Boeing broke ground on a new high-bay lab facility for its B-52 modernization and sustainment efforts in Oklahoma City.
The 60,770 square-foot building will hold a wing and fuselage from a retired U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber, so engineers can work hands-on with the airframe as they design new radar and engine components.
The structure, located at 6811 SW 59, is expected to be complete by the second quarter of 2021.
Boeing’s B-52 modernization and sustainment programs include the Commercial Engine Replacement Program and Radar Modernization Program. CERP is focused on replacing the B-52’s eight engines with engines that provide economic, operational and environmental benefits, and RMP upgrades the radar on the aircraft to enhance navigation reliability to support nuclear and conventional missions.
The U.S. Air Force hopes the aircraft, which first rolled off the line over six decades ago, will remain relevant and mission-ready through 2050 with these upgrades.
“This high-bay addition is going to enable us to do real-time prototyping with the fuselage and a wing in that building structure,” said Nancy Anderson, Boeing OKC’s vice president of aircraft modernization and modification.
The B-52 Stratofortress undergoes maintenance, repair and overhaul at nearby Tinker Air Force Base, but Anderson said it’s impractical for Boeing to try out new designs with aircraft on a tight schedule. That’s why having their own facility, housing actual pieces of the plane, are useful to Boeing engineers.
“Because the B-52 is an older plane and we don’t have a lot of models for it, as we work on certain areas we’ll model it,” she said. “It’s the best of both worlds; we have models and we can now get access to an airplane. We can’t go over to Tinker where they’re working on these airplanes real-time on a deadline.”
Boeing OKC Chief of Staff Stormy Jones said those models designed and created on campus can be easily tested in the high-bay facility.
“The high-bay addition gives us that ability to have a hands-on form, fit and function testing facility that we haven’t had previously,” Jones said. “It truly gives us the ability to bring our U.S. Air Force customer into the space and look at an actual full-scale fuselage, full-scale wing, and talk about the different factors that go into putting on new modifications.”
Other projects at Boeing’s Oklahoma City facility, which mostly houses engineering programs, will be moved inside the addition when complete.
Boeing expects to spend more than $20 million building the structure, which was designed by local architects at Guernsey, the same firm that designed Boeing Building 301 at the same campus.