McConnell history repeats itself

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Tanker fans can anticipate a new age in the air-refueling world in the years to come, starting with the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of three KC-46A Pegasus hangars slated to be held here on June 30.

The ceremony indicates big changes for Team McConnell's 'tanker culture,' however it's not the first time McConnell AFB and it's local community have seen such an event.

Nearly 85 years ago, Wichita, Kansas hit one of its first aviation milestones when construction began for the Wichita Municipal Airport terminal and administration building on June 28, 1929.

The project took almost six years to complete due to the Great Depression. The result turned Southeast Wichita into a sprawling aviation complex, housing the Boeing and Cessna aircraft companies and eventually McConnell, said Daniel Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing historian.

The Administration Building was used as the Army Air Corps Material Center headquarters in the early 1940s, allowing the Army to work alongside Wichita's aircraft manufacturers, particularly Boeing which held the B-29 Superfortress project.

When that unit moved to what is currently Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, the 4156th Army Air Field Base unit arrived at Wichita to service and maintain transient and locally based aircraft.

Military presence disbanded after World War II and did not return until 1951, when the Air Force moved in and established Wichita AFB, which was later renamed to McConnell.

Numerous, Air Divisions and Wings called the newly renumbered Building 1 their headquarters. By 1984, the building was unoccupied and listed as surplus, and in the early 1990s it became what is now known as the Kansas Aviation Museum.

While McConnell has taken many steps forward with its tanker mission, it took a severe blow in 1991, when a F5 tornado struck the southeast side of the base.

"If you have been on base for even a short amount of time, you will surely know that Mother Nature sometimes drives those groundbreaking ceremonies as well," said Williams.

There were no deaths on base. However, more than 100 base housing units and nine major facilities were destroyed. The collective damage inspired new projects throughout the base.

Within three years, a new state-of-the-art clinic would be up and running. Also, rather than break ground on numerous facilities that were lost to the tornado, that year Team McConnell's innovators broke ground on a first of its kind community center that contained a fitness center, education center, bowling center, officer and enlisted clubs, and other services.

The large building expanded once again in 2004, a decade later. Additions would bring the Library, Airmen Leadership School, education services, additional gym facilities, classrooms, personnel services, and numerous upgrades to the rededicated and renamed Robert J. Dole Community Center.

As the base entered a more modern age, advancements in technology beckoned for a key investment - KC-135 flight simulators.

The introduction of McConnell's flight simulators in 1995 enabled pilots to practice in-flight refueling without flying hazards and at one-tenth of what it would cost to fly an actual aircraft, said David Kramer, CAE operations manager.

McConnell has continuously adapted throughout its 63 years of existence to match the needs of the Air Force. While plans are underway to install facilities for a more reliable and capable fleet of aircraft, the mission will stay the same - to deliver war-fighting capability today and tomorrow.

"It's an exciting time and we are certainly up to the challenge because groundbreaking ceremonies and aircraft firsts are the fabric of Team McConnell's history," said Williams.