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Macon County expects word on Air Force project within weeks

Advocates trying to land a major U.S. Air Force contract in Macon County should know in a matter of weeks whether it's coming.

Moton Field, home of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, is one of the sites in contention for an assembly plant for the next Air Force jet fighter trainer.

Leonardo DRS, an affiliate of an Italian company that builds jet fighter trainers for several of America's allies, is one of the bidders for the project and chose Macon County as the plant site if it wins the contract.

Joe Turnham, director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority, said Leonardo DRS and the other bidders have submitted all their information to the decision-makers at the Department of Defense and the Air Force.

"Our friends at Leonardo DRS and our counterparts at the state, everyone feels like there could be a decision anywhere from around Labor Day forward, but certainly within the next several weeks," Turnham said.

Capt. Hope R. Cronin, a public affairs officer for Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, said she could not comment on the project except to say that an announcement is expected before the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

Officials first announced last year that Leonardo DRS was bidding for the contract and that the company had chosen Moton Field as its site.

Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said today that Leonardo DRS remains very much in contention for the project.

Leonardo DRS has stiff competition. Other bidders include Lockheed Martin, which is working with Korean Airspace Industries on the project, and Boeing, which is working with Saab.

The winner is expected to build at least 350 jet fighter trainers to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon, which the Air Force has used for decades.

Leonardo DRS has proposed building a new version of a jet fighter trainer it already supplies for Italy, Israel, Poland and Singapore. The company has dubbed the American version the T-100.

The project would bring 750 direct jobs to Macon County plus many more spinoff jobs to the area, Turnham said. Investment would be in the billions and would pump new economic life into the area and along the Interstate 85 corridor, Turnham said.

"This could be the accelerator that we need to do a lot of different things," Turnham said.

By Mike Cason

"WHEN WE WIN" Macon Co. hoping to land multi-billion dollar U.S. Air Force contract

TUSKEGEE, Ala. (WRBL) - We are just weeks or days away from learning if the United States Air Force will select Leonardo DRS, a global aerospace and defense contractor, to manufacture their new fleet of aircraft flight trainers at Moton Field in Macon County.

If Leonardo DRS wins the bid, the economic development project will represent a multi-billion dollar economic impact for Macon County and surrounding areas, transforming the community for generations in an economic re-birth for the struggling Tuskegee area.

Moton Field is known all over the world as the home of the Tuskegee Airmen; the brave and talented military pilots who fought for America while overcoming widespread racism during World War II. Now, the community and economic development leaders are hoping history lands again on the hallowed ground.

"Anytime someone says how can Tuskegee pull off a project like this, I say all you have to do is flip in your history books. The spirit of the men who learned how to fly and defended Europe. The spirit is still here in Macon County," said Joe Turnham, director of Macon County's Economic Development Authority.

Any day, Tuskegee will learn if the U.S. Air Force contracts with global defense firm, Leonardo DRS to replace its fleet of the TX-Trainer Jets. Leonardo chose Moton Field out of 142 locations as their manufacturing, research, and development site.

"The contract on the TX-Trainer, if it goes to T-100 in Tuskegee, is for 350 to 500 aircraft over 20 years. The low end is $16-$17 billion dollars awarded to the high end of $30-$40 billion with other allies and international orders," explained Turnham.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing are still in the running. However, Turnham believes Leonardo leads because the contractor has the most proven aircraft trainer and their bid creates the most American jobs.

"750 direct jobs in the plant as well as 4 to 5 times that in spinoff jobs. This would mean a gross domestic product of $303 million per year. That's a 3 billion dollar injection into the Macon County Community over ten years," said Turnham.

"When We Win" is the motto behind a team of congressional, state and local leaders who've worked for years to bring this project to Moton Field and an economic re-birth to Macon County.

"This would be a great way for the American government to say we honor the history and we honor your future. You can do this, and we are going to put this project in Tuskegee at Moton Field," Turnham said.

Along with thousands of high paying jobs, the facility will serve as a pipeline for Tuskegee and Auburn University Aerospace students. It will pump millions almost immediately into the local economy; drastically improving schools and overall quality of life.

Turnham expects to learn who the U.S. Air Force chooses within the next weeks or even days. The announcement could come as early as the Friday before Labor day or by the end of September. News 3 will keep you updated.

Click here for more information on the project: T-100 Tuskegee Project Information

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

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

By Jerry Underwood

Contact us

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