For what will be the first Boeing Co. fighter jet work in the state of Texas, two of the Navy’s 550-plus F/A-18 Super Hornets have landed at Port San Antonio, heralding the start of a multimillion-dollar project to upgrade the aircraft.

Inside the world’s largest freestanding high-bay hangar on Monday, company and elected officials, Navy officers, and Boeing’s engineers celebrated the arrival of the sleek fighter jets as the first to join the aircraft manufacturer’s modification program and production line funded by a $73 million contract.

Over the next 10 years, Boeing’s sites in San Antonio and St. Louis will modify 40 jets a year, modernizing the aircraft and extending their life by 10,000 hours of flight time, or another 10 to 15 years. The contract represents a major new project for the Boeing site in San Antonio, established in 1998 to provide maintenance and modification for primarily large aircraft.

“The Super Hornets that will soon fill this building – and they will fill this building – are relied on 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Dan Gillian, vice president of U.S. Government Services for Boeing. “That means a lot of flight hours and a lot of wear and tear. That’s why this program is so important. It’s an affordable solution for getting more Super Hornets on Navy carrier jets. The Navy needs these jets.”

Gillian said the modification program will not only give the jets another 10 years of life, but – with new capabilities including enhanced network capability, longer range, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements, and an enhanced communication system – also make them much like the new Super Hornets coming off the production line in St. Louis.

Boeing San Antonio Site Leader Jay Galloway said Monday’s announcement came after four years of working with the Navy to bring the project to Port San Antonio. “If you don’t know, fighters are typically not done in San Antonio, Texas – that is reserved for other sites,” he said, such as Jacksonville, Florida, and St. Louis.

“To be a part of maintaining this fleet is an honor, and it’s not only an honor, it’s important to our community; it’s important to the people who work here and important to the state of Texas and important to this country,” he said. “The Navy has finally landed in San Antonio.”

The Super Hornets will share space in the newly renovated main hangar, which can accommodate 16 large aircraft at a time, primarily the C-17 Globemaster IIIs, a military transport plane that Boeing services. A crew of about 10 people is assigned to work on each Super Hornet, a job that takes about 10 months to a year to complete, Galloway said.

The Seattle-based Boeing is the largest tenant among 80 tech, aerospace, and industrial organizations at Port San Antonio and an integral part of a sector said to contribute $3.4 billion to San Antonio’s economy.

Though Boeing has never exceeded 60 percent of its capacity at the Port during its 21 years there, it has overhauled and delivered over 2,000 aircraft at the plant. The Super Hornet work brings its capacity to 95 percent, and the company recently signed a lease that keeps Boeing at the Port until at least 2029.

To support the contract, Boeing expects to double its current San Antonio workforce to 2,000 in the coming year, Galloway said.

(From left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

“This new Super Hornet mission in San Antonio will keep the needle moving in the right direction,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “While the Navy’s ties weren’t as visible before in San Antonio, this critical work at Boeing fully anchors the Navy with the Air Force, the Army, in what is officially Military City, USA.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg also addressed the crowd gathered in the hangar, calling the event an important milestone for the city and its aviation history. “This is a confirmation of the talented workforce San Antonio has to offer,” he said.

The Super Hornets aren’t the first newcomers at Boeing this summer.

Since May, the main hangar and flight lines have become a parking lot for more than 60 of the manufacturer’s 737 Max fleet. The planes were ordered by commercial airlines around the globe but not yet delivered because the 737 Max fleet was grounded earlier this year following two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Boeing San Antonio is just one of many sites where the planes, bearing the names and logos of carriers such as Polish Airlines, Corendon, Silk Air, and Oman Air, are being stored until regulators approve the 737 Max to resume flying.

A F/A-18 fighter jet is shown in a video during the National Anthem.

Hulky C-17s belonging to the U.S. Air Force and its foreign allies, the primary work of Boeing San Antonio, were also parked along the flight line Monday.

“San Antonio has a history of supporting the military,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Thiessen. “While this is not a traditional Navy location, we are proud and excited to establish a Navy presence here. …

“Everything you do here is truly contributing to the defense of this great nation.”

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...