LONDON, England – Team Alabama’s secret weapon at the Farnborough International Airshow is the state’s education community, which has played a strong supporting role in efforts to recruit new aerospace investment and jobs at the industry’s global trade event.
Representatives from the University of Alabama, UAH, and Auburn University participated in rounds of company meetings on Monday and Tuesday, as did Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, which is deeply involved in workforce development programs.
Their participation signals the need by aerospace companies such as Boeing, Sikorsky and United Technologies for research partnerships, engineering talent and workforce training, according to Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.
Alabama’s universities already are engaged in many partnerships with aerospace firms. A group from Auburn University’s engineering school attended a Tuesday air show announcement by GE Aviation that it would launch an additive manufacturing operation at its Auburn facility, the first time a jet engine component will be mass produced using 3-D printing technology.
GE Aviation and Auburn have already been working together, and after Tuesday’s ceremony, the university team presented GE Aviation executive Colleen Athans with an Auburn pin that she attached to her lapel.
Dr. Chuck Karr, dean of the University of Alabama’s School of Engineering, said the state’s universities are united in efforts to support aerospace companies in the state.
“I have never seen the universities within the state have as good a working relationship as they have right now,” said Dr. Karr, who is in Farnborough with the UA team. “Within the University of Alabama, we have our sister institutions in the UA System, and we work closely with them – but we have also worked really hard with Auburn and South Alabama.
“An example of that is when we were recruiting Airbus, all of the universities banded together to put a good foot forward,” Dr. Karr said.
Dr. Ray Vaughn, vice president for research at UAH, said he came to Farnborough for talks aimed at expanding the university’s many partnerships with aerospace companies. One example: UAH and aerospace firms including Boeing Co., Dynetics, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman currently are working to establish two cooperative research centers on campus.
Dr. Vaughn has close ties to Boeing and hopes to plug into the company’s new technology and research center in Huntsville. Vaughn said a group of Boeing representatives recently spent a day with UAH officials to discuss topics including cyber-security, modeling, engineering, simulation and other technical areas.
“The next step is to engage in projects, and we are moving in that direction now,” Dr. Vaughn said. “We have found a number of areas we can make a contribution in, and we can work shoulder to shoulder with their engineers. We’re very excited about that opportunity.”
UAH can be nimble when aerospace firms call. When UAV Solutions, a designer and manufacturer of unmanned systems, needed quick altitude testing of an unmanned aerial vehicle engine, UAH’s Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center and its Propulsion Research Center (PRC) answered the call in around three weeks.
The UAH team tested the performance of a hydrocarbon-powered UAV engine a vacuum chamber at pressure equivalent altitudes up to 20,000 feet. “UAH coordinated with UAV Solutions to develop an appropriate test plan and verify appropriate facility instrumentation and operation,” the PRC’s Dr. David Lineberry said recently
Karr and the UA team at the Farnborough Airshow said they believe Alabama’s universities will be called upon even more to assist the state’s growing aerospace sector with Airbus establishing a $600 A320 Family Assembly Line at Mobile Aeroplexand as existing companies expand.
“Eventually you will see an aerospace network that is as well developed as the automotive network in the state,” said Dr. Sam Addy, director of UA’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
Dr. Carl Pinkert, UA’s vice president for research, said university partnerships with aerospace companies will help these companies find success in Alabama while also stimulating the creation of research centers – and the high-paying jobs that they produce.
“We want to bring in the research, engineering, design jobs,” Pinkert said.