TAMPA — The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 18 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.
The 50th Airlift Squadron, with eight jets and some 250 personnel, is headed to MacDill from Little Rock Air Force Base, according to a news release from the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill’s host unit.
The squadron will be redesignated at the 50th Air Refueling Squadron during a welcome ceremony 8:50 a.m. Sunday.
The 50th squadron dates to the days when the Army operated an air installation, Drew Field, on land it turned over after World War II for what would become Tampa International Airport, according to the news release.
Repairs are underway at MacDill Hangars 2 and 4 to accommodate the additional tankers. The KC-135 Stratotanker jets first began rolling off the assembly line when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
A new generation of tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus, are being built to replace them but so far, none of the new planes have been assigned to MacDill.
Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J., and Travis Air Force Base, California, were named by the Air Force in January as preferred locations.
That marked the second time MacDill failed to make the cut. Community leaders have been pushing hard to bring the new jets to MacDill because of the additional money, personnel and construction jobs they would bring. The jets would have also helped protect MacDill from any base reductions.
The effort has been led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who said last year that landing the jets could have meant tens of millions of dollars to the local economy.
The shortlist of host bases for the new planes was determined by factors such as the capacity of hangars, runways, ramp space and facilities, as well as cost and environmental requirements.
The Air Force declined earlier to say where MacDill fell short.
Still, the older tankers are expected to be flying for decades to come.
After growing its fleet to meet a requirement of 479 tankers, the Air Force will begin replacing the KC-125 Stratotankers on a one-to-one basis as the new tankers are produced.
Later, another aviation unit will be moving operations to MacDill.
The base is building a new home over the next two years for A and F Companies of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment. Now located at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, the move will bring 23 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and about 150 personnel to MacDill.
Adding new units can bring new jobs to Tampa and bolstering MacDill against efforts to close military installations.
Hosting the units requires MacDill to build a 200-member Army Reserve Center and Aviation Support Facility, to include a 109,000-square-foot training and aviation support center, a 6,500-square-foot maintenance shop and a 15,000-square-foot unheated storage building.