Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin

Construction crews started work this week on the largest private-sector project in Madras Municipal Airport's history: A 65,000-square-foot aircraft storage hangar, set to be the future home of the Tillamook Air Museum.

The hangar is expected to serve a few purposes, potentially housing firefighting aircraft belonging to Aero Air, a Hillsboro aviation company that took over the lease on Madras Airport's existing 44,000-square-foot hangar in November.

A permit to build the hangar hasn't been granted yet. But the city of Madras issued a temporary grading permit on July 25, giving crews the go-ahead to start preparing the site.

The city expects to receive final building plans next week, said Madras Community Development Director Nicholas Snead.

Aero Air joined with Portland-based Erickson Air-Crane late last year, forming Erickson Aero Tanker. The company wants to use Madras as a base camp for firefighting operations across the western U.S.

Crews started excavation work for the foundation of the new hangar Monday, said Glen Newton, air tank operations manager for Erickson Aero Tanker.

“It's going to take about nine to 11 months to build,” Newton said. That would put the hangar on track for completion between May and July 2014.

Later this summer, the first of roughly 30 World War II-era planes are expected to make the move from the Tillamook Air Museum to Madras Airport. The entire fleet could be in Madras within three years.

The planes are part of a collection owned by Erickson Air-Crane founder Jack Erickson, and run the gamut from a 1930s American single-engine plane to a rare Japanese fighter plane recovered from the Kuril Islands, north of Japan.

Madras and Jefferson County leaders hope the air museum provides a tourism boost for the region. They've also touted the jobs Erickson Aero Tanker is bringing to Madras with its firefighting operations.

About 15 pilots and mechanics from the company are working in Madras today, but company officials have said that could balloon to 50 or 60 in the coming years. A workforce that size would make Erickson Aero Tanker one of the 15 largest employers in Jefferson County, according to figures from Economic Development for Central Oregon.

Erickson Aero Tanker has purchased seven MD-87 airliners from Spanish airline Iberia. The passenger jets are being converted into air tankers to drop water or retardant on forest fires. Two of the MD-87s are already in Madras. Three more could arrive by the end of the summer.