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Leonardo: Preparations for Alabama T-100 aircraft factory on track

VENEGONO, Italy — Executives of aerospace company Leonardo told an Alabama delegation touring an aircraft facility in Italy that preparations for a manufacturing operation in Tuskegee are on track to provide the T-100 next-generation jet trainer for the U.S. Air Force.

Leonardo invited the Alabama team, led by Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, to the Venegono Superiore factory for a detailed look at how the company manufactures an advanced trainer aircraft similar to the T-100 that is already in service in three countries.

On Wednesday, executives of Leonardo and its partners provided the Alabama group with an update on the T-100 project, which calls for the construction of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with 750 workers at Moton Field, the historic home of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Guido Sibona, head of industrial engineering for the Leonardo Aircraft Division, outlined a series of project milestones leading up to the beginning of initial production in Tuskegee in 2022 if the Air Force selects the T-100 to replace its fleet of aging T-38 trainers.

The Air Force decision is expected in March 2018.

“We have a strong plan to transition production over to the U.S.,” Sibona told the Alabama group.

According to this timeline, construction at the Moton Field site would begin in July 2018, with final completion of the production campus coming in 2021.

Hiring for the Alabama manufacturing facility would commence near the start of 2020, with low-rate production of T-100 aircraft beginning there two years later, Sibona said.

Full-scale production is expected to begin in 2023.

Leonardo’s Venegono Superiore 300,000-square-meter manufacturing complex specializes in the production of military training aircraft, including the M-346, which will serve as the basis for the T-100.

A new trainer, the M-345, is under development there, and the facility hosts a ground-based integrated flight training system laboratory.

“This is really the place for training aircraft in Italy, and I think the most important site for training aircraft in the world,” Francesco Bernardi, head of business development and strategy for the Leonardo Aircraft Division.


During a tour of the manufacturing center, Alabama officials learned how Leonardo workers produce individual aircraft components such as wings and the forward fuselage. The Alabama group also saw training aircraft in the final stages of completion at the facility.

At the end of the tour, a recently completed M-346, destined for the Polish Air Force, raced down the facility’s runway and lifted off for a test flight that drew cheers from members of the Alabama delegation.

Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood said observing the work flow in Leonardo’s manufacturing facility brought into sharper focus what Macon County officials need to do to better prepare Moton Fields’ infrastructure for the T-100 plant, and into the kind of jobs that will be needed on the manufacturing line.

“We got a chance to really see and understand what is happening here,” Haygood said. “We saw first-hand how the assembly takes place and what types of training may be necessary, so we got a full understanding of how this is done and what the process looks like from beginning to end.”

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.


Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the T-100 project represents a special opportunity for the company and its partners and for the regions around the airfield where the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen received their training.

“It’s really an opportunity to rekindle history in an area of our state that is known for breaking new ground and for breaking the color barrier, while setting high standards for performance,” Secretary Canfield said.

“That’s what we want to do – we want to set new high standard for performance. We’re behind this effort.”

Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, said he was pleased to represent the governor and participate along with community leaders from Macon county in this economic develop trip to visit with leadership of Leonardo.

“Alabama has a rich history with the aviation industry and continues to be a global leader. As Alabama’s chief economic developer, the governor is very supportive of the potential partnership with Leonardo and has pledged the state’s full support if they are selected,” Pelham said.

“Creating new business investment such as Leonardo’s and creating 21st century jobs for Alabamians continues to be the governor’s highest priority,” he added.

At the conclusion of the tour, Leonardo’s Sibona presented Pelham with a model of a T-100 aircraft.

Leonardo DRS, the company’s U.S. unit, is leading the project to build the T-100 in Alabama. The M-346 base model has been selected as the jet training aircraft by the air forces of Israel, Singapore, Poland and Italy.

Other partners on the project are Honeywell Aerospace, which will provide the twin F124 turbofan engines for the T-100; and CAE, which will provide a sophisticated integrated training system for the aircraft.

The Venegono Superiore complex, which employs about 1,700 people, includes laboratories and a center for structural tests, a wind tunnel, and an airport for flight testing. It also specializes in the production of nacelles, the aerodynamic coverings of aircraft engines.

Workers at the production site have built more than 7,000 aircraft, including about 2,000 trainers that have been sold to over 40 countries.

