MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield is leading an Alabama delegation traveling today to Italy, where the group will meet with executives of aerospace giant Leonardo and tour a factory where the company manufactures a jet trainer aircraft that could one day be produced in Alabama.
Earlier this year, Leonardo announced plans to build a manufacturing facility at Tuskegee’s Moton Field for production of its advanced T-100 jet. For the project to move forward at the historic home of the Tuskegee Airmen, the T-100 must be selected as the U.S. Air Force’s next trainer aircraft.
The Alabama team’s three-day mission to Italy will give state leaders and Macon County officials a first-hand look at Leonardo’s manufacturing facility in Venegono, near Milan, where it produces M-346 trainers already in use by several countries. The M-346 is the basis for the company’s T-100 aircraft.
The objective of the mission is to help advance preparations already under way in Alabama for the development of the manufacturing facility at Moton Field and its 750-strong workforce.
“Leonardo has been a great partner, and we want to make sure that we are prepared to move forward without delays on the T-100 production center in Tuskegee as soon as the Air Force decision is announced,” Secretary Canfield said.
“This means we must have all the infrastructure components and worker training programs in place to make this critically important program a success from Day 1.”
BUILDING A PARTNERSHIP
Joining the Alabama team will be executives from Leonardo DRS, the company’s U.S. subsidiary that is taking the lead on the project; Honeywell Aerospace, which will provide the F124 turbofan engines for the T-100; and CAE, which will provide a sophisticated integrated training system for the aircraft.
“Our plan is to build a state-of-the-art T-100 manufacturing facility in Tuskegee, Alabama, that expands upon the success of our production center which has been actively producing M-346 jets for many years,” said Marc Lindsley, program director for the T-100 team.
“We are excited to show this delegation our operational manufacturing line to demonstrate why the T-100 will be a jobs creator as well as a low-risk option for the U.S. Air Force,” Lindsley added.
Other Alabama officials on the mission are Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey, and Ed Castile, director of AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, and a deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“I’m extremely supportive of Leonardo’s efforts to make the T-100 manufacturing facility in Tuskegee a reality,” Governor Ivey said.
“I’m committed to building a long-lasting partnership with the company so it can provide the U.S. Air Force with a high-performance trainer aircraft that’s made in Alabama by the best workforce in the nation.”
Also included in the Alabama delegation are Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood, state Rep. Pebblin Warren, and other Macon County officials.
“This will give us a better sense of what kind of adjustments we need to make in our community in terms of infrastructure, facilities, and manpower to develop this plant for Leonardo at Moton Field,” Haygood said. “That way, we’ll know exactly what we need to do and not have to try and figure it out.”
DECISION IN 2018
A decision from the Air Force on its next-generation trainer aircraft is expected in March. The Air Force plans to acquire 350 advanced jet trainers to replace its 1950s-era Northrop T-38 aircraft.
Leonardo already supplies a version of the T-100 by way of the M-346 trainer jet to Israel, Poland, Singapore, and Italy.
The Leonardo facility would join a network of key military resources in that region of the state.
These include Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, home to Air University, the service’s center for professional military education; Fort Rucker, the Army’s primary training facility for helicopter pilots since 1955; and a CAE facility in Dothan that provides training for the Army’s fixed-wing pilots.
The project would bring production of the Air Force’s trainer jet to the site where the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen received their training.
The unit of African-American pilots, known as the “Red Tails,” flew fighter planes from bases in Italy during World War II. Their combat successes helped lead to the desegregation of the U.S. military in the late 1940s and later provided a spark for the Civil Rights movement.
By Jerry Underwood, Made In Alabama