FedEx Builds Mega Hangar at Memphis Int'l

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Last year, Memphis International Airport (MEM) handled 4.2 million tons of cargo - more than any other airport in the world for the 17th year in a row. Memphis-based FedEx Corporation accounted for all but 2% of the volume.

Facts & Figures

Project: Aircraft Service Hangar

Location: Memphis International Airport

Owner: FedEx

Size: 146,250+ sq. ft.

Architecture/Engineering: Ghafari Associates

Structural Engineering: Thornton Tomasetti

General Contractor: Hunt Construction Group

Electrical Service: J & B Aviation

Objective: Provide hangar space to service Boeing 777 Freighters

Unique Challenge: Project site was located in seismic zone

Concurrent Projects: Office, maintenance building, warehouse, security building and ground run-up enclosure

To move that kind of tonnage, FedEx needs big cargo planes. To service the planes, it needs a big hangar. A 146,257-square-foot hangar, to be exact.

The company's new mega hangar, completed in the fall 2009, will be used to service the Boeing 777 Freighter FedEx is scheduled to take delivery of in September. With three other B777s expected by February 2010 and 11 more due between July 2010 and July 2012, the hangar is bound to stay busy. Good thing it's big enough to hold two B777s at a time.

"It's huge," says Larry Cox, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. "Other than hangars you see at Boeing and Airbus where they manufacture these airplanes, this is the biggest hangar I've seen anywhere in the world."

The hangar is so large, some were concerned it would present line-of-sight difficulties for air traffic controllers tracking aircraft taxiing on the north side of the airfield. A taller control tower, however, is already in the works and slated for completion in 2010. The $61.5 million tower will rise nearly 350 feet into the air, making it the third tallest in the South.

At 340 feet deep, the new hangar features 400-foot-span roof trusses and a 150-foot tall ceiling. The steel framing of the main roof is designed to support six bridge cranes for aircraft maintenance. The facility was originally designed for the Airbus 380, explains FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey, but the company cancelled its Airbus order in 2006 due to significant delivery delays.

"The advantage of the 777s," Cox notes, "is that they can fly from any location in Asia directly to Memphis without having to make a stop." By contrast, the A380 requires a technical stop in Anchorage or the West Coast for FedEx's Asia-Pacific route.

Structural Challenges

The hangar project presented two major challenges for structural engineering company Thornton Tomasetti. "It's a very big building with a long roof span," explains senior associate Rob Stadler. "And it's placed in a seismic zone roughly equivalent to what you would find in Southern California."

The airport sits close to the New Madrid Fault. In 1811, an earthquake that hit the area rattled windows and furniture as far away as Washington, D.C. These days, certain buildings such as the airport's new hangar must be designed to Seismic Design Category D, in accordance with the International Building Code 2003.

Analysis and design challenges included equivalent lateral force and response spectra analyses for seismic forces, special concentrically braced frames, concrete special moment frame foundations, large roof-truss-suspended moving loads, and wind loads corresponding to a partially enclosed structure. Given these design considerations, Stadler reports, the use of correct load cases and load paths while maintaining steel economy was a significant challenge.

Nothing But the Best

California-based J & B Aviation Services provides the 400 Hz electrical services to the hangar and ramp. The ramp area has nine remote parking positions; the hangar has two. Three large 312 KVA 400 Hz units in a small room next to the hangar power 14 compensated gate boxes near the parking positions on the ramp and in the hangar. Cables run to underground pits, from which the aircraft are powered.

"Nobody in this industry is as demanding as FedEx. And I mean that in a good way," says Brian Piety, national sales manager for J & B. "They are committed to one purpose: making sure a package gets to its destination on time and doing whatever it takes to make that happen.

"Most customers in a similar situation would have purchased two 400 Hz units. FedEx installed three because they wanted to make sure they had a backup if something happened to one of the others."

Icing on the Cake

In addition to the new hangar, FedEx constructed four other buildings: a two-story 70,600-square-foot office facility, 46,500-square-foot warehouse, 21,800-square-foot maintenance facility and 12,300-square-foot security building. It also added a ground run-up enclosure (GRE) next to the hangar.

The new GRE, constructed by Blast Deflectors, delivers turbulence-free air to aircraft engines in multiple wind directions and is lined with Noise Blotter(tm) panels.

Before the GRE was built, run-ups had to be performed at a more remote location to comply with the airport's noise restrictions. "It's much more efficient now because we don't have to tow or taxi an airplane long distances to do the run-up," notes Cox.


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