The Alabama Department of Commerce has been pursuing the company’s jet training aircraft project since 2010.

By Jerry Underwood, Made In Alabama

Italian ambassador visits Tuskegee to support Leonardo T-100 project

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – Italian ambassador Armando Varricchio and Leonardo DRS Chief Executive William Lynn III on Monday visited the historic home of the Tuskegee Airmen, where the aerospace company wants to manufacture the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation trainer aircraft.

If Leonardo’s T-100 jet trainer is selected by the Air Force, the company plans to build a manufacturing facility at Moton Field, where the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen trained before being deployed to Italy in World War II. The project will create 750 direct jobs in Tuskegee.

Ambassador Varricchio said he was impressed by the community’s eagerness to see the T-100 project become a reality.

“I can tell you that is my first visit here, but it will not be my last,” he said during a lunch with community leaders. “I will spare no effort because we want Tuskegee to be not just a place of memory but a place of the future.

“Let’s move ahead,” he added. “Let’s work together.”


With an Air Force decision expected in the summer, Lynn said Leonardo DRS is prepared to launch the T-100 program quickly once the aircraft is selected. The Leonardo trainer is already being used by the air forces of Israel, Poland, Singapore and Italy, and it’s complemented by a sophisticated, integrated ground-based simulation system.

“It would create jobs all across the U.S,” Lynn said. “The engines would be built in Arizona. The training simulators would be built in Florida. We have suppliers in almost every state, so it would be thousands of jobs.”

Last November, Leonardo officials told an Alabama delegation visiting the company’s Italian manufacturing plant that preparations for the Tuskegee facility were on track.

After their Tuskegee visit, Varricchio and Lynn and a Leonardo team traveled to Montgomery for talks with Governor Kay Ivey and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, followed by a dinner.

“He’s getting to see firsthand that Alabama is open to business,” Governor Ivey told a WSFA television reporter.

Secretary Canfield has called the T-100 project a “gamechanger” for Tuskegee and Macon County.


Ambassador Varricchio said he sees the Leonardo project as a way to “connect the dots that are linking Italy and the United States.”

While in Tuskegee, the ambassador toured a museum dedicated the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen, who were based at an airfield in Ramitelli during their stay in Italy.

“I was very moved walking around in the beautiful museum that was retracing the memory of those heroes, those brave men who are not forgotten in Italy,” he said. “What they did when they came to Italy, during those difficult times, that was the moment that bonds were created – and those bonds are more present that ever.”

Read an account of the ambassador’s Alabama visit.

By Jerry Underwood, Made In Alabama

Tuskegee Mayor Haygood: T-100 manufacturing facility will lift region

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – Sitting in the back seat of an F-16 jet on a flight over Tuskegee, Mayor Tony Haygood looked down at Moton Field and envisioned the historic airfield’s future as the production site of the U.S. Air Force’s next jet training aircraft.

“From that height, it is amazing how you can see the whole layout of things at Moton Field and where the runway expansion would be,” Haygood said. “There’s plenty of space for it, and we’ll be doing some other improvements.”

Earlier this year, global aerospace company Leonardo selected Moton Field as the manufacturing site for its T-100 advanced trainer jet if the Air Force chooses the aircraft as its next-generation trainer. The project would bring 750 jobs to the airfield where the pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen received their training.

Haygood, who is traveling to Italy with an Alabama delegation to tour a Leonardo aircraft factory this week, said an in-depth look at the company’s manufacturing operation will assist Macon County’s preparations for the Tuskegee facility.

“This is like advance preparation that gives us an opportunity to see, hear, and understand how we need to get ready,” he said.

Made In Alabama caught up with Haygood in Tuskegee before the Alabama team departed so he could share his insights on the Leonardo T-100 jet trainer project planned for Moton Field. Here’s what he said.

Q: What would the Leonardo T-100 manufacturing facility mean for Tuskegee and the region?

A: It would be a tremendous boost to this community. For Tuskegee, it would be the largest project we’ve had in our history. It would be a big boost for the entire economy of South Central Alabama and would impact the entire state as well. For us, it would mean high-quality jobs, and it would trigger a revitalization of our entire economy.

Q: Can the area provide the workforce for the Leonardo T-100 facility?

