National Center for Aviation Training to Affirm Wichita's Aviation Legacy
NIAR in Wichita, KS
Testing composites at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) in Wichita, KS.
Some 97 years after Clyde Cessna crafted his first Kansas plane, the manufacturing company that bears his name riveted the aviation world with news it would build its boldest business jet ever in Wichita.
It’s a day the founder of Cessna Aviation Co. could only dream of: $780 million invested to develop Citation Columbus jets, with another $74 million in annual payroll and 1,000 new jobs to drive Cessna’s Wichita work force past 11,000.
Yet even before the April 2008 announcement made headlines, a critical piece of Cessna’s plans to build the jets began coming out of the ground.
At Jabara Airport – a general aviation facility in northeast Wichita – construction started a month earlier on the National Center for Aviation Training. At $54 million, the 220,000-square-foot center will steep students in avionics, robotics, composites manufacturing and other 21st-century aviation disciplines.
Cessna will lean heavily upon the new center to build its $27 million jet. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, Hawker Beechcraft Corp., The Boeing Co., Bombardier Aerospace Learjet, Airbus North America Engineering Inc. and other Wichita mainstays will also tap the facility when they look to fill 15,000 new aerospace jobs projected for the area over the next decade.
That growth will push Wichita’s aviation employment beyond 50,000 and into a new frontier.
“You take Spirit, for example,” says Pete Gustaf, president of Wichita Area Technical College, which will manage the training center. “The workers there have lab coats on and work on the forward composite section of a 787 in
a 100-yard clean room. It’s a little different than pounding rivets in a 100-degree warehouse.”
That difference is why John Tomblin’s 300-member National Institute for Aviation Research staff will launch its resources as the center opens in 2010 to help prepare 1,500 students at a time.
“We have a research and training role,” says Tomblin, the institute’s executive director and Sam Bloomfield Distinguished Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Wichita State University. “If you think of research as a continuum, you’re always going to start out with a research project. And the last piece of that continuum is always going to be training.”
That continuum – as with friction stir welding techniques for aircraft – typically takes 10 years or more. Tomblin believes the hand-in-glove work of his research institute and the aviation training center in the same spot, using state-of-the-art equipment supplied by local industry, can cut the implementation time to one to three years.
In some cases, the transfer of research to training could be almost instantaneous, Bloomfield says. One initiative will lead to diagnostic tools, such as CT scans, that can inspect aircraft for problems without the need to take them apart.
Gustaf said the Sedgwick County Technical Education & Training Authority, which oversees his college and all area technical education, played the galvanizing role in conceiving the project, designing the aviation center with industry input and issuing bonds for construction.
The investment will be a wise one, says Vicki Pratt Gerbino, president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.
“If any place in the world should have an NCAT-type facility, it’s Wichita,” she says. “We need to ensure a steady pipeline of new, trained personnel for our local aircraft industry. It’s simply a smart investment in our economic future.”