Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City, Okla., the state’s largest single-site employer with some 20,000 civilian employees, is preparing for a lead role in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB will initially service the Reaper’s Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine. The center will eventually work on Reaper airframes as well, said Dave Wagie, a retired brigadier general and director of aerospace and defense economic development with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
In 2011, the USAF announced a realignment of its maintenance organization that made the Oklahoma City center its lead sustainment and logistics facility, commanded by a three-star general. The center, one of the largest units of the Air Force Materiel Command, performs depot maintenance on KC-135s, B-1Bs, B-52s and E-3s and a range of engines. The realignment gave it a preeminent role over the service’s other two maintenance depots: Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill AFB, Utah, and Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB, Ga.
The center’s designation as a Reaper engine maintenance base comes as the U.S. draws down its forces in Afghanistan and reassigns or returns home potentially hundreds of General Atomics MQ-1B Predators and larger MQ-9 Reapers. At the height of the Afghanistan conflict, the USAF expressed a requirement for 65 combat air patrols of four MQ-9s each, or 260 total aircraft. There is an overall requirement for 404 aircraft. Last September, the service received approval to begin low-rate initial production of ultimately 197 Block 5 MQ-9s. “There’s more work coming to Tinker,” Wagie told AIN during a recent press tour sponsored by the Oklahoma commerce department. “They have a vested interest in unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The USAF is also conducting market research into an alternative engine source for the MQ-9. On March 8, the service issued a notice to industry seeking proposals for a second turboprop engine; responses are due back on April 22. Honeywell said it has delivered to date more than 13,000 TPE331 engines, which were developed for the regional and business aviation turboprop market in 1965.
“We believe that the TPE331’s rugged design, commercial heritage and proven reliability make it a cost-effective component of the MQ-9 system,” Honeywell said in response to an AIN query. “The adaptation of this engine to the MQ-9 is a great example of the ingenuity of the USAF and General Atomics in reusing ‘off the shelf’ proven systems to reduce acquisition cost and lead time.”