Tinker Air Force Base and Boeing prepare for the arrival of the KC-46A Pegasus
Comparing a Boeing KC-46A Pegasus to a car sounds crazy, but it works when you consider how the Air Force's latest tanker will be maintained.
Once Pegasus aircraft begin flying as part of the U.S. Air Force's fleet, they'll need to be maintained as they go about their work.
Typically, that maintenance involves everything from routine aircraft inspections in the field to bringing an aircraft to a maintenance center where it undergoes a thorough examination to look for potential issues before they become a problem.
For that, the Pegasus needs a fully equipped shop, and that shop, like the aircraft, is on its way.
The Air Force, Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County put up $48 million to buy a 158-acre parcel for a KC-46A maintenance campus in early 2015.
The Air Force began letting contracts the following year to create a master plan and to build needed space and hangars for the aircraft at the site.
Construction is underway now.
So, how will the Pegasus be maintained?
Ken Coe, Boeing's sustainment director for the aircraft, said thinking of how you take care of your car helps when thinking about how the Pegasus will be maintained.
"You and I take our cars to a dealer for things we can't do in our driveways," Coe explained.
When it comes to taking care of a plane, there has to be a maintenance schedule everyone can follow, and Coe said both Boeing and the Air Force had a great foundation to build that upon.
The Pegasus, after all, essentially is a militarized version of Boeing's 767-200 ER (extended range) aircraft, which is part of four different generations of 767s Boeing has rolled out since its first model was introduced into commercial air fleets in 1983.
Cumulatively, there are 959 operational 767s used by 147 operators worldwide, and they have logged 72.7 million flight hours. Each of those aircraft flies nearly 8 hours daily, and they takeoff on time 98.8 percent of the time.
"So basically, we are building the aircraft using a really great foundation, and the maintenance program we've developed is the same."
On the other hand, Coe said the Air Force's operational requirements anticipate each of its 179 Pegasus aircraft will be flown between 489 and 600 hours a year, or about 1.3 to 1.5 hours a day.
It expects the aircraft to be able to take off reliably 92 percent of the time.
"You can either have your maintenance program revolve around flight hours and landings, or, you can base it on calendar. Low utilization aircraft (which follows military expectations) tend to be calendar based. So again, it is similar to your car," Coe said.
"Generally, a manufacturer recommends that you have an oil change every 5,000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. The Pegasus lends itself to a calendar-based maintenance program."
What that means, he continued, is that the aircraft will get routine checks at its operating bases.
There, the military and Boeing will conduct inspections "kind of like your normal, check the oil, check your air pressure in your tires, maintenance," he said.
Every two years, though, each Pegasus will fly to Tinker Air Force Base for what is called a C-Check, or heavy maintenance visit.
Coe said there are four levels of C-Checks that can be done. In C-1 and C-2 checks, he said mechanics will conduct inspections of zones of each aircraft to make sure everything is in normal operating condition.
He said a C-3 check is a little more invasive, and that a C-4 check involves looking into "all the nooks and crannies on the aircraft to make sure nothing unexpected is happening."
Coe also stressed the maintenance requirements are reviewed just as rigorously as the aircraft itself by the Federal Aviation Administration and the military. When each certification happens, the related maintenance programs and materials are reviewed and updated as part of that process.
Coe said the Air Force intends to maintain the aircraft in a FAA-compliant environment.
"We used the same processes and methodologies to develop the maintenance program for this airplane that we did for the commercial airplane, but included the military equipment we added."
Coe said the plan is for Tinker Air Force Base's Air Logistics Center to organically take care of the Pegasus.
However, that will take time, and he said the manufacturer is under contract to provide the Air Force with heavy maintenance services at the Tinker Air Force Base KC-46A maintenance campus until that changeover happens.
As for the maintenance and repair of specific aircraft components and systems, Coe noted part of the KC-46A's maintenance complex will include a software integration lab to support its systems.
Military gear from the aircraft needing repair will be fixed either at Tinker or at one of two other air logistics centers the Air Force operates.
As for its Pratt & Whitney engines, Coe said that manufacturer has a global support system the Air Force can use until it brings that function into its air logistics routine.
But, for now, getting the heavy maintenance program going is the near-term priority.
Contractors have been working on needed taxiway, parking apron and hangars for the aircraft at the base since early last year.
Master planning for the $400 million project to build the campus was done by Burns & McDonnell, while Contrack Watts/Garney JV prepared the site between Tinker's south end and the old General Motors manufacturing plant by installing storm drainage, electrical, water, sewer and communications systems to support the campus. The latter also graded the site and is installing its roads, a taxiway, aircraft parking apron and other supporting infrastructure needs.
Harper Construction Co., of San Diego, is building a 55,000-square-foot depot maintenance dock (a single bay hangar) for the KC-46A campus, while Walsh Federal/Alberici JV, of Chicago, is building and equipping a two-bay maintenance hangar as part of the campus.
And Southwind Construction Services is building the software laboratory.
Tinker officials also plan another maintenance hangar and a fuel maintenance hangar as part of the campus, plus additional projects also are planned for later, a Tinker civil engineer said in 2017.
Of course, making all of that possible was the deal the Air Force, Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County made to buy the land for the project.
Economic development officials expect the project will create 1,350 jobs on the base and will support another 1,500 off-base jobs generating personal income in excess of $511 million.
On Friday, Richard Clements, interim executive vice president for economic development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said his organization and other civic leaders are enthused about the future.
"There is no one more excited than me about the culmination of this, because it really sustain's Tinker's future with this important mission," Clements said.
"The maintenance mission they do so very well and have done for so many years has a new aircraft that will keep that going in the future," he said.
"That is largely due to the fact a lot of folks locally were able to secure the land area that was needed to make that a reality."