McConnell preps for new tanker with demolition, construction

Demolition crews tear down an old hangar at McConnell Air Force Base to make way for a new three-bay hangar. It will be one of three new hangars at the base used to accommodate the new KC-46 refueling tankers.
Demolition crews tear down an old hangar at McConnell Air Force Base to make way for a new three-bay hangar. It will be one of three new hangars at the base used to accommodate the new KC-46 refueling tankers. Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Those loud booming noises that have been coming from McConnell Air Force Base recently are signs of progress.

Crews have been tearing down an old hangar to make way for construction of a three-bay hangar for the new KC-46 refueling tanker.

Demolition of all sorts of existing McConnell structures has been in full force for several months so that more than 350 tons of steel can be brought in over the next two-plus years to build stuff. That, in turn, means a significant boost to the local economy.

One piece of equipment uses a large pincer to rip out huge steel beams from the old hangar.

“That pincer pretty much makes those beams look like toothpicks when they cut it,” said Ben Davis, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the construction.

The first of the 36 aircraft targeted for McConnell are supposed to arrive in early 2016.

Construction contractors have their own deadlines to build three hangars to accommodate the KC-46 tankers, which are larger than the KC-135s they are replacing.

Two hangars – a one-bay and a two-bay – are scheduled to be finished by the end of 2015; the three-bay is set to be done by March 2017.

“Things are on schedule,” said Neal Ridgeway, project manager for Archer Western Aviation Partners, a joint venture of three companies from Chicago, St. Louis and Oklahoma City that serves as the general contractor for the new hangars. “We’re pleased with the progress so far.”

Demolition of an old four-bay hangar – known as Building 1106, where the three-bay hangar will be built – should be completed in January.

The demolition work to make way for the other two hangars has been completed. Crews are installing underground utilities and foundations for those hangars.

“But we’re early in the process and not out of the ground yet,” Ridgeway said. “Any time you build on a military facility that has been in existence for a long time, you find a lot of unforeseen conditions.”

Such as old utilities, foundations and structures that aren’t always on the map. Crews have already had to deal with some of those.

“There’s always a hiccup here or there,” Davis said.

Congress allotted $219 million for infrastructure work at McConnell to prepare for the new tankers, with $197 million going to build the three hangars and an aircraft parking apron.

Archer Western’s contract for that work is $143.7 million. The $53.3 million difference will pay for architects and engineers and will cover contingency costs and oversight by the government, Davis said.

Local economic boost

Out of the 60-plus subcontractors on the job, more than a dozen are local and have contracts totaling $24 million, Ridgeway said. The government defines “local” as anything within a two hours’ drive of Wichita.

Wichita’s Snodgrass and Sons has a $2.1 million contract to do part of the concrete work. CMC Concrete Materials, another Wichita company, is supplying the concrete for the project.

Bradburn Demolition is doing the demolition work. The Wichita company’s contract is for $200,000, but Bradburn makes most of its money by recycling materials it gets from tearing down the structures, Ridgeway said.

All of the structural steel is being fabricated and supplied by two Kansas companies. Topeka’s Haas Metal Engineering has the $24.5 million contract, but so much steel is so large an order that it brought in Pittsburg’s Unique Metal Fabrications as a subcontractor to help fill the order.

The economic impact doesn’t stop with contracts to area companies.

The out-of-state companies will rent construction equipment and buy fuel and other supplies locally as well as bring in crews who will need a place to stay and eat, Ridgeway said.

Those crews will number in the hundreds as the work ramps up in 2015, especially during the summer, he added.

“We have to have those one- and two-bays done by the end of the year,” Ridgeway said. “We’ll be busy.”

Boeing’s role

Boeing has been busy getting the tanker ready for delivery. The baseline of the aircraft – excluding the refueling parts, such as the boom – successfully completed its first test flight Sunday, Boeing said.

The KC-46 – including all its refueling components – is set for its first test flight the first part of 2015, according to Boeing’s tanker website.

Boeing reportedly has been having trouble meeting some deadlines for the tanker, although a company official said Monday that those bumps were related to internal issues.

“They won’t impact delivery,” said Chick Ramey, a spokesman for Boeing’s tanker project.

Boeing has committed to submitting a revised schedule to the Air Force in February. McConnell is still expected to get its first tanker in February 2016, officials have said.

The company has a $52 billion contract to complete delivery of 179 of the new tankers to the Air Force by 2027. Eighteen of those are to be delivered by 2017.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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