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Beale removes fuel storage tanks that kept Blackbird soaring

DAYTON, Ohio -- Lockheed SR-71A in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Lockheed SR-71A in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The aircraft was retired in 1990. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A round concrete slab is all that remains of a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. Five tanks, which used to hold JP-7 to power the SR-71 Blackbird, will be torn down during a four-month deconstruction project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

A round concrete slab is all that remains of a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. Five tanks, which used to hold JP-7 to power the SR-71 Blackbird, will be torn down during a four-month deconstruction project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

Demolition crews work on dismantling a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. Five tanks, which used to hold JP-7 fuel to power the SR-71 Blackbird, will be torn down during a four-month deconstruction project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

Demolition crews work on dismantling a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. Five tanks, which used to hold JP-7 fuel to power the SR-71 Blackbird, will be torn down during a four-month deconstruction project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

Demolition crews work on dismantling a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. The tanks were used as high-capacity fuel storage for the SR-71 Blackbird. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

Demolition crews work on dismantling a 400,000 gallon fuel tank at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, 2013. The tanks were used as high-capacity fuel storage for the SR-71 Blackbird. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo/Released)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Beale is conducting a four-month deconstruction project to remove Cold War-era fuel storage tanks that once held the fuel that powered the SR-71 Blackbird.

The project is a part of the Air Force's "20/20 by 2020" initiative, which aims to reduce excess capacity by reducing a base's footprint, as well as reduce operating costs by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Three of the storage tanks have already been removed, and the remaining two are scheduled to be demolished in the upcoming months.

During the mid-1960s, Beale was home to jets that required massive amounts of fuel including the Blackbird.

Five tanks at Beale's fuel terminal held between 400,000 and 657,000 gallons each of specially designed JP-7 jet fuel. This fuel was developed by the U.S. Air Force to power the SR-71 and was brought to the fuel terminal via a locomotive system.

The fuel was then pumped through a 4.5 mile-long pipeline to the flight line where the Blackbird consumed approximately 36,000 to 44,000 pounds of fuel per hour of flight.

The tanks became cold war relics with the retirement of the SR-71 in 1998 and coupled with the transfer of the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling missions to other bases.

"They're kind of historic structures," said Robert Nordhal, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron flight chief of programs. "We just don't have the need for high capacity fuel storage anymore."

Nordhal said that unused structures cost the Air Force in maintenance and repairs as well as pose safety concerns.

"These tanks were not fitted with modern safety features," said Mark Hoover, fuels terminal superintendent with AKIMA Technical Solutions. "It would cost more for us to upgrade those tanks then to build new ones."

In addition to maintenance and repair costs, Beale will also save in the demolition of the tanks themselves.

"The scrap metal from the tanks is being recycled and is being used to fund the demolition," Hoover said. "It's essentially saving the Air Force tens of thousands of dollars.