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New aircraft shelters a haven for Eagles

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Winter, spring, summer or fall; each of these seasons ushers in distinctive environments for air and maintenance crews who work on the flightline. With nine new aircraft shelters recently installed here, all four seasons are now covered when it comes to protecting the base's Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft from the elements.

Installation of the shelters mitigates concerns of working in wet areas or under-lighted spaces during early morning or night situations for the maintenance Airmen who generate the jets each day. The idea for the shelters dates back to 2006, but completion of them means a more functional working environment and keeping tools and other expensive equipment out of the rain or harsh summer sun conditions.

It took only a few months this summer to assemble the aircraft shelters, which now sit on the west ramp of the base in Oregon, but the pathway of funding and procurement took nearly eight years.

The process initially began when then-Oregon Air National Guard Commander, Brig. Gen. Daniel O'Hollaren, asked Lt. Col. Joseph Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintenance commander at the time, to travel to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and investigate a new system to de-humidify aircraft.

"The tests were inconclusive, but one of the results was that [National Guard Buearu] approved the use of shelters for aircraft," said Harris.

One of the biggest benefits for sheltering the jets is corrosion prevention. As much as the shelters protect the exterior of the airframes, some of the most expensive damage happens to the electronic components on the inside of the jets with humidity and moisture.

"Just imagine what your car would look like if you never put it in the garage for 30 years," said Harris.

The Logistics Department at NGB would not approve the funds until the Installations and Mission Support Department approved the funding. The Logistics portion paid for the structures; everything constructed above ground level.

Harris recalled the hitch in the process.
"Contracting wants funding before they can solidify bids," said Harris. "Yet it is really hard to get a good, valid unfunded submittal requesting funds if you don't have any bids. So you are in this 'chicken before the egg' move and it fell apart two years in a row even when [we had confirmation that] they could fund the shelters."

Starting again in 2011, the 142nd FW reengaged the process. But it was not until 2013 that the process got fully back on track and the team in place that secured the shelters.

Fiscal year 2013 money was used to purchase the shelters, the construction started in the spring of 2014. Per contracting requirements, the project funding needed to be awarded within the same fiscal year. All in all, it took 11 months from the time the contract was awarded until the construction project was completed.

"The funding is under the Operations and Maintenance budget so it became an equipment item purchase; nine individual equipment purchases just under $250,000 a piece," said Lt. Col. Jenifer Pardy, 142nd Comptroller Flight commander.

Pardy and her team worked for nearly four years to secure the funding as the process was completed to insure that every aspect was carefully congregated.

"Because the shelters are considered equipment items, the $2,107,600 for all nine shelter bays were purchased using Operations and Maintenance funds. Another $170,000 was spent to provide electrical power to them," she said.

In stark contrast to the funding hurdles, the design and construction process was on budget and finished just under the 220 days established for the project.

"It was text book," said Capt. Lucas Smith, a base civil engineer here. "This went exactly the way you want a project like this to go."

Overall the Civil Engineering Squadron managed the design in terms of size and what the shelters would look like. They worked with a local construction firm that built the shelters.

"This really was a team effort," said Smith. "Rarely have I seen construction project work this well considering all the moving parts."

Keeping the jets on mission and the construction process on schedule was initially a major concern. The aircraft operations moved to the weapons ramp so that construction could begin with the favorable spring and summer weather. Senior Master Sgt. Brian Kohl, Fabrication Flight chief, is the liaison between the Aircraft Maintenance Group and CE.

"It all worked really well," he said. "We moved our entire operation to the west ramp of the base. The idea was to put a minimal impact on the operation regarding our weapons team when we moved into their work area."

Kohl made the arrangements to have trailers set up for the flightline staff to work out of and insured that escorts were provided for security with the contractors working on base.

"No flying time was affected, and we did not miss one sortie during the whole construction period," said Kohl.

When the project was completed Aug. 25, the morning launch took off from the temporary work area on the west ramp of the base and two hours later the jets were recovered at the east ramp using the new shelters.

According to Kohl, any fighter aircraft in the U.S. Military inventory can fit in the new shelters.

Overall the shelters will provide safety for flightline staff and will save money for the base over time.

"We did the analysis and the shelters will pay for themselves between five and six years," said Harris. "This was one of the driving factors that led NGB to approve the shelters because they realized it was a good investment of long term resources."

Several other factors and savings will be predictable over time as well. The jets won't need de-icing in the winter - saving time and money, and diminishing ground water issues. Paint on the airframes is expected to hold up longer and corrosion should decrease with the use of the shelters.

One final piece to the project is still delayed due to budgeting - more power. When additional electrical power to the shelters is in place, ultimately the shelters will be able to handle 400 hertz of power, thus allowing the aircraft to be generated from the shelter bays.

"Once they get power, they will be perfect; they don't need sides, doors, or much else," said Smith.

After just two weeks of use, the maintenance staff have adjusted well to the new shelters.

"They definitely are going to make our jobs easier and safer," said Master Sgt. Dustin Brice, a crew chief assigned to the 142nd Aircraft Maintenance Group.

The shelters are one of the first new projects erected on base in several years and change the physical look of the flightline.

"It is hard to miss these shelters now," said Smith. "This project is the most visible change to the base in a long time."