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Niagara Welcomes Back Familiar Sight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing
The 914th Airlift Wing here entered a new era as they welcomed the arrival of their first KC-135R Stratotanker at a ceremony here, Feb. 2, 2017.

Since being activated in 1963, the 914th AW has continuously provided airlift support, first with the C-119 Flying Boxcar and then the C-130 Hercules. Today marks another step in the process of their conversion into in air refueling wing, the first major conversion for the wing in their more than 50 year history.

“It’s a great day today, not only for the 914th but for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station,” said Col. Brian Bowman, 914th AW commander. “The work that went into getting these planes here was monumental.”

The 914th AW was activated as the 914th Troop Carrier Group in February of 1963. Until 1971 they flew the C-119 Flying Boxcar before taking on the C-130 Hercules which they have flown continuously ever since.

After flying the C-130H for more than 40 years, it has become an important part of the history of the community, said Bowman. The contributions of the aircraft to the country and its allies have made it the backbone of tactical airlift and will be missed by us, said Bowman.

The Niagara Falls ARS was an ideal location for the KC-135R as it already has the majority of the facilities the 914th AW will need. Previously, the 107th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard, had the mission of flying the Stratotankers from 1994 to 2008.

“What a joyous day it is here,” said Kathleen Hochul, lieutenant governor of New York. “A dark cloud that had been hanging over the future of this base has been lifted.”

In previous years, the Niagara Falls ARS had been under threat of closure under the base realignment and closure process. With the 107th AW also undergoing a conversion, to MQ-9 Reapers, there is a positive feeling that the air base will be around for decades to come.

“To all the people in this room who fought because they believed in the mission of these men and women standing behind me, I congratulate all of you for putting your heart and soul into saving this base,” said Hochul. “Today the new future begins.”

However, it wasn’t always clear that once it was decided the 914th’s airlift mission was to end, if any new mission was going to be given to them.

Under the watch of Col. Bowman great things have been happening to the 914th, said Hochul. It was known for a while that the C-130H’s would be leaving, and recently the question of whether they were going to be replaced has been answered, said Hochul.

The conversion has been ongoing with many members of the 914th AW currently undergoing training to become experts in the new mission.

“We currently have 10 pilots in training and two boom operators,” said Maj. Tom Scozzafava, 914th Operations Group commander. “We’re still flying the C-130H, all the way up until July and then we will stop C-130H operations. In mid-March we will start the first actual tanker missions out of Niagara Falls.”

The Airmen of the 914th AW must first undergo the process of learning new skills through a series of training before they can undertake real-world missions.

For pilots and boom operators the initial training is four months long for each, said Scozzafava. That is followed by another four to six months of proficiency training before the crews can start flying without other qualified instructors, said Scozzafava.

The amount of work that needs to be put into converting skills over in order to fly the KC-135R might seem daunting, but the Airmen of the 914th are facing it head-on.

“The folks that we have at school right now are doing really well,” said Scozzafava. “They say it’s a great plane to fly. We’re just really excited about the new mission.”

With the new mission, the wing is looking to get at least eight more of the Stratotankers as the mission of air refueling is highly valued.

“These missions see hundreds of them every single day flying all over the world,” said Bowman. “In order to get aircraft over the Atlantic, over the Pacific, or anywhere in route in the most minimum amount of time possible, they have to be air-refueled.”

Though for some, the conversion is almost bittersweet as the C-130H is bid farewell as part of an overall reduction of the Air Force’s inventory of the aircraft.

For many of the wing’s Airmen, airlift is all they have known during their Air Force careers, said Bowman. The future of the 914th AW has been solidified with the arrival of the KC-135R for decades to come, so the Airmen know that this is the right answer for the 914th, said Bowman.

After a long history of providing airlift support, the 914th AW is proudly embarking on the latest chapter of their history.

“We’re really excited to go through this transition, we’ve embraced it 100%,” said Scozzafava. “We’re just excited to contribute to the worldwide mission of the Air Force.”

Taking on such a high-value mission, the Airmen of the 914th AW know that they have much to look forward to in the years to come.

“Resting on the incredible history of the C-130H’s, there is an even brighter future ahead,” said Hochul.