WCU joins effort to help create jobs, parts for military aircraft

The Center for Integrated Technologies at Western Carolina University is taking part in a $9.3 million effort funded by the Golden LEAF Foundation to help North Carolina companies ramp up production of replacement parts for aging military aircraft.

WCU’s center, which is housed in the Kimmel School of Construction Management, Engineering and Technology, is the newest member of the recently formed N.C. Aerospace Alliance Initiative. The program is designed to help create new jobs and spawn business investment centered on two eastern North Carolina facilities that overhaul military aircraft – Cherry Point’s naval air depot and the U.S. Coast Guard air center in Elizabeth City.

“The Golden LEAF Foundation invited us to participate in this initiative because of our ability to make some of the initial replacement parts through the reverse engineering and rapid prototyping capabilities of the Center for Integrated Technologies,” said Phil Sanger, director of the center. “Some of the military aircraft at Cherry Point and Elizabeth City are 30 or 40 years old, and many of the companies that originally built the planes and helicopters are out of business or no longer make those parts. That’s where we come in – bridging the gap between the military’s needs and the N.C. industries that can meet those needs.”

Mark Sorrells, senior vice president of Golden Leaf, said the Aerospace Alliance Initiative is attempting to develop a new protocol that will enable companies to expedite the process of manufacturing replacement parts for those aging aircraft – a process that is often delayed because of incomplete or non-existent technical data packages.

“One of the areas of importance that Cherry Point has identified is in the area of rapid prototyping,” Sorrells said. “Some of the parts they are in need of are parts that fall into the category of emergency requisitions. They don’t have the time to go through the process of normal acquisition.”

Along with WCU, partners in the Aerospace Alliance Initiative are N.C. State University, Lenoir Community College, the Neuse River Development Authority and Spatial Integrated Systems Inc. The initiative will help aerospace companies become qualified to manufacture aircraft parts for the military and will provide technical resources to assist those companies in meeting rigorous government standards for parts. It also will provide training for workers seeking jobs in the aerospace industry and provide loans for entrepreneurs seeking to start new companies.

“We are pleased to be asked to participate in a statewide initiative that not only provides a valuable service to our nation’s military, but one that also will help create new jobs and new businesses in North Carolina where so many tobacco and textile-related jobs have been lost,” said Duane Dunlap, director of WCU’s Kimmel School.

The Golden LEAF Foundation was established in 1999 and administers half of the money received by the state of North Carolina from the settlement of a lawsuit with cigarette manufacturers. Since its inception, the foundation has made some 430 grants totaling more than $147 million to nonprofit organizations and governmental entities throughout North Carolina.

For more information about WCU’s Center for Integrated Technologies, call Phil Sanger at (828) 227-7368 or e-mail him at sanger@wcu.edu.