August 1945: Bldg. 3001 briefly on the brink

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

For a brief window of time in August 1945, Tinker Air Force Base’s cavernous Bldg. 3001 faced the prospect of having no future.

Two days after Japan announced its surrender in World War II, the Douglas Aircraft Co. ceased all production in its 1.7 million-square-foot, red-brick behemoth built to manufacture aircraft to help vanquish the Axis powers. The company let go more than 12,000 employees.

With six years of world war over, even E.A. Johnson, Douglas’s plant superintendent, didn’t know at that time what would happen next to the factory that delivered thousands of planes for the Allied victory.

Albert S. Low specifically designed what was then a Douglas Aircraft Co. plant for wartime. The windowless exterior would let the workforce churn out production even in blackout conditions if air war reached the homeland. Massive air conditioning and heating systems kept their work climate even. Twenty miles of fluorescent lamps on the 50-foot ceilings shined down on toiling workers and planes 24 hours a day.

More than 6,000 workers started plant construction on March 23, 1942, less than four months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Skilled laborers stacked 17 million bricks along the building’s three-quarters-of-a-mile length and its maximum width of 850 feet.

Construction delays included unexpected site preparation work due to a lack of construction steel and the discovery of wet soil that needed more dirt preparation. Despite the obstacles, half of the building was completed by January 1943 and Douglas began moving in. The rest was finished in two months and the building was officially accepted on March 26. The project, including tools and machinery, cost $37.8 million, or about $550 million in today’s dollars.

Although Douglas workers in Bldg. 3001 had been assembling C-47 cargo planes with shipped-in parts since early in 1943, the first C-47 built entirely at the Oklahoma plant emerged from the building on July 22, 1943.

When Douglas shut down operations, workers had produced 5,354 C-47s in two and a half years – 13 a day at peak production. They also made or assembled 400 C-54 cargo planes and 900 A-26 attack bombers. At Douglas’s highest employment numbers in 1943, a little more than half of the 22,592 employees were women.

When planes stopped rolling off the assembly line on Aug. 17, 1945, local families and civic leaders worried about the plant’s future and the nearby Army Midwest Air Depot. Fortunately, the answer arrived quickly. During a plant inspection, plant Superintendent Johnson, the commander of the Oklahoma City Air Technical Service Command and other leaders were told the Air Corps Site Board wanted the plant for post-war aircraft work.

On Aug. 24, 1945, seven days after production stopped, The Daily Oklahoman spread the news: “Air Depot Stays, Will Absorb Idle City Plane Factory.”

As a military maintenance center for aircraft and engines, Bldg. 3001’s first workloads included J33, J35 and J47 engines in the 1940s. In 1959, Bldg. 3001 gained two workloads that remain today: the B-52 bomber and the KC-135 aerial refueling tanker.

More than seven decades after its construction, Bldg. 3001 still stands strong in service to the nation as the keystone production site of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, which employs more than 9,400 military and civilian personnel.

 Sources: “The Early Years of Building 3001,” Dan Schill, Tinker History Office, May 10, 2000; “Bldg. 3001 – a ‘tough old building,’” Tom Brewer, Tinker History Office, Nov. 30, 1984, Tinker Take Off; smartasset.com inflation calculator.