Tall grass sprouts from a patch of crushed gravel on the south end of Tinker Air Force Base.
For years, freight cars rumbled across the land, bringing materials to and from the nearby General Motors plant. The rail yard is gone and so are the auto manufacturing jobs.
The U.S. Air Force breathed life into the abandoned plant in 2010, transforming it into a modern air
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, Air Force Sustainment Center Commander , speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new KC-46A Sustainment Campus at Tinker Air Force Base. (Staff photo by Jeff Harrison)
craft maintenance facility. And the same will soon be true for the former rail yard.
On Tuesday morning, Air Force officials and state local leaders broke ground on the new KC-46A Sustainment Campus located on the former rail yard site. The facility will serve as a maintenance depot for the KC-46A Pegasus, the Air Force’s next-generation aerial refueling aircraft.
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, Air Force Sustainment Center Commander, thanked the coalition of military and government leaders that helped make the historic event possible.
“I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about having the first KC-46 roll in for its letter check in 2019. I’m excited about the capabilities it brings to Oklahoma. But I’m more excited about what it brings to our war plan, to our Air Force, to our joint coalition partners and to the defense of the nation. Because after all that’s why we’re here,” Levy said during the groundbreaking ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole said Oklahomans have a proud history of supporting the military and are excited to continue that into the next generation.
“I want to thank this community, there is nowhere in America that is prouder of the U.S. Air Force than Oklahoma City and the surrounding communities,” Cole said. “…Once again the community is working with the Air Force to bring additional resources to benefit this country.”
Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said these types of coalitions are becoming more common in Oklahoma. And they made a difference in bringing the KC-46A Sustainment Campus to Tinker Air Force Base.
“This is yet another example of where Oklahomans don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” he said. “They make these things happen.”
The KC-46A Sustainment Campus is projected to have 12 hangars that will house maintenance, modification, and repair operations for both the airframe and software systems. The first phase of the project, which will include two hangars, is expected to be complete by August 2019, in time for the first fleet of KC-46As.
As part of the project, the base will establish a software integration lab for the KC-46A Pegasus. Levy said that will allow them to modify, upgrade and adapt the software for enhancements or adapt to evolving threats and rapid capabilities integrated to the airplane.
“That is a very powerful concept,” he said. “All that capability being here in one base, one installation as part of the Air Force Sustainment Center gives us tremendous combat advantage. It gives us tremendous flexibility and agility and helps us keep costs low.”
The 158-acre property was acquired through a joint effort between the U.S. Air Force, the City of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County. The land was formerly owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.
The Air Force evaluated a number of potential sites both on and near Tinker AFB location for its KC-46A depot operations. After extensive review, the service determined that this property would be the best value for the taxpayer and would also increase the base’s security by incorporating land between disconnected portions of the base, connecting all of the base’s property.
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. Boeing was awarded a contract for the engineering and manufacturing of the KC-46 program.
“We need a new tanker. We’re going to get it. And it’s going to be a magnificent flying machine,” Levy said. “But it’s not just a tanker. It also carries people and things. And that’s important.”
Crews will soon begin site work with construction is set for fall or winter. The first phase of construction will include a two-bay hangar. The facility will eventually be expanded to 12 hangars as the fleet grows.
“We’re going to build the hangars as we need them,” Levy said. “To be good stewards of taxpayers’ money and not put pressure on the budget, we have a phased flow all the way out to 2021 where we incrementally add more hangars.”