NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is celebrating the beginning of a new era. As the 914th Airlift Wing transitions to an Air Refueling Wing, this week brought a major milestone: The arrival of the first KC-135 Stratotanker.
The large plane landed at the Air Reserve Station Wednesday afternoon. A ceremony Thursday afternoon is bringing local, state and federal leaders together to celebrate its arrival and the future potential it brings for the base.
“This is a really great thing for not only the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, but also the local community,” explained 914th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Andrea Pitruzzella.
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is Niagara County’s largest employer, with around 3,000 people working there. All of those jobs were saved when the new KC-135 mission came through.
There had been talk of closing the base when the 914th’s old mission, flying C-130 cargo planes, was coming to an end. The Air Force is removing some of the older C-130 models from its inventory and has wrapped up the C-130 mission at NFARS, but will continue to use some C-130s out of some other areas.
Still, when there was the threat of base closure, it was a very scary situation for local business owners who depend on customers attached to NFARS.
“That would devastate the business. We do that much with them,” said Laura Fantrazo, the owner of Cut & Clip Salon, right outside the main NFARS gate on Lockport Road. “It would not be a good thing for businesses, me or anybody else in the area.”
Fantrazo estimates somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of her business comes from people who work at the Air Reserve Station. She says she was relieved to learn of the new KC-135 mission that will keep the base open and thriving in the years ahead.
“The KC-135 is an enduring mission and also positions us well for possible follow on missions so it’s really good for the safety and longevity of this installation,” Lt. Col. Pitruzzella said.
People who live around here are no strangers to the sight of KC-135s in the skies. The Guard unit attached to the Air Reserve Station flew KC-135s out of here for years.
“We’ve had these here before, so we have the infrastructure, so to me and to us it was a no brainer to bring them back here,” Lt. Col. Ptruzzella said.
By September, the 914th should have eight KC-135s. All of the crews should be fully trained on them by next year.