Key Field ANG Base
Meridian RAP, Mississippi
Key Field is home to the Air National Guard 186th Air Refueling Wing. The 186th ARW operates a fleet of KC-135R Stratotankers. The KC-135R is a mid-air refueler that can carry as much as 30,000 gallons of fuel to all parts of the World. Key Field is also home to the Army National Guard 185th Army Aviation Support Facility, Company G. The 185th operates a fleet of CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The Chinook is a multi-purpose transport/cargo helicopter capable of carrying 55 troops and gear or can also sling-load up to 25,000 pounds. Air Rescue and Firefighting capabilites are provided by the Air National Guard. Due to their mission as a Refueling Wing, they provide the entire Airport with firefighting capabilities that rival any airport in the Southeastern United States.
At 12:32 p.m. on June 4, 1935, brothers Al and Fred Key lifted off the grass strip of Meridian's airport in an effort to break the world record for sustained flight. Working with other Meridianites such as A.D. Hunter and James Keeton, the Key brothers devised a workable method of air-to-air refueling in order to attempt this feat.
The record they established in their 27 days aloft, totaling 653 hours and 34 minutes, remains unbroken in conventional flight. Not until orbiting space labs did man stay aloft longer. When they landed at 6:06 p.m. on July 1, 1935, before a crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000 fans gathered at the airfield, the Meridian airport was renamed "Key Field" in their honor, the name it retains today.
In setting this record they flew an estimated 52,320 miles - or twice the distance around the earth at an average speed of about 80 mph. The engine in their Curtis-Robbins monoplane, the "Ole Miss", had made some 61 million revolutions "without a bobble," as reported by Meridian educator and writer Stephen Owen in his books "The Flying Key Brothers and Their Flight to Remember". Some 300 gallons of oil were used and they consumed 6,000 gallons of gas. Flying in shifts, the men maintained the plane by walking outside on a frightening catwalk that went around the sides of the engine.
Both brothers served in World War II, each piloting and contributing to the design of the famous B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. In 1955, pilot Fred Key flew the completely restored "Ole Miss" to Washington, DC, where it is now on permanent display in the National Air and Space Museum. The World Flight Endurance record set by the Key Brothers in 1935 still stands today.
The flight of Al and Fred Key proved that air-to-air refueling worked. The ability to remain in flight was limited only by the endurance of the flight crew and the structural and mechanical stability of the aircraft. The US Air Force continued to refine and improve on the basic principal that was developed in Meridian in 1935. Today practically all military aircraft are capable of being refueled in flight.
The Meridian Airport Authority owns and operates Meridian/Key Field. With a 10,004 X 150 foot main runway, the Meridian/Key Field Airport can accommodate virtually any aircraft in the world. The precision instrument runway is equipped with multiple approaches including ILS, and also provides VASI, HIRL, MALSR, and REIL. The airport is open 24 hours a day with the Air Traffic Control Tower being in operation from 6:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Key Field Air Guard Station, MS. It would distribute the 186th Air Refueling Wing's KC-135R aircraft to the 128th Air Refueling Wing (ANG), General Mitchell Air Guard Station, WI (three aircraft); the 134th Air Refueling Wing (ANG), McGhee-Tyson Airport Air Guard Station, TN (three aircraft); and 101st Air Refueling Wing (ANG), Bangor International Airport Air Guard Station, ME (two aircraft). One aircraft would revert to backup aircraft inventory. The 186th Air Refueling Wing's fire fighter positions would move to the 172d Air Wing at Jackson International Airport, MS, and the expeditionary combat support (ECS) would remain in place. Receiver locations General Mitchell (86) and McGhee-Tyson (74) ranked higher in military value rating for the tanker mission than Key Field (92). Bangor (123) would also receive aircraft within this recommendation. Military judgment argued for the increased unit size at Bangor because of its critical role as host base for Northeast Tanker Task Force support to the transatlantic air bridge. Key Field's newer KC-135R aircraft would help replace McGhee-Tyson's older, higher maintenance KC-135E models, and help robust the unit size. The remainder of Key Field's realigned aircraft would help to increase the squadron size at General Mitchell and maintain critical backup aircraft inventory levels. Bangor, McGhee-Tyson, and General Mitchell would gain additional KC-135 aircraft to their maximum available capacity, increasing both effectiveness and unit capability. Key Field's ECS would remain in place to support the Air Expeditionary Force and to retain trained, experienced Airmen.
The total estimated one-time cost to the Department of Defense to implement this recommendation would be $10.7M. The net of all costs and savings to the Department during the implementation period would be a cost of $6.9M. Annual recurring savings after implementation would be $0.9M, with a payback expected in 13 years. The net present value of the cost to the Department over 20 years would be a savings of $2.5M. Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 339 jobs (175 direct jobs and 164 indirect jobs) over the 2006-2011 period in the Meridian, MS, Metropolitan Statistical economic area (0.6 percent). Environmentally, there would be potential impacts to air quality; land use constraints or sensitive resource areas; noise; and wetlands that might need to be considered during the implementation of this recommendation. Impacts of costs include $0.1M in costs for environmental compliance and waste management.
