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Former GM plant now abuzz with aerospace, tech workers

Electrical engineer Jeremy Kessler tests the electrical components of a circuit board at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives]

Electrical engineer Jeremy Kessler tests the electrical components of a circuit board at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives]

Eleven years after General Motors closed its Southeast Oklahoma City plant, the sprawling 2.6 million-square-foot facility in southeast Oklahoma City is a hub for aerospace jobs.

Workers now assemble massive engines for F-16 Fighting Falcons and KC-135 Stratotankers at the plant, which is now part of Tinker Air Force Base.

When the Oklahoma City GM plant first opened in 1978, thousands of job applicants came in search of a job there — some from as far away as California and Ohio. Thanks to a 2006 bond issue, the plant is once again a major center for jobs.

In April 1979, the plant began production on Chevrolet Citation and Pontiac Phoenix cars.

In 2005, GM announced it would close the Oklahoma City plant, eliminating 30,000 jobs across nine North American factories.

Oklahoma County voters agreed in 2006 to borrow $55 million to purchase the old GM plant and lease it back to the Air Force for $1 a year.

More than 1,840 aerospace manufacturing and engineering employees now work in the plant, and the operation still is expanding.

When the Air Force first took control of the old factory, it looked like all of the workers just dropped whatever they were doing when the plant closed and vanished, said Justin Hottle, director of the Propulsion Maintenance Squadron at Tinker.

“There were half-drank coffee cups sitting on the tables, and pens and pads of paper they had been writing with,” Hottle said. “It literally looked like the people had just disappeared — like in a movie.”

A large chunk of the old GM plant also now is home to a rapidly growing software engineering division at Tinker to meet the new technology demands of the military.

While an F-16 uses about 300,000 lines of code, the new Boeing KC-46 tanker about to begin production will use about 15 million lines of code.

Related Photos
<p>Workers rebuild F-108 engines at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives]</p>

Workers rebuild F-108 engines at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5ae813bcd80541e2708bdadf86dd449e.jpg" alt="Photo - Workers rebuild F-108 engines at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Workers rebuild F-108 engines at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Workers rebuild F-108 engines at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-fc9debbeac74f1095615f34209ded36a.jpg" alt="Photo - Keon Lawrence rebuilds an F-108 engine at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Keon Lawrence rebuilds an F-108 engine at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Keon Lawrence rebuilds an F-108 engine at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-92b891e8bac1b937039e994975d932bc.jpg" alt="Photo - Electrical engineer Jeremy Kessler tests the electrical components of a circuit board at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Electrical engineer Jeremy Kessler tests the electrical components of a circuit board at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Electrical engineer Jeremy Kessler tests the electrical components of a circuit board at Tinker Air Force Base's new aircraft maintenance facility inside the old General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure>
Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›

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