Utah’s Aerospace and Defense Cluster Shaped by Strong Companies, Deep Talent Pool

In July, Exelis Aerostructures, located west of the Salt Lake International Airport, announced a multimillion dollar contract with aircraft giant Airbus to supply composite floor beam struts for the A380 aircraft.

 With its double-deck and wide-body design, the A380 is the world's largest passenger airliner and offers multiple cabin design configurations with seating of 525 passengers and a range of up to 8,500 nautical miles (15,700 kilometers).

Exelis' contract, which runs through 2023, is not only an exciting development for the company, but another feather in the cap of Utah's aerospace industry, which has one of the highest concentrations of aerospace employment in the country and an unparalleled supply chain.

"You look at the end-to-end supply chain capability that Utah offers and the focus that the governor's office has put on developing our aerospace and defense capabilities–from tooling to materials suppliers to manufacturers–and Utah is a great choice," says Marshall Wright, aerospace and