Community Concerns: The community argued DoD's recommendation would negatively affect training and readiness and incur costs exceeding projected 20-year savings. Community representatives stated the Tanker Mission Compatibility Index inadequately measured the base's "Optimal Proximity" to airspace supporting its mission. They argued larger tanker presence in the Southeastern United States is needed to fulfill refueling requirements for receiver aircraft in the region, because using more distant tankers would add extra flight time and cost. They claimed Key Field was not properly evaluated for: its aircraft hangar, inexpensive expansion potential, KC-135 simulator, high historical manning rates, lack of noise and encroachment problems, potential loss of experienced personnel, negative economic impact on the region, and high Operations and Personnel Tempo in support of current worldwide missions and taskings. The community wants to keep its KC-135 mission and argued that the Governor and Adjutant General were not consulted on this recommendation.
Commission Findings: The Commission noted the Department of Defense failed to account for costs associated with relocating the KC-135 fullmotion simulator at Key Field (one of only four such simulators in the Air National Guard). The aggregate of both programmatic and BRAC-related aircraft movements into and out of the Southeastern United States, including Air Force, Navy and Marine aircraft could lead to a shortage of regional air-refueling aircraft for training and homeland defense mission support. The Commission found that this potential shortfall is one of economic efficiency, not operational deficiency. The Commission further found that the Secretary of Defense's overall intent and concept of redistributing KC-135s out of Key Field AGS was supportable if the potential shortfall of cost-effective air-refueling support is mitigated by rejecting one of the Department of Defense's recommendations to reduce the number of KC-135 tanker aircraft in the Southeast. The commission found that Birmingham IAP AGS, AL had the best military value to meet the potential shortfall, and therefore found that the recommendation for Key Field Air Guard Station is supportable.
This recommendation directing aircraft movement and personnel actions in connection with Air National Guard installations and organizations is designed to support the Future Total Force. The Commission expects that the Air Force will find new missions where needed, provide retraining opportunities, and take appropriate measures to limit possible adverse personnel impact. The Commission's intent is that the Air Force will act to assign sufficient aircrew and maintenance personnel to units gaining aircraft in accordance with current, established procedures. However, the Commission expects that all decisions with regard to manpower authorizations will be made in consultation with the governor of the state in which the affected Air National Guard unit is located. Any manpower changes must be made under existing authorities, and must be made consistent with existing limitations. Some reclassification of existing positions may be necessary, but should not be executed until the Air Force and the state have determined the future mission of the unit to preclude unnecessary personnel turbulence. This recommendation is consistent with the Commission's Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Laydown Plan.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that the Secretary of Defense deviated substantially from final selection criteria 1, 3 and 4, as well as from the Force Structure Plan. Therefore, the Commission recommends the following:
Realign Key Field Air Guard Station, MS. Distribute the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ANG)'s KC-135R/T aircraft to meet the Primary Aircraft Authorizations (PAA) requirements established by the Base Closure and Realignment recommendations of the Secretary of Defense, as amended by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
Establish 12 PAA KC-135R/T aircraft at the 128th Air Refueling Wing (ANG), General Mitchell Air Guard Station, Wisconsin.
If the State of Mississippi decides to change the organization, composition and location of the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) to integrate the unit into the Future Total Force:
Establish Key Field as a Regional Operations and Security Center (ROSC) location, with the 186th Air Refueling Wing's Expeditionary Combat Support (ECS) elements remaining in place;
Reassign a sufficient number of aircrews and maintenance personnel of the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) to the 172d Airlift Wing (ANG), a C-17 unit located on Thompson Field, Mississippi to bring that unit to a fully manned status, with the Air Force providing retraining where necessary, and;
All other personnel allotted to the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) will remain in place and assume a mission relevant to the security interests of the State of Mississippi and consistent with the integration of the unit into the Future Total Force, including but not limited to air mobility, C4ISR, engineering, flight training or unmanned aerial vehicles. Where appropriate, unit personnel will be retrained in skills relevant to the emerging mission.
This recommendation does not effect a change to the authorized end-strength of the Mississippi Air National Guard. The distribution of aircraft currently assigned to the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) is based upon a resource-constrained determination by the Department of Defense that the aircraft concerned will better support national security requirements in other locations and is not conditioned upon the agreement of the state.
The Commission found that this change and the recommendation as amended are consistent with the final selection criteria and the Force Structure Plan. The full text of this and all Commission recommendations can be found in Appendix Q.
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