way for me to round out my 40 years of service than to do this on this day,” he said.
Like other speakers, he praised the new KC-46A air refueling tankers.
He described the new planes as a “weapon system that keeps our sword sharp so we can all live in peace and prosper.”
Donovan, a New Hampshire native, told the crowd it was “truly an honor to be here and take part in this historic event as we welcome the future of America’s tanker force.”
Donovan joined the Air Force when he was 18 and served as a fighter pilot.
He recalled being low on fuel and finally flying up behind a KC-135 Stratotankers, the former refueling tankers.
“I fully appreciate the importance of our tanker mission,” Donovan said.
Donovan noted the Air Force chose the 157th Air Refueling Wing to be the first guard base to receive the first Pegasus because of its record of accomplishments.
“This wing is a model for total force integration, representing a strong partnership between reserve and active duty,” Donovan said.
Pogorek, the wing commander, said the Pease Air National Guard Base has a “well-known reputation” for doing things “the Pease way.”
“If you’re going to do something give it your best and leave it better than the way you found it,” he said.
The base also is “strategically located in the Northeast, minutes away in the air to routes (of the) fighters and bombers who fly overseas,” Pogorek said.
“They need the fuel we deliver to get there,” he added.
He credited the state’s Congressional delegation who “tirelessly advocates for us, telling the story of what our wing can do and why Pease is the right choice to base the Air Force’s newest weapons system.”
“This is a day to celebrate what you’ve accomplished over the years and what we will accomplish in the coming years,” he said.
Shaheen, who pushed for years to get the new air refueling tankers to Pease, said the “157th will continue to outperform every unit” in the Air National Guard.
The KC-46A tankers will continue to guarantee the United States’ air superiority, Shaheen said, which distinguishes us “in terms of our military might around the world.”
Hassan told the crowd that “it’s critical that our men and women in uniform have the tools that they need to carry out their missions around the world.”
And she credited the 157th with being “the best Air National Guard in the country.”
The guard base was scheduled to receive its second new tanker as soon as Friday.
Pease will get three planes per month for four months, for a total of 12, the guard has said.
The KC-46A is larger than the KC-135 with a wingspan of 157 feet, 8 inches.
It is 165 feet, 6 inches long and 52 feet, 10 inches tall. The KC-135’s wingspan is 130 feet, 10 inches. It is 136 feet, 3 inches long and 41 feet, 8 inches tall.
© 2019 Portsmouth Herald
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