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Alabama Awaits Critical Decision From Air Force; T-100 Project at Stake

The U.S. Air Force is expected to announce any day now its multi-billion-dollar impact decision on which company partnership will win its contract for the next generation of fighter-trainer jets, and an Alabama site is still in the hunt to build them.

Tuskegee’s Moton Field, home of the famous World War II fighter pilot school that trained America’s first black military aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen, would be the home of the T-100 project if the Italian-based Leonardo DRS company can win the bid.

It would be a major economic boost for Alabama’s fast-growing aviation industry, and an even more significant impact on the local economy in Macon and Lee counties, providing more than 750 jobs directly at the plant between Auburn and Montgomery, and possibly hundreds more jobs in subsidiary support roles.

“We feel like we still have a good shot at it,” said Macon County economic development director Joe Turnham.

But for Leonardo’s T-100 jet to win the bid, it’ll have to pull the upset over two tough competitors with longtime name recognition as two of the nation’s aviation giants.

Lockheed Martin has teamed with Korea Aerospace Industries to propose its T-50 jet for the contract.

Boeing has teamed with Saab, from Sweden, for what is known as a “clean-sheet design” of a jet specifically for this bid.

There are huge stakes involved. The Air Force is looking to replace the aging T-38 Talon and wants a new trainer jet that can better prepare its pilots to fly the F-35 fighter jet. It’s willing to spend up to $16 billion to get it.

Lockheed and Boeing are thought by many military and defense-industry experts to be the front-runners for the contract, but T-100 supporters say not so fast.

Reasons for hope

CEO Bill Lynn told Aviation Week last month that the T-100 is the lowest-risk solution for the Air Force.

“This would not be a good time for the Air Force to have things go off the rails in terms of schedule and budget,” Lynn said. “Having a mature, low-risk program is a strength.”

Lynn was referring to the T-100’s already-proven performance record and popular demand, something the company has in its favor by having other air forces already using it.

Israel, for example, uses a T-100 variation to train its pilots, and it’s hard to argue with Israeli military experts when they say something works, given that the Israeli military is among the most respected in the world.

But there are other reasons to hold high hopes for Tuskegee landing the project, Turnham says, and he raises good points.

Global partnerships

The United States for several years, and certainly under current President Donald Trump, has vocalized the desire to buy American-made military goods from American-based companies.

Leonardo is Italian-based, but its partnerships range far and wide within the United States, and it has promised to build the T-100 in Alabama.

Lockheed and Boeing are stalwarts and iconic in American defense circles, yet both companies also are relying on international partners to develop their version of the next trainer jet.

Lockheed would be working with partners in South Korea, Boeing in Sweden.All three contenders promise spinoff jobs would be created with American companies in several states that would provide parts and supplies.

High-roller politics

Then there are the political powers that matter.

Ranking senior members of Congress from all the states with an iron in the fire are making the same strong pitches and doing the same type of deal-making behind closed doors in efforts to win the contract.

Boeing and Lockheed have a lot of friends in Congress and in the military.

But once again, don’t count out Alabama.

Alabama’s senior senator is Richard Shelby, who is serving his sixth term and has risen to become chairman of the appropriations committee, making him one of the more powerful figures in the United States government.

The Air Force may be making the decision on what fighter-trainer jet it wants, but it will be Shelby and his committee that pays for it, observers quip.

That could weigh in Alabama’s favor.

The military role

Finally, there is the mission itself, and Alabama has quite nicely positioned itself to be on the same page with the Air Force.

It was a major coup for the state to have the Air National Guard fighter squadron in Montgomery to be one of only two Guard units in the nation to win selection as a future base for the F-35 fighter jet.

Yes, the same fighter jet for which the Air Force is looking to have its trainer jet used in preparing its pilots for combat.

The T-100, as the Israelis might say, is an excellent trainer for the F-35, and if an air base in Montgomery right down the road is flying F-35s, it’s a short haul for test flights or trial runs by T-100 pilots who eventually will move on to become the nation’s first line of defense.

Furthermore, Auburn University and Tuskegee University both have aviation programs already known as being among the best, along with other related degree programs that rapidly are growing in fields such as cyber security, engineering and technology.

Not far up the road is NASA’s major operations in Huntsville, and down the road are aviation facilities such as Airbus building jetliners in Mobile, all further testimony to what the seeds are becoming in Alabama as they grow and reach for the skies.

A decision nears

These factors added up make the T-100 less an underdog and more of a real player in the bid to win this far-reaching contract.

The Air Force repeatedly has said it would be ready to make its decision announcement this summer, and many officials have pinpointed the month of August for it.

The sky won’t fall should Alabama not get it.

But the horizon certainly is deep and wide if it does.

Click here to read the full article on OANow.com

By Troy Turner

Alabama Grabs No. 1 Business Climate Ranking From Publication

Business Facilities, an economic development-focused publication, ranked Alabama’s business climate tops among the states in a new analysis that examined performance in several key economic categories.

The publication cited Alabama’s successful recruitment of the Toyota-Mazda joint venture automobile manufacturing plant to illustrate the state’s appeal. The project, announced in January 2018, calls for a $1.6 billion investment and 4,000 new jobs in Huntsville.

Besides the No. 1 ranking for Best Business Climate, Business Facilities also gave the state high marks for growth potential and workforce training.

“In Alabama, they’ve nailed the economic development fundamentals — maximizing resources with regional cooperation, a diverse growth strategy, world-class workforce training — and they’re running up the score with one big-ticket project after another,” the publication writes.

Business Facilities said Alabama’s business climate “is hitting on all cylinders,” citing the growth plans of GE Appliances, which is investing $115 million in an expansion in Decatur, and Amazon, which is opening a 1,500-worker fulfillment center in Bessemer.

