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Growlers need garages

Two military personnel stand next to Hangar 5, which is being renovated to accommodate Growler squadrons. - Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times
Two military personnel stand next to Hangar 5, which is being renovated to accommodate Growler squadrons.
— image credit: Paul Boring / Whidbey News-Times

A sleek new aircraft deserves new digs. And the EA-18G is a sleek new aircraft.

The sounds of power tools and the bustle of activity in certain areas of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station are music to many sailors' ears. Renovation projects are underway to accommodate the squadrons of Growlers that will begin arriving this summer.

Updated and modified facilities will house the ten Growler squadrons as the aircraft transition proceeds. Historic Hangar 5 is currently being gutted and readied for its new tenants.

The phased project will recapitalize the hangar to meet life safety, health, and environmental requirements, seismic repair, anti-terrorism force protection improvements, and IT communication upgrades.

The renovated hangar will also accommodate the Electronic Attack Weapons School, and the specialized maintenance department.

But wait, there's more. The lofty project will update the fire protection system, replace mechanical and electrical systems; provide new parking areas south of Charles Porter Avenue. and replace the 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, already underway, 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.

"We've gutted the hangar," said Cmdr. Paul Jennings, the former EA-18G Fleet Introduction Team Officer in Charge. Cmdr. Derek Leney has taken over the reins for the extremely involved transition. "It will be Growler Central."

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.

The renovation project has ushered 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 bee's knees. 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.

Electrical distribution systems are also being installed on the flight lines to allow nocturnal maintenance of the new aircraft.

The EA-18G Growler Support Center officially opened May 13. Representatives from the Hornet Industry Team, or the "HIT" will man - or woman - the 4,200-square-foot facility at NAS Whidbey. The HIT is comprised of representatives from Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric Aircraft Engines, and Raytheon.

"Our whole purpose is to support the fleet," said Bob Papadakis, Boeing Company EA-18G NAS Whidbey Integration Lead.

As the company that modified the F/A-18F Super Hornet to make the Growler a reality, Boeing's presence in the support center is not surprising. The other three companies collectively built and supplied Boeing the highly-powerful jet engines, the innovative electronic suite and receiver system, and the science fiction-like radar jamming equipment.

The facility will also accommodate a Navy engineer from the fleet support team in San Diego and fuel engineers who currently support the Prowlers.

"We will have all the heads in there," Papadakis said adding that if an issue arises and a company representative does not have the answer, he is seconds away from getting someone on the horn to get that answer.

"They have instant connectivity," Papadakis said, stressing the need for immediacy. "That is vital."

The EA-18G is being built by the industry team of Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric Aircraft Engines, Raytheon, and nearly 1,800 other suppliers. Testing has been carried out in phases in China Lake, Calif. and Patuxent River, Md.

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