When the military has a project involving construction or engineering, it’s not swayed by low bid alone. The stakes are too high, the margin for error practically nonexistent. It takes a contractor with a track record to impress the brass. All the better if it’s a company known for completing work on time and within budget.
“If you have what they’re looking for, you can get the contract without being low bidder, but you’d better be able to back up what you promise,” says Robert Smith, vice president of HHI Corp. “We can rely on our reputation a great deal because we’ve proven that we deliver quality. The military won’t settle for less.”
Based in Ogden, Utah, HHI has earned its stripes with the armed forces. While not limiting its work to the military, the company specializes in the kind of rugged design builds and metal manufacturing that so correspond with the needs of our men and women in uniform.
Such as the $7 million hi-tech facility that HHI fashioned with the Army Corps of Engineers for its Ogden neighbor, Hill Air Force Base, in less than two years.
Awarded the work through the design-build process that favors contractor expertise rather than through competitive bidding, HHI gave the Pentagon bangs for its bucks.
Shots not heard ’round Utah
Thirty-mm caliber guns aren’t typically used against enemy personnel. They’re more efficiently put to use against armored vehicles, fortified bunkers and even fighter jets, and deployed from sophisticated aircraft as the A-10 Thunderbolt II and AH-64 Apache helicopter.
And it takes some kind of expertise to discharge these weapons. That, along with a building that can withstand the eardrum-shattering noise, incendiary pollution and shock waves.
As recently as a decade ago, Hill AFB’s personnel would travel several hours into the Utah desert to test-fire such guns, weather permitting. Afterward, the guns would have to be brought back to the base for extensive adjustments. The inefficiency of such an operation had the Air Force looking for an all-purpose indoor facility where firing and maintenance could both take place.
A professional engineer whose background includes 27 years with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the Army Engineers, Smith recalls how, when mulling the design, an old James Bond movie came to mind, with Sean Connery applying a silencer to his gun.
On a much wider scale, this is what HHI built after enlisting a team of Brigham Young University engineers as brothers and sisters in arms. The muffler was made up of foot-thick walls and a 10-inch ceiling filled with acoustic insulation that reduced the pressure waves generated by a 33-mm gun from 100 pounds per square inch to a manageable 3 psi.
A more basic material, the rubber tire, also proved a valuable aid, as a row of them were hung in the third stage of the muffler, which reduced the noise as well as the shock wave that could threaten the building’s integrity. An innovative air-exchange system clears all pollutants within five minutes.
It’s not that imposing a structure, Smith says, adding that the firing range is just about 150 feet long and 16 feet wide. Most of the building is used for maintaining the weapons. But it’s as vital a facility as any at Hill AFB, and six years into such extreme use, it’s standing up well with the Air Force having assumed maintenance.
That’s not the only work HHI has done at Hill AFB. The company also maintains engines there for some of the most sophisticated aircraft, including the A-10, F-16, C-130 and F-22, and needless to say, that’s no job for engineering neophytes.
“Your car may need an oil change, but you don’t have to pull the engine out and rebuild it,” Smith says. “But that’s what you have to do in aviation. You can’t wait until you have a breakdown in midflight.”
HHI’s military expertise also comes in handy at bases in around 25 states as well as in Canada, Australia and Chile. At McChord Air Field near Tacoma, Washington, the company has built and installed technology that has streamlined the process of reworking the wheels and tires of the huge C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft. During routine inspection every four months, all 14 of the 450-pound wheel assemblies are removed from these planes and brought to a shop on a platform that allows the 62nd Maintenance Squadron to process 12 tires in just four hours. The Air Force calls it a safer method, as workers no longer have to bend at the waist or fear the tires could collapse on them.
Near Columbus, Ohio, the military is finding it easier to maintain the Chinook helicopter, as HHI has designed and built a stand that enables the testing of the de-icing spray so vital for its safe flight. It’s just one of many niches HHI has found while servicing the armed forces.
Back at Hill AFB, HHI has also designed and built a child-development facility for grades one through six, with emphasis on security and age-appropriate features. And among the many non-military projects that benefited from HHI is a poisonous plant research facility for the Utah Department of Agriculture in Logan. The Western ranges include plants that can make livestock miscarry and in the case of sheep, result in two-headed offspring.
It’s an understatement that HHI has come a long way since its 1971 founding as Hideaway Homes Inc. by Don Hokanson, a physicist who left academia in pursuit of his first love, which could only be quenched with a hammer and nails. Over time, he assembled an impressive team of engineers as the operation shifted from residential construction to military contracting.
Complex projects remain HHI’s stock in trade and that puts a premium on the company’s ability to find young engineers who are as versatile as they are talented. They won’t be building grocery stores.
“We can do the most specialized work,” says Smith. “Almost every job we do is different, and that’s what makes it so interesting—and challenging.”
HHI operates an internship where students can partake in projects, giving both parties a chance to see if a good fit for the future is in the making.
“When it’s research and development, and engineering, we look for people who can go from one discipline to another,” Smith says. “We rarely do the same project, so we need people with a broad knowledge and ability to work in different environments. It becomes a mutual selection. All our projects are complex.”
And sometimes a real blast.
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