Preparing for PEGASUS

  • Published
  • By Christian Tabak, Staff Writer

Work on the first leg of the new KC-46A Pegasus’ maintenance depot, the single-largest construction project to hit Tinker Air Force Base since the 1940s, is progressing ahead of the official ribbon-cutting scheduled for Oct. 18.

The new 156-acre maintenance campus will eventually boast 14 hangars, single-bay and double-bay, with facilities to handle maintenance, repair and modification operations. The campus will also feature a system integration laboratory and new taxiway as well as a substantial area remaining for future expansion.

“Since the birth and initial growth of Tinker AFB in the World War II era, nothing is bigger from a military construction perspective than the KC-46A campus,” said Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing commander. “This campus will enable the global projection of air power for the next generation and generations to come.”

The segment of the campus that will be unveiled later this month represents the first portion of a massive project that is expected to run through fiscal year 2029. “Work began on the campus in July 2016 and has progressed steadily despite several delays and minor complications,” said Mark Harbaugh, the 72nd Civil Engineering Squadron’s project manager.

The first hangar, which Harbaugh describes as a plane garage compared to the other facilities, will allow crews to do basic maintenance work. The second project, the two-bay hangar, is around 85% complete and will allow crews to perform maintenance, corrosion control processes and fuel cell work, thanks to blast-resistant infrastructure and a major heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The next leg of the construction project will begin in fiscal year 2020 and will include two additional two-bay hangars, one capable of performing the same fuel cell work, as well as a fuel system that will allow for the KC-46A to have the integrity of its fuel processes checked, and the other for basic aircraft maintenance. A three-bay hangar is scheduled for fiscal year 2021.

In fiscal year 2023, Harbaugh said he anticipates constructing the final two-bay depot maintenance hangar and another corrosion control single-bay hangar. The campus’ 14th and final hangar is expected to be added as a single-bay hangar in fiscal year 2027.

“This whole complex will allow them to perform any level of work on the KC-46A, whether it’s just to check the oil and kick the tires or a complete strip it down and rebuild it,” Harbaugh said.

The area that now houses the KC-46A campus was an abandoned rail yard purchased from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. in a joint effort by the Air Force, city of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County for $44 million.

Mr. Bill Ward, acting deputy base civil engineer of the 72nd Civil Engineering Directorate, said several potential sites for the campus were evaluated by the Air Force, but after extensive review the rail yard was selected because it was a suitable site for the campus’ needs.

He added that, because the railyard separated two major portions of the Tinker installation, utilizing the area for the campus would also increase the base’s security connecting those disjointed segments.

In addition, Harbaugh said the rail yard’s location was beneficial since it included an off-base entry point that saved construction teams and supply lines the task of entering the worksite via Tinker’s commercial gate.

The KC-46A is the first phase of a three-stage effort to replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. The aircraft features more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities for cargo and aero medical evacuation, with the manufacturing and engineering contact being awarded to Boeing.

According to Boeing, the Pegasus boasts 62,000 pounds of thrust with a wingspan of 156 feet, a 165-foot-10-inch fuselage length and a height of 52 feet and 10 inches. Its maximum cargo capacity is 212,299 pounds.

The aircraft is fitted with a flush-mounted, air-to-air refueling receptacle capable of accepting fuel at 1,200 gallons per minute and also includes a digital fly-by-wire boom capable of offloading fuel at 1,200 gallons per minute. Additionally, it features a centerline drogue system and removable wing air refuelling pods that each can offload fuel at 400 gallons per minute.

“It’s going to have an impact for Tinker, the Air Force and
the community for decades to come,” Ward said. “It’s something we’re pretty excited about because it’s a new aircraft, it’s a new capability for the Air Force and we’re a part of that. Very few Air Force civil engineering groups get to contribute to something on this scale.”

The Air Force has agreed to purchase 179 KC-46As in order to replace the KC-135 stratotankers, which have been in service since 1957, by 2028. Ward said the 14-hangar facility will be sufficient for the fleet, but the potential for expansion has been taken into consideration with renewed discussion on the possibility of the Air Force moving forward with plans to introduce the KC-Y and KC-Z.

“The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex remains the Air Force’s largest depot and, with the addition of the KC-46A added to increasing legacy system requirements, it will continue to remain the Air Force’s largest depot for the foreseeable future,” Filcek said.