Home To ‘Doomsday Planes’, US Air Force Reopens The E-4B Hangar At Offutt Air Force Base After Severe Flooding

The US Air Force recently announced that an inaugural ceremony was performed to commemorate the reopening of the E-4B hangar at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, on February 21, 2023.

The 595th Command and Control Group carried out the ceremony, according to a statement from the USAF US Air Force.

The base, home to the famous ‘Doomsday Planes,’ was severely damaged by a major flood in March 2019. The event marked the conclusion of renovations and the restoration of normal operations.

Lt. Col. Theodore Debonis, 595th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, said that this ribbon cutting marks the conclusion of 22 months of off-station operations and the return of E-4B, also known as Doomsday Plane, heavy maintenance activities at Offutt. 

“Today’s ribbon cutting ceremony symbolizes more than the opening of our renovated hanger; it goes much deeper than that,” said Master Sgt. Marc Botts, 595th AMXS. “The men and women of the 595th AMXS have endured countless hours away from their families on off-station TDYs due to the absence of hangar space.”

Renovated E-4B hangar reopens after 22 months.

In March 2019, the Missouri River swallowed up many structures and more than half a mile of runway at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The situation forced the evacuation of nine aircraft, displacing thousands of personnel. 

The statement highlighted that the construction crew started repairing the facility during the Offutt runway reconstruction project, which lasted from February 2021 to October 2022.

The workers took three 25-foot slabs out of the floor’s middle to remove the deteriorated foundation. During this time, the E-4B “Nightwatch” Advanced Airborne Command Post aircraft continued its 24-hour mission.

55th Wing Commander’s Facebook page 2019

“Eight major aircraft inspections on the venerable 747 lasting 30 days each were performed at three different off-station locations,” the statement noted. According to earlier estimates, the Air Force will shell out around $420 million to restore the installation.

Offutt Air Force Base, close to Omaha, Nebraska, is one of the most critical facilities the US Air Force maintains. It is the core of STRATCOM, which manages America’s strategic nuclear capabilities and houses valuable but low-density reconnaissance and command and control aircraft. 

USA’s Doomsday Plane

Doomsday Aircraft, a Cold War remnant serving as a “National Airborne Operations Center,” is still operational after over 40 years. 

“Doomsday Planes,” or the Boeing E-4B “Advanced Airborne Command Post” (AACP), is a militarised variant of the Boeing 747-200. 

The fleet of four aircraft comprises Boeing 747-200Bs that have been particularly modified to form the E-4 series and were devised and manufactured for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) program.

Although these planes are nominally identical to Air Force One, they are equipped with the most advanced and comprehensive communications system.

There are several communication tools on board each Doomsday Aircraft. An E-4B may have room for up to 112 passengers.

This includes a joint-service operations team, an Air Force flight crew, a maintenance and security component, a communications team, and selected augmentees. 

The E-4B is outfitted with an electrical system that can support sophisticated electronics and a range of communications tools. Additionally, the aircraft is shielded from the effects of electromagnetic pulses.

Offutt Air Force Base
File Image: Offutt Air Force Base

With the airborne operations center, senior leaders have access to a sophisticated satellite communications system for global communication.

Additional upgrades include shielding against nuclear and thermal impacts, acoustic control, an improved technical control facility, and an improved air-conditioning system for cooling electrical components.

Although the specifics of how the aircraft can endure a nuclear attack are confidential, it is known that the wiring and computers onboard have been reinforced with thermal and nuclear shielding.

The workstations are equipped with hardwired phones and monitors that can still function in the case of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse, while the cockpit has analog controls. Except for the cockpit, there are no windows to shield the communications network from heat or an electromagnetic pulse.

Although the “Doomsday Planes” are tough airplanes, they are getting older. They have already outlived their predicted lifespans by 20 years. There are plans in motion to find a suitable successor for them soon. 

The US Air Force started working on a replacement for the E-4 in 2021 and 2022. The “Survivable Airborne Operations Center” is the name given to the new platform. 

The search for a replacement has been delayed repeatedly. However, in early 2022, the Air Force stated that the program was still in its very early phases of development.