As the shiny silver shovels cut through the grass, smiles and applause came over the crowd at McConnell Air Force Base.

The long 11-year mission to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers and make Wichita their home base finally was realized with a groundbreaking for new hangars.

"What better place for these new birds than the Air Capital?" Sen. Pat Roberts asked rhetorically to a huge round of cheers.

Click here for photos of the event

Roberts and other elected officials worked for years to convince colleagues in Washington to spend the money to replace the KC-135. They also worked to convince the Air Force that McConnell was the base base best suited to head up their refueling missions.

The responsibility helps ensure McConnell stays relevant in a age of base realignments and closures.

The first of 36 Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tankers is set for delivery at McConnell in 2016.