Construction projects at McConnell on track for KC-46A arrival

Construction continues on the new KC-46A hangars at McConnell Air Force Base. The KC-46 tankers will replace the aging fleet of KC-135 refueling tankers.
Construction continues on the new KC-46A hangars at McConnell Air Force Base. The KC-46 tankers will replace the aging fleet of KC-135 refueling tankers. The Wichita Eagle

Construction to house the new KC-46A tankers at McConnell Air Force Base is well under way.

“McConnell has been diligently preparing for the KC-46 while the aircraft has progressed through its development,” Lt. Col. Corbett Peterson, who serves as the KC-46A program integration office chief, said in an e-mail. “We will be fully ready for the first delivery” in spring 2017.

New hangars are needed because the KC-46 is larger than the current KC-135s.

The KC-46 is a militarized version of Boeing’s 767 jetliner, 165 feet long by 156 feet wide. The KC-135, which has been in operation since Eisenhower was in the White House, measures 136 feet by 130 feet, roughly.

In 2011, the Air Force chose Boeing’s KC-46 to be its next-generation tanker, and in 2013, McConnell Air Force Base was chosen to be the first active-duty-led base to receive and fly the planes.

The base broke ground for the new construction in 2014.

In January, construction crews with Archer Western Aviation Partners finished placing the 34 steel trusses that will make up the frame of the new hangar buildings.

The steel trusses, some of which weigh more than 480,000 pounds, were put in place by two cranes.

“Kansas winds — both speed and ever-changing direction — were certainly the biggest challenge and safety concern,” said Neal Ridgeway, a senior project manager with Archer Western, in a news release.

The completion of the hangars has been delayed somewhat because crews have had to revamp the plans, officials said.

McConnell’s hangars will be one of the first in the country to be equipped with new safety features instituted after a civilian contractor was killed when fire-suppressing foam inadvertently deployed inside a hangar at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2014.

The Air Force has been re-evaluating life safety and fire-suppression systems across the country, said Ben Davis, a project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City District.

“It’s the first time we’re doing this system on the scale it’s being done,” Davis said. “The Air Force has done it on fighter jet hangars, which are a whole lot shorter and smaller. We’re doing it now on these huge 767-frame planes, and so everything is just on that scale and it’s just huge.”

The hangar redesign shortens distances between fire exits in the hangar and changes how quickly foam and water are distributed in an emergency, Davis said. The plan also calls for changes in how the fire-suppression systems are maintained.

“We’re spending a lot of time on this,” he said. “Everyone got together — the Air Force and the Corps — and we made a conscious decision as to whether we should do this now or later down the road. It was decided that we ought to do it right the first time.”

Production delays at Boeing have pushed back the planes’ arrival until spring 2017; as a result, the hangars will still be completed by the time the planes arrive — and “well within what Congress appropriated for the project,” Davis said.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

McConnell construction

McConnell is getting about $267 million in construction projects in preparation for the KC-46A’s arrival. Here are some of them, with cost and completion date:

▪ One-bay hangar: $26.7 million, April

▪ Two-bay hangar: $65.5 million, May

▪ Dormitory: $7.3 million, completed February

▪ Flight simulator: $3.1 million, April

▪ Fuselage trainer: $4.7 million, July

▪ Regional maintenance training facility: $13.7 million, February 2017

▪ Three-bay hangar: $54.2 million, March 2017