The $176 million replacement of the 55th Wing’s runway at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska has been pushed back from December 2019 to October 2020.
Demolition and earthwork will begin before winter sets in in 2020, with asphalt and concrete work beginning in the spring of 2021, according to an Air Force news release. Following Air Force inspections and obtaining Federal Aviation Administration approval, the runway is expected to reopen in October 2021.
During the year-long project, the 55th Wing’s aircraft, primarily the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, will fly in and out of Lincoln Airport in the state’s capital, roughly 50 miles away. That means the 55th’s airmen will have to make the 100-mile round trip every day.
“One of our driving factors is to protect the airmen here at Offutt AFB from being gone longer than 12 months,” said Rob Hufford with the 55th Civil Engineer Squadron and the engineering lead for the 55th Wing’s project management office. “We know it’s going to stink to have to go back and forth from Lincoln on a daily basis, so that’s why we are trying to limit how long that displacement occurs.”
Offutt plans to bus nearly 800 personnel from the base to Lincoln and back on a daily basis.
“The 55th Maintenance Group’s main concerns revolve around the support for our people while deployed to Lincoln,” said Capt. Scott Yancey, 83rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “We will be working extra-long shifts, four days per week, with three day breaks. Our highly trained airmen are critical to keeping the maintenance machine moving, which is why taking care of our people is our highest priority.”
Sections of Offutt’s runway are more than 70 years old, requiring extra maintenance to keep flight operations safe, according to the release. The new runway will accommodate the 55th Wing’s global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission for at least 20 years before any major maintenance is required.
“It is definitely needed. (The 55th Civil Engineer Squadron) is pouring man-hours and resources into our current runway just to keep it functioning,” said Hufford. “As it ages we have to put more time and money into it, but we still have the same amount of people and the same amount of money."
The new runway will be narrower but the same length. The design includes concrete landing zones with an asphalt center and shoulders.
“The design we are going with is the model bases are going to across the Air Force where we can,” Hufford said. “It’s faster to construct and it's, in theory, easier to maintain. We can go through and do asphalt repairs in a couple hours, and it's good to go. Whereas with concrete, you need a couple of days.”
Meanwhile, preparations are being made at the west ramp at Lincoln. The apron is being reconditioned, a temporary hangar is being erected and renovations are being made to an existing hangar and firehouse.