Army helicopter assembly has reached a new level of efficiency now that Corpus Christi Army Depot's renovated Hangar 43 is back in operations. Work resumed in the hangar mid-March after two years of updates, which prompted a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by military leaders, civic leaders, and depot team members, April 13.
"We truly have the most modernized and state-of-the-art facility right here," said Victor Lopez, CCAD's Director of Infrastructure and Risk Management who supervised the renovation. "Very few places exist like this anywhere."
The 110,000-square-foot hangar's updates will increase aircraft production capability and improve the air and electrical distribution throughout the building which will now specialize in aircraft assembly and electrical installation.
"We've taken a 1941-era hangar that was built for sea planes and we have modernized it to perform what we do now, to be the facility in which we do the final assembly and electronics for helicopters," Lopez said. "What you see is actually a state-of-the-art specialized, special-purpose facility built for exactly what we do in the remanufacture of aircraft."
CCAD's Director of Aircraft Production, Don Dawson, says there's virtually no limits to the helicopter assembly work that will take place under their roof.
"Every aircraft is going to come through this hangar," Dawson said. "No matter the flavor, the electrical work and the assembly work will be performed here in 43. Currently we have UH-60 recapitalization (recap) product, UH-60M crash damage product, AH-64 Echo and Delta go through here, and the HH-60 which is the Air Force Pave Hawk."
CCAD's recap program reduces the costs of replacing aging helicopters with new ones and avoids spending approximately $9 million in tax dollars with each rebuild.
Don Dawson explained the work that goes on in Hangar 43: "The work that comes in here is Gate 6 and Gate 7. In Gate 6, that's all the electrical work, it takes about 42 days to do that. We have six bays of aircraft in work currently. Gate 7, that's our assembly phase, and we have about five in work on that. That takes about 40 days. That's the work that goes on in Hangar 43."
Chief of Process Engineering, Thomas Sandoval, identified all the production and facility requirements associated with the renovation for the new all assembly hangar.
"One of the responsibilities for my team was to develop the future state layout for Hangar 43 and for all the other shops here at CCAD," Sandoval said. "So what we did is we laid out this hangar to represent Gate 6 and Gate 7 of our Art of the Probable machine and enabled that for future capacity and capability."
"This hangar will provide us more flexibility as far as capacity and meeting our customer requirements. It will give us more flexibility to not only work on recap and not just Black Hawk helicopters, but also on Pave Hawks and Apache. So this is an all assembly hangar. Previously we had processes broken up by hangars. Now we have a complete assembly hangar that supports all products that the Army works on."
Sandoval credits industrial engineers for modernizing the helicopter assembly concept to a one-size-fits-all process to suit the future needs of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and other customers. "Our main engineer is Jacqueline Allen. She was the main driver of determining the requirements and getting them approved through production and making it happen."
"It feels great to be part of such a monumental effort in the Army Aviation spectrum," Jacqueline Allen said. "The role of the industrial engineer was to work with the end user to determine the purpose of the hangar and to ensure the design of the hangar would be set up for optimal efficiency for both resources and process requirements. In return, the design of Gates 6 and 7 resulted in standardization as well as each aviation bay being repeatable in regards to the relationship between artisan activities and equipment."
"Hangar 43 encompasses both the electrical and assembly phase of the value stream map for the UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft," she said. "The assembly phase for AH-64 Apache, and HH-60 Pave Hawk will also occur within the hangar."
"By centralizing the assembly process for aviation aircraft, CCAD has positioned themselves to support future growth as well as increase performance. Also, the sharing of redundant processes results in efficient and effective use of all resources and translates into repeatable practices," Allen said.
The approximate 250 people on Hangar 43's shop floor are skilled and ready for the various aircraft that will come through the assembly line.
"Gate 6 and 7 are more efficient than they ever have been," said CCAD Commander, Col. Allan Lanceta. "If you remember Gate 6 and 7 in Hangar 8, there were these transportable, mobile maintenance stands. Now we have a definite state-of-the-art facility that we can put aircraft in and these guys have all the tools available to them right on the spot. Now, everything they do is focused on the mission. It increases efficiency and it decreases the turnaround time. I expect that, by the time that we are fully in the hangar, our turnaround time will decrease because they're getting rid of nonvalue added time."
"So the work that was in Hangar 8 is now here [in Hangar 43], permanently," the commander said.
"In Hangar 8 there were two rows. One was designated for Gate 6. The other was for Gate 7. Now all of this is Gate 6 and Gate 7," he said as his hand spanned across the 86,000 square feet of production space in the remodeled and much larger production space available in the remodeled Hangar 43. "And there's a lot more capability in this hangar because they have all the modern facilities that they need versus in Hangar 8."
It's laid out in a very lean environment, so it's meant to get helicopters in and out pretty quick," said Scott Bryant, CCAD's Chief of Facilities Engineering.
Bryant described some of the hangar's renovations: "We replaced the roof. We did an interior gut. We replaced most utility systems, the plant air, the electrical systems throughout the hangar and we also provided new runways for the helicopter bay so they have the right plant air, electrical and any other utilities that they needed."
"We've got a lot of energy conservation efforts here," Bryant said. "We've got new chillers. The plant air system is really second to none. We've got a nice dry air system to give the artisans nice dry air."
"The fact that now we have Gates 6 and 7 in the most modern facility at CCAD is astonishing to me," said Lanceta. "It's a huge accomplishment for the entire team, CCAD and the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed the hangar renovation during construction.
"Hangar 43 is one of the first sustainment restoration modernization projects that the Corps of Engineers has been able to take on in support of Corpus Christi Army Depot," said Lt. Col. Clay Morgan, Deputy Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the Fort Worth District. "We're pleased with this project."
"During the hurricane, I was very concerned with this hangar," Lanceta said, referring to Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Texas Gulfs Coast in 2017. "This was one of the modernization efforts to make CCAD the most modern depot in the U.S. Army inventory."
"Hurricane Harvey threw us a curveball, as it did in so many other areas," said Lopez. While Hangar 43 only incurred water intrusion, the storm battered other areas of the depot, which prompted all hands to prioritize emergency response to restore operations as quickly as possible. This set Hangar 43's completion date back from the end of 2017 to the spring of 2018.
"With the specialized construction and the unique requirements that went into this, there were some challenges," Lopez said. "It takes a long time and a lot of people to put this thing together. It's a little late but we're using it as we meant it to be."
"What we've done is actually a pretty incredible thing."
CCAD's six aircraft production hangars, constructed during the build-up to WWII, require periodic major renovation to modernize utilities and conduct repairs to ensure these historic structures continue providing suitable and safe production space.