Offutt’s runway replacement project nears completion

  • Published
  • By 55th Wing Public Affairs

The end is in sight!

After boarding more than 19,000 bus trips and racking up 1.2 million miles across I-80, Offutt Air Force Base’s new $168.9 million runway is scheduled to reopen Sept. 30, 2022.

The 55th Wing and its mission partners have been operating their flying mission from the Lincoln Airport for the past 18 months while the base’s runway has undergone a complete replacement project.

“It is almost hard to believe that we are finally here,” said Col. Kristen Thompson, 55th Wing commander. “The past year-and-a-half has been challenging, but our Airmen never once backed down, they made the mission happen, and they learned some valuable lessons along the way.”

What started out 10 years ago within the 55th Civil Engineer Squadron as a discussion on the scope of work needed to continue to meet mission requirements into the future, turned into a full replacement after an extensive review of the runway was completed in 2018.

“We programmed a repair for 2015 as soon as the 2006 project was completed as that…didn’t cover the full scope of what was needed,” said Bruce McCauley, 55th CES deputy director. “Around 2012, the discussions on the scope of the project started and that took until around 2018 to finalize.”

However, defining the full scope of what was needed was only the beginning. Once the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s airfield pavement evaluation team recommended a full replacement, funding was still needed before any of the 70-year-old runway could start to be torn up.

Thankfully, after multiple designs and contract changes, AFCEC and the 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron awarded a contract in June 2020 to replace the aging runway as well as its mass parking apron. The project called for full-depth concrete end sections, an asphalt center section, asphalt shoulders and a new lighting system.

“This was truly a team effort from the very beginning,” Thompson said. “Ultimately responsible for making this project happen are the countless senior leaders not only from the 55th Wing, but also Air Combat Command and the Air Force, as well as our federal, state and locally elected officials. Without their tireless support this massive project does not get funded or completed.”

With AFCEC serving as the project lead, the 55th Wing Runway Program Management Office stood up to start planning the wing’s move to Lincoln. The PMO team worked closely to identify requirements from across the wing as well as all of Offutt’s mission partners with flying operations.

While that work was underway, the PMO team also started coordinating any necessary mission requirements with the Lincoln Airport Authority and the Nebraska National Guard, who served as Offutt’s main support agencies.

“We could not have asked for better partners on this project,” said Maj. Brian Ross, 55th Wing Runway PMO director. “The Lincoln Airport Authority, Nebraska National Guard and the city of Lincoln bent over backwards to ensure we had what we needed.”

The LAA managed the lease agreement, intergovernmental service agreement and served as the PMO’s conduit for coordination with the city and airport, while the Nebraska National Guard provided spaces, equipment and personnel support as needed and allotted a permanent staging location for the wing’s fuel trucks, fuel and armory.

“As expected, it took a little time for Air Force personnel to adapt to operating on a civilian airport, but that period of adaptation was expected and did not extend for a significant period,” said Bob McNally, LAA operations director. “The leadership exhibited by officers of the 55th Wing was exceptional. There was never a time in the operation where we were not functioning as a team with the collectively recognized goal of maximum safety in all activities. Furthermore, the performance by the NCOs and enlisted personnel assigned to [Lincoln Airport] has been exceptional without one single episode of unprofessional conduct that came to my attention.”

“The partnership between the 55th Wing and the 155th over 18 months was seamless and smooth,” said Col. John Williams. 155th Air Refueling Wing commander. “Our teams coordinated throughout our organizations, but our maintenance groups probably found common ground far more than was anticipated. This aspect of our cooperation comes ahead of our new maintenance partnership between the 55th Wing and the Nebraska Air National Guard and proves that we can do even more.”

Prior to moving any aircraft or equipment to Lincoln, AFCEC oversaw $30 million worth of infrastructure upgrades to the former Strategic Air Command base. This included renovating a World War II era hangar and building a temporary hangar.

“Our planning and collaborative partnership with Offutt Air Force Base and the Lincoln Airport Authority was critical to minimizing operational disruption and maximizing the construction schedule at Offutt to remain on budget and on time,” said Eric Staph, AFCEC project manager.

Once complete, the PMO team finalized the transition schedule, and the first phase of preparatory work began at Offutt. This included erecting construction zone fencing, building a temporary gravel road that allowed them to bring in equipment, materials and personnel from off base, and placing conduit for communications.

“The initial work was pushed back 10 months to allow for demolition and earthwork to begin before winter,” said Rob Hufford, 55th CES construction management chief. “This delay was crucial as it set the contractors up for success by starting the majority of work in the spring.”

On Feb. 1, 2021, the first Offutt jet landed at the Lincoln Airport, officially marking the beginning of the wing’s transition to Lincoln. The crew was met by Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and about a dozen LAA administrators and staff.

“It was about 10 degrees out when that jet landed, but they felt it was important to be there to show their support,” Ross said.

Over the next 30 days, aircraft, equipment and personnel continued to migrate 50 miles south and on March 1, 2021, construction to completely replace Offutt’s runway began in earnest.

“This effort was quite complex and took an incredible amount of coordination from multiple organizations,” Ross said. “There’s no instruction or manual on how to do this, but thanks to a lot of hard work and innovative thinking we were able to keep the mission going without missing a beat.”

In the end, the AFCEC-led effort will wrap up on time and on budget.

“I’m extremely proud of the entire team who delivered this strategically critical runway reconstruction,” said Brig. Gen. Mark V. Slominski, AFCEC Built Infrastructure executive director and facility engineering directorate chief. “In and of itself it is a mammoth undertaking and even more remarkable as we are concurrently building Offutt back stronger after the 2019 flood.”

“In my entire career I’ve never seen a project this size finish on time and on budget,” Hufford said. “It’s a real testament to a lot of people from multiple organizations who played a role.”

All told, Offutt personnel have spent more than 500 days on the road with roughly 750 of them making the trip back and forth daily.

In addition, more than 25 million pounds of equipment was moved to Lincoln from Offutt, which enabled the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth to generate more than 1,800 sorties for 9,000 flying hours. This also included 17 weather evacuation and 15 isochronal inspections.

“I could not be prouder to serve with this group of Airmen,” Thompson said. “I am also grateful to the team at Lincoln, Col. John Williams and the 155th ARW along with the LAA. Our Nebraska family was tremendous, and we are deeply appreciative of all their support.”

The 55th Wing will officially welcome its first aircraft back to Offutt during a ceremony Sept. 30, 2022, with regular flying operations starting Oct. 3, 2022.