HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Boeing Co.’s commercial jet business has racked up billion-dollar orders at the Paris Air Show this week. The company’s Alabama operations are concentrating on different tasks – making a rocket powerful enough to get man to Mars and defending against enemy missile threats.
A lot has changed in the 51 years since NASA commissioned Boeing to help build the Saturn V booster that brought Man to the moon. A lot has also changed for the Chicago-based company’s Huntsville operations that worked to make that milestone mission of exploration possible.
In Alabama today, Boeing is taking a lead role in developing NASA’s Space Launch System – the space agency’s largest rocket that will eventually travel to Mars – while also focusing on missile defense. Its Strategic Missile Defense Systems (SM&DS) is based in Huntsville, as is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) – the first and only operationally deployed missile defense program to defend the U.S. against long-range ballistic missile attacks. The SM&DS Huntsville operations includes programs such as the Arrow Weapon System, the Avenger and the PAC-3 seeker.
“We think it’s positioned Huntsville very well for the future,” said Tony Jones, vice president and Huntsville senior site executive for Boeing’s Strategic Missile and Defense Systems Division. “We within Boeing are very well known for our performance and would like nothing more than to bring more work to Alabama and show the resilience of the capabilities here and elsewhere in Alabama.”
Boeing employs more than 2,600 people in Huntsville, including 1,542 engineers, 51 Tech Fellows and 21 certified space technicians. The company’s Huntsville operations include three “pillars:” Missile Defense, Space Exploration Launch Systems and the Huntsville Design Center that focuses on commercial products – such as the 737 and 787 airliners – and also commercial derivatives such as the KC-46 and the P-8. About 60 percent of the company’s employees in Huntsville work in key engineering disciplines such as design, systems, stress or industrial engineers.
Boeing’s relationship with Huntsville began in support of the space race and has continued on with strategic missile defense. With the GMD, the company’s technology provides early detection and tracking during a missile’s boost phase. It also provides midcourse target discrimination and can intercept and destroy in-air missiles. The technology involved with missile defense systems is as precise as hitting a bullet with a bullet.
“It is rocket science, in a lot of ways,” Jones said.
Because of all these operations, Boeing has had an impressive impact on Alabama’s economy. The 264 suppliers it has across the state add up to about $415 million in annual expenditures.
After spending many years developing state-of-the art missile and rocketry technology across 19 buildings in Huntsville, Boeing this spring moved into the first completed building at the new Redstone Gateway complex at Redstone Arsenal. The $1 billion mixed-use development is comprised of 468 acres that when finished will have 4.6 million square feet of office and retail space.
Boeing, which between the three buildings will occupy 363,000 square feet of office space, plans to move more employees into the other two buildings by the end of the year. The buildings will be built to qualify for a LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, an award that recognizes both the aesthetic appeal and environmentally friendliness of the complex.
As Redstone Arsenal has grown due to the U.S. Army’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of 2005, so has the incentive to be near the customer. BRAC brought 4,650 U.S. Army, Missile Defense Agency and government jobs to Redstone Arsenal.
Boeing’s Huntsville employees have also worked on the 787 Dreamliner. Over a seven-year period, nearly 600 Boeing engineers and other employees in Huntsville provided support in the design and development of the carbon fiber aircraft.
“It’s just an exciting time as we’ve been able to work and partner with our commercial brothers,” Jones said.
Boeing said a 787 will be on display all week at the Paris Air Show, performing daily flying displays through Friday. Another 787 from Qatar Airways will be on static display.
In a statement today, Boeing said it enjoyed a productive Paris Air Show, where it launched its newest model, the 787-10 Dreamliner, announcing important commercial airplane orders and strengthening alliances and relationships with customers and partners around the world.