When the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, aircraft comes to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., for flight tests, it will be housed in a newly refurbished building.
The $5.8 million hangar addition and modernization project at Bldg. 4826 was awarded in September 2019 and work began in December. The project is expected to conclude in the fall and be ready for the aircraft. The approximately 100-foot long X-59 QueSST is currently under construction at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in nearby Palmdale. The X-plane is designed to fly supersonic, or faster than the speed of sound, without producing the loud sonic booms typically associated with such speeds.
“This is a really exciting project to be a part of and prepare for that aircraft,” said Bryan Watters, NASA Armstrong’s Bldg. 4826 project manager and civil engineer. “The technology involved in designing and constructing the X-59 sounds incredible. I look forward to seeing the construction finished and watching the plane roll in here. That will be awesome.”
Collin Morris, project manager for the contractor CJW Macro-Z Technology Joint Venture, shares Watters’ enthusiasm.
“For me it’s pretty cool because I come from an aviation family and my father is a pilot,” Morris said. “I didn’t know the extent of the work, or what was going in this hangar at first. Since then, I have learned more about the plane and its systems. It is an experimental aircraft that could be an advantage for future cross-country travel and commercial aviation.”
At the current stage of construction, the insulation for the building’s walls and the massive epoxy flooring represent the two most major items left to complete, Morris explained. Added to this work is a contract modification that was recently negotiated and includes unforeseen sewer line replacement and additional electrical and communications work, Watters added.
Every project has its share of challenges and this one was no exception.
“It’s not unusual on jobs, but we had a lot of discrepancies in some of the drawings,” Morris explained. “Being that it’s a renovation, it makes it more difficult because there are a lot of unknowns in these kinds of buildings. When it is designed, they look at the overall picture of the building but until you get into it, all kinds of different things are discovered.
“We ran into underground challenges outside and inside the building. There’s a lot more than what is shown on the drawings. From the beginning we had a lot of meetings and a lot of clarifications.”
Watters agreed with Morris’s assessment, and pointed out that two previous NASA project managers for this effort were assigned elsewhere or took a different position before Watters came onto the project and learned the status of the work. Additional challenges arose from the pandemic, interrupting the crews’ ability to get on base for several months.
One of the major efforts involved the addition of offices, a conference room, restrooms and a communication room on the east side of the building closest to the historic Rogers Dry Lake. In order to extend the structure’s size, there was the need for additional foundations and footings, concrete masonry unit walls, structural steel framing, roofing and additional elements, Watters detailed.
The new addition was the biggest upgrade to the building, which was constructed in 1968. It was originally 37,449 square feet and the office additions of 4,820 square feet increases its size to 42,269 square feet, said Peter Castricone, Armstrong construction of facilities program manager. Inside the hangar between the insulation and the new flooring system, there used to be a mezzanine that was completely removed to create additional space, Morris explained. Also demolished during the project was a separate 8,800-square-foot canopy area that was not part of the building, but near it on the lake bed side where the offices were added.
In addition, there were some utility upgrades such as a big electrical inverter system to accommodate the X-59. Fire suppression system upgrades include the installation of a hybrid system that has both foam and water for a variety of potential challenges. Additional work included interior metal stud framing, insulation and drywall for the addition.
“This hangar will be state of the art,” Morris said. “It’s being renovated into something I haven’t seen before.”
Among the many unique systems upgrades are those for using and detecting hydrazine.
“Projects like this, to house a one-of-a-kind aircraft like this, takes a level of effort to plan, design and construct,” Watters said. “The planning phase, the design phase and the construction phase are lengthy to get to the end result. It is a lot more involved than a lot of people might realize.”
The Bldg. 4826 refurbishment is a part of NASA Armstrong’s Master Plan, which details construction plans through 2037. The Life Support and Communication buildings replacements are the next major projects tentatively slated to start in 2023 and 2024. The plan includes replacement of key buildings, such as the main administration building and the consolidation of Bldg. 703 in Palmdale back to the main campus in a new facility intended to house the science aircraft in 2027.