Governor Kay Ivey said the high rankings from Business Facilities confirm that Alabama is on the right track for economic growth.

“I’m committed to facilitating the creation of good jobs across Alabama and expanding opportunities for the state’s hard-working citizens,” Governor Ivey said.

“Our efforts have produced a lot of success lately, and we’re going to keep moving forward at full speed on this mission.”

Click here to read the full article on MadeInAlabama.com

By Jerry Underwood

Moton Field - The Southeast's Newest Aerospace Diamond Destination

Featured in Trade & Industry Development - May/June 2018 Edition, Pages 44-45

Best Aerospace Site

Leonardo DRS, maker of the T-100 Trainer, went looking for a location to manufacture the new T-100. After reviewing 143 sites, they settled on Moton Field.

Only a 15-minute flyover from Atlanta-Hartsfield, Moton Field is the new diamond of aerospace. Opportunities abound with 500 acres between the runway and I-85 available for aerospace development. Also on the planning board is a runway expansion to 8,000 feet with a devoted industrial taxiway and C-130 landing surface right on Interstate 85.

Read the Full Article

Macon County Community Rallying Support for T-100 Bid

According to WSFA, the T-100 announcement is expected within the month. The T-100 is an advanced Air Force training jet, and the project would net hundreds of jobs. Watch the full news report by clicking the link below.

Click here to view the news report on the WSFA website.

Leonardo T-100 Factory Would Provide Massive Lift for Tuskegee

Tuskegee, AL - The Leonardo aircraft manufacturing facility that’s slated to be built in Tuskegee would have a vast economic impact across Macon County and beyond, according to key local officials supporting the project.

The global aerospace and defense firm’s plans to produce the T-100 jet trainerat Moton Field would create a ripple of new jobs and investments along the Interstate 85 corridor in eastern Alabama.

The company must first win a U.S. Air Force competition for the next-generation training aircraft, an effort that has galvanized communities across the region, said Joe Turnham, a strategic consultant for the Macon County Economic Development Authority.

“This will be a new economic anchor for this century, certainly for Macon County, and there will be tremendous coattail opportunities,” he said. “Leonardo officials are talking about building an aerospace footprint here, not just in final assembly but also in research and innovation.”

All of the activity would boost local revenue for the city, county and local schools.

Beyond Macon County, Turnham expects numerous opportunities for spinoff jobs and investments, at suppliers and support businesses connected to the aerospace industry. And then there are the retail, lodging, dining and other service prospects that naturally come with a large industrial project.

Turnham said Macon County has not had a major manufacturing project of this scope since Hanon Systems, a Tier 1 auto supplier to Hyundai and Kia, located in Shorter in 2003. That operation has had years of success, including five expansions.

“But Leonardo is bigger, with more employees and more capital investment, and it’s our first foray into aerospace here even though we have a great aerospace history,” he said.


Indeed, Moton Field is where the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military pilots, trained during World War II. The combat success of these pilots, known as the “Red Tails,” led the way to the desegregation of the U.S. military in the late 1940s and provided a major spark for the Civil Rights movement.

“I hope the Air Force understands that there’s not a better narrative for this T-100 project. Going to Moton Field shows diversity and inclusion, and it says so much to the American people, that everyone can participate in a project like this,” Turnham said.

Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood said he is excited about Leonardo’s plans for the city.

“This is a great opportunity for our city, and I look forward to the tremendous benefits that will allow us to rebuild our economic base and launch economic development to another level,” he said. “It will be a major impact on our city, as well as the whole county.”

Haygood compared the Leonardo project and its potential ripple effect to what the VA hospital did for the community when it was originally established for African-American veterans after World War I. Now serving all veterans as the East Campus of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, the Tuskegee facility is a major employer with a wide network of support businesses.

“I see the same possibility here for Leonardo. There will be a large number of skilled jobs. It will also open up a lot of opportunities for surrounding areas,” he said.


A similar transformational effect is expected for local schools and students.

“The impact of Leonardo and T-100 on Macon County Schools would be monumental, life-changing and energizing,” said Dr. Jacqueline Brooks, the system’s superintendent.

The project would allow the system to make its STEM programs more robust and create a feeder pipeline from kindergarten through college, partnering with Tuskegee University, in programs such as robotics, drone technology and more.

“We would be able to start an aviation academy to include an aviation pilot program, as well as an aviation mechanics program,” Brooks said. “The possibilities are endless and abound for us with the impact of such a project.”

Turnham said the cooperative nature of the project has been remarkable.

“It’s been one of the great experiences I’ve had in economic development,” he said. “The scale and scope of this project is so big, and we’re a community of less than 25,000 people. At one end, we’re on the edge of the Auburn/Opelika MSA, and on the other end is East Montgomery. We’ve leveraged regional assets all across the area and beyond so that we could really pull this off, both in recruitment and in how we’re going to fulfill the project with labor.”

That includes Alabama’s political leadership, the Alabama Department of Commerce, city and county governments, local chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, many alumni groups at Tuskegee University and even ministers across the area who held a prayer service for the success of the project.

Recruiters also have touted the clout of the engineering programs at Tuskegee University and Auburn University, as well as the community colleges in the region.

“We want our Tuskegee University engineering students to have something on the other end of their education. We want them to stay, really rebuild our middle class, fill vacancies in housing and increase the population in the school system,” Turnham said.

“We’re dreaming really big. We’ve just got to bring it totally home,” he continued. “Every day, we’re doing something grassroots, trying to maximize our assets. We really feel like this is a way that the economic development miracle of Alabama can happen not just in Huntsville, Mobile and Auburn, but it can happen in a place like Macon County.”

By Dawn Azok, Made In Alabama

Contact us

Joe Turnham
608 Dibble Street, Suite 7
Tuskegee, AL 36083