Guest Commentary

Air Force tankers will add new page to Kansas’ legacy of aerospace leadership

The Boeing KC-46A tanker
The Boeing KC-46A tanker

The first airplane manufacturing center in Kansas opened in Freedom in the early 1900s. It would be a few more years until the Longren brothers launched their successful flight over Topeka in 1911. World Wars I and II brought explosive growth to our manufacturing and supply base. Eventually, Kansas produced a third of all B-25 bombers and half the B-29 bomber fleet used in World War II.

I spent 21 years as a navigator/electronic warfare officer as a crew member of the B-52D in the Strategic Air Command and in the backseat of the F-105F Wild Weasel over Thailand. After retiring, I joined Boeing’s Wichita site as a software test engineer on the B-52 Modernization Program’s Offensive Avionics System. Many of us test engineers on the B-52 program felt, or at least I did, that we wore two hats, one for Boeing and one for the U.S. Air Force.

I am so proud that McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita will be the new home of Boeing’s KC-46 tanker once it is delivered to the Air Force. Refueling tankers may not be the star in many air shows across the United States, but their role in our Air Force is critical. They are force multipliers that allow the Air Force to extend the operational capability of a variety of military aircraft, from helicopters and fighters to large transport planes.

These new KC-46 tankers will provide improved technology to isolate and evade threats and will ensure the safety of our brave men and women at home and abroad for decades to come.

When I retired from the service and joined Boeing, I saw the great attention to detail, careful planning and emphasis on safety, particularly for our servicemen and women, that went into manufacturing and delivering the products. There is no doubt in my mind that Boeing’s workers and suppliers across the country are committed to providing the best refueling tanker to the Air Force — one that our servicemen and women will be proud to operate.

The fact that Kansas will be the tanker capital of the Midwest and support our military and local economy is of immense pride to me. Kansas has an exciting new page to add to its long legacy of aerospace leadership, one that began with legends like Longren brothers and Clyde Cessna and will continue in the years to come with the deployment of a brand-new KC-46.

James (Jim) Bradley retired from the Air Force after more than 21 years of service. After the Air Force, he was hired at Boeing in Wichita as a software test engineer, working on programs including the B-52, B-1 and V-22. He retired from Boeing after almost 20 years in 1995. He lives in Westmoreland, Kan.