A: We can provide a quality workforce, and we will have assistance from the state. Go back to the Tuskegee Airmen. People didn’t think they could fly advanced aircraft, but given the opportunity and the training, they not only flew, they excelled. It’s really the same story today. Give people the opportunity, give them the support, and we can develop the workforce and the expertise that is needed.

Q: You’ve met with the Leonardo team several times. What is your impression of the company?

A: They’re very sharp, very focused. They’ve done their homework in terms of providing the Air Force with a product at a competitive price, and they understand the challenges that are before us as we make this bid. They have a quality trainer jet that can compete against anyone else’s. They’ve analyzed this area and came here several times to look at what needs to be done here, what we had to offer, and what makes this a good site. Since they made their decision in favor of Tuskegee, they’ve been a great partner.

Q: Does the T-100 project have the backing of the community in Tuskegee?

A: The community has really stepped up to embrace this project. They realize there are things we’ve got to do to get ready, and they’re just asking what they can do. Every part of this community is excited about this opportunity. It’s not just excitement; they’ve expressed a willingness to do what needs to be done. The entire community has responded, and we’re doing a number of things to get ready.

Q: One of the interesting things about this project is the historical link with the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew missions during World War II from bases in Italy. Do you feel the connection?

A: It’s like reaching back to the future. You’re going back to the foundation laid by the Tuskegee Airmen, and the good relationship they had with the Italians while based at the airfield in Ramitelli. The positive exchange they had back then with the Italians has come full circle to impact us today. They’re coming back to help us launch a whole new era. It’s a continuation of the Tuskegee Airmen story, which is powerful in itself, and it’s bringing us to a new level.

By Jerry Underwood, Made In Alabama

Alabama team to tour Leonardo aircraft factory to advance T-100 project

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.”


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.”


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

Local startups win at Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad Finale

Three teams from East Alabama walked away with their share of $100,000 after the Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad Finale in Auburn on Wednesday, April 4.

Energy H2O received the top prize of $50,000 for its innovative concept to produce energetic, healthier bottled water. Tennibot received $40,000 for its robotic tennis ball collector, and FoPark received $10,000 for its simplified parking management system.

The Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad competition, a partnership between the City of Auburn, Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Auburn Research & Technology Foundation (ARTF), is a collaboration with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s Alabama Launchpad program. The program has allowed startups from Chambers, Lee, Macon, Russell and Tallapoosa counties to compete for a share of funding and receive valuable mentoring.

The regional competition began with 11 teams that presented their startup ideas to a panel of judges at the first round of the competition on Feb. 8. The winners of the finale event were among six teams, including Beyond Home Care, InhiProt and NanoXort, selected to advance to the finale. They again pitched their companies to judges at the ALFA Pavilion at Ag Heritage Park on Wednesday night.

Auburn University men’s basketball Assistant Coach Steven Pearl spoke during the event, reminding startups to take risks, learn from their failures and continue moving forward. Auburn Mayor Bill Ham also spoke about the significance of startups and innovative business concepts to the community and its economy.

“This competition is a great example of not only the innovation in Auburn, but the entrepreneurship throughout East Alabama,” Ham said. “We’re proud of not only the winners, but of everyone who participated and we wish them the best as they continue to grow and make our area even stronger.”

Other startups interested in connecting with Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad and other available resources in East Alabama can contact Arndt Siepmann, the City of Auburn’s industrial development director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (334) 501-7270.

Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad would like to thank Alabama Power, Auburn Bank, Borbet Alabama and Spire for sponsoring the finale event.

About Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad

Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad is a partnership of the City of Auburn, Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Auburn Research & Technology Foundation (ARTF) and Alabama Launchpad. Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad helps entrepreneurs and businesses in the Auburn region through funding, startup competitions, resources and more. Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad helps companies start, stay and grow in the Auburn region, while supporting, advocating and recognizing entrepreneurship locally and statewide.

About Alabama Launchpad

Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, helps high growth companies start, stay, and grow in Alabama, while supporting, advocating, and recognizing entrepreneurship statewide. Started in 2006, Alabama Launchpad encourages innovation and job growth in the state through startup competitions, the EDPA 2018 imerge Innovation Awards, and imerge, an event to celebrate innovation in Alabama.

By David D. Dorton, Auburn News

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