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Construction of $42.6M hangar at Westover Air Reserve Base slated to start in spring

Westover is the nation's largest Air Force Reserve base, and is home to the Air Force's largest cargo aircraft, the C-5 Galaxy.

KELLY GALLOWAY/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JEANETTE DEFORGE | The Republican | Published: December 3, 2020

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — For decades, maintenance technicians at Westover Air Reserve Base have been servicing the largest planes in the nation partly outside, no matter if it was 90 degrees or 9 degrees.

That will soon change, as efforts have begun to build a $42.6 million hangar that will be large enough to fit an entire C-5M Super Galaxy.

Westover officials are in the process of seeking bids from contractors to construct the new hangar. Officials hope to break ground on the project in the spring, said Zach Dupont, legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal.

"(There) was a broad acknowledgment that it needed to be done, and I kept after it for 10 years," said Neal, whose congressional district includes Chicopee.

In 2006, Westover was selected as one of three bases that would conduct regular isochronal inspections, which involve extensive examination and maintenance, on the entire C-5 fleet.

About five years ago the inspection locations were dropped to two when the mission and planes changed at Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base in Martinsburg, W.Va. The other inspection site is Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The only downside of taking on the inspection mission at Westover was that the base never had a hangar that could fit the entire C-5 — even though the jets have been stationed there since 1987.

The military cargo jet is nearly as tall as a seven-story building and its wingspan measures 222.8 feet. Most of it fits inside an existing hangar at the base, but at 247 feet long the tail of the jet always sticks out the back. Westover eventually added a hangar door that closes and seals around the tail, but it is not ideal.

The new hangar project, which is being funded through the military construction budget, sat on the Air Force Reserve's unfunded priority list for years. Funding was authorized around two or three years ago, but the project remained in limbo for some time, in part because of President Donald J. Trump's efforts to build a wall along the Mexican border, Dupont said.

Construction is expected to take about 18 months. When it is finished, the new hangar will offer state-of-the-art systems that will make it easier for the maintenance crews to do their jobs, he said.

"We are excited. It is a significant investment and shows they are here to stay," Mayor John L. Vieau said. "It solidifies Westover's future here."

Over the years Westover has faced some Department of Defense cost-cutting. The most significant one occurred in 2014 when the number of C-5s at the base was reduced from 16 to the current eight, and 59 full-time and 275 reservist jobs were eliminated.

With about 5,500 military and civilian workers, Westover is the city's largest employer. It also creates economic benefits for local businesses that provide the base and its employees with goods and services, Vieau said.

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