Air station ‘rebirth’ begins

Skeptics who initially doubted the existence of the EA-18G Growler were silenced in April when a test aircraft took a detour and touched down at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, drawing crowds and dropping jaws.

And now with the base’s historic Hangar 5 ready to undergo a major renovation project to accommodate the high-tech aircraft that will begin arriving this next summer, the remaining naysayers are changing their tune.

Representatives from the Navy, Boeing, NavFac Northwest, the city of Oak Harbor and the project team gathered outside the hangar Thursday for a faux-groundbreaking ceremony. No actual ground was broken, but the excitement level ran high as the three-year, phased project was discussed.

“This is a big, tangible step in the direction of the rebirth of NAS Whidbey Island,” said Capt. Thomas Tack, Commander Electronic Attack Wing. “Redoing the hangar is a monumental step in moving to a new platform and new community.”

The work is being carried out to recapitalize Hangar 5 to meet safety, health, and environmental requirements, including seismic repair, anti-terrorism force protection improvements, security requirements, and Navy Marine Corps Intranet standards.

The renovated hangar will provide support for five of the highly-anticipated EA-18G CVW Fleet Squadrons, the Electronic Attack Weapons School, and the COMVACWINGPAC Maintenance Department.

The lofty project will also update the fire protection system, replace mechanical and electrical systems, provide new parking south of Charles Porter Avenue, and replace enormous hangar bay doors and exterior cladding.

The project’s total construction cost will total $49.2 million. Phase 1A will require $24.2 million of the funding, while Phase 1B and Phase 2 will cost $11.1 million and $14.2 million, respectively.

The Korte Company out of St. Louis was awarded the contract in June 2007 and construction on Phase 1A should be completed by December of this year. The phase includes renovating the east hangar bay, and working with the first, second and third floor center sections.

Phase 1B, which will tackle the east side administration spaces and remaining part of the third floor center section, is scheduled for completion in August 2009.

Phase 2, the homestretch, will involve renovating the west hangar and all administration spaces on the west side.

“Hangar 5 will be the first one to come online,” said Brent Korte, project manager, who made the trip from Missouri for the event.

Tack said the “technological savvy” aircraft will begin arriving in June. The old hangar has valiantly served its purpose, but with outdated amenities and new squadrons on the way, the antiquated structure is ready for the 21st century.

“We went from essentially a timber and wood frame NAS Whidbey Island in the ‘50s to what you see here, which is concrete and steel,” Tack said. “In the next 25 to 30 years, we will be able to put our brand new airplanes in this brand new facility with a lot better living conditions for all of us here on the base.”

With few bases remaining on the West Coast, NAS Whidbey will be in a position to take the lead, not only with the EA-18G, but with the Multimission Maritime Aircraft platform.

“I think this base is going to be significant as we move forward over the next couple decades,” Tack said. “This is one that we have that will be solidified and become a key piece of our footprint on the West Coast of the United States.”

Scott Bernotas, executive officer at NavFac Northwest, said he and his staff handed Lt. Cmdr. Dave Millinor of the NAS Whidbey public works department, and other Navy personnel a contract missing a full year of funding.

“Cmdr. Millinor and his team were somehow able to find a way to bridge that one-year gap so contractors can stay working, the project can stay moving,” Bernotas said. “If it weren’t for the team’s effort, none of this would have been possible, at least this year.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik called the renovation project “another milestone.” He said the commitment to NAS Whidbey pledged by the Navy is reciprocated by the city of Oak Harbor and its community.

The renovation project will usher in a new chapter of the hangar’s rich history. A Miramar-style double design facility constructed in the 1950s was, at the time, the cat’s pajamas. Temporary wooden structures were ultimately replaced with concrete and steel for the formidable hangar. The tale of the tape listed the hangar at 452-feet wide and 240-feet long, with hangar openings 150 feet wide and 35 feet high.

The hangar has more than served its purpose and upon close examination, the technological leaps that have occurred in the last half-century are astounding.

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