The first plane from Offutt Air Force Base landed at the Lincoln Airport on Monday, the beginning of a major relocation of the fleet from Bellevue.
The plane, an OC-135, is part of the 55th Wing based at the airbase. Several more planes will relocate to Lincoln over the next couple of weeks as Offutt gears up for a nearly $150 million reconstruction of its 80-year-old runway.
Lt. Col. Derek Michaud of the 55th Wing said the remaining planes should be in Lincoln by the middle of the month in advance of the runway project, which is scheduled to begin March 1. They include RC-135s and WC-135s. The planes do intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic-attack missions.
The planes, as well as about 750 Offutt personnel, are expected to be based in Lincoln until September 2022.
The aircraft will be housed in a nearly 100,000-square-foot hangar that began life in the 1950s as a home for Air Force bombers and flying fuel tankers at what was then the Lincoln Air Force base. The building later served for nearly 30 years as a warehouse for Goodyear. It's been mostly vacant since, used infrequently on a temporary basis, said airport Executive Director David Haring.
The Air Force spent more than $30 million to renovate the building and its adjacent concrete apron and will pay $27,000 a month to lease it. It also built a smaller temporary hangar.
Michaud said there could be close to 20 Offutt planes at the airport at any one time, although it will often be less because the planes will fly their regular missions.
Most of the Offutt personnel will commute daily from the Omaha area to Lincoln and back. They will come on buses and in vans and cars, Michaud said.
"It is a massive, massive undertaking," he said.
Part of the hangar building has been transformed into work spaces for staff, including more than 100 office cubicles. There also is a large lunchroom with refrigerators, microwaves and vending machines. And the space includes a room for nursing mothers.
"We're trying to do as many things as we can to take care of our folks," Michaud said. "We know it's a tough situation."
The Offutt project has been in the works since 2014, when initial planning began. Originally, the project was only going to be a targeted rehab, but in early 2019 the Air Force agreed to do a full runway replacement.
The project was originally supposed to begin in late 2019, but was delayed more than a year. Some site preparation work has been going on at Offutt since last fall.
Sen. Deb Fischer, who helped write a provision of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that incentivized the Air Force to finish the runway work as soon as possible, said Monday in her weekly column that she "could not be more pleased" that the work is finally starting.
"Because of this runway, in just two short years Offutt will be a better home to the Air Force — and the Air Force will be a better partner to Nebraska," she said.
This is not the first time that Offutt planes have relocated to Lincoln. The 55th Wing fleet spent about six months based at the Lincoln Airport in 2006 while the runway in Bellevue underwent repairs, and Michaud said there were also temporary relocations in the 1980s and 1990s.
He said the Airport Authority has been a great partner to work with on the project.
"We would not be able to do it at all without them."
PHOTOS: OFFUTT THROUGH THE YEARS
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