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McConnell construction delays return of air show until at least 2016

By Rick Plumlee

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) McConnell Air Force Base hasn't had air show in four years, and it'll be at least another two before the popular event returns.

No air show is being held this year or in 2015 at McConnell because new construction has started at the base to prepare for the arrival of the new KC-46A refueling tankers in 2016, spokeswoman Lt. Jessica Brown said.

No show was held in 2013 when the Air Force canceled all public events nationwide because of defense budget cuts.

McConnell probably will make decision next spring on whether to have a show and open house in 2016, Brown said.

Congress has allotted more than $200 million for new construction at McConnell to prepare the base for the new tanker. The first of the 36 aircraft targeted for the base will begin arriving in February 2016.

Most of that money will go toward building three hangars and an aircraft parking station.

Work has already begun and isn't scheduled to be completed until March 2017. But two of the three hangars are projected to be finished by early 2016, which may allow the air show to be held later that year.

"If everything goes as planned and finished on time," Brown said, "the commander may consider having an air show."

The bi-annual event has long been a popular tradition for the Wichita area, attracting tens of thousands of people. But the show has been called off from time to time for various reasons, including in 2005 because so many McConnell airmen were gone on missions involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Thunderbirds -- the Air Force's elite demonstration squadron --frequently have been a part of McConnell's shows.

But to get on the Thunderbirds' schedule, a request has to be made from a base a year in advance, Brown said. McConnell has traditionally held its air show in September and tries to have its request in by July 31 of the previous year.

As part of sequestration and budget cuts in 2013, the Thunderbirds didn't perform in 2013. But they resumed a full slate this year with 66 demonstrations at 34 sites.

Among the performances still remaining on the Thunderbirds' schedule, the closest one to Wichita is Sept. 13-14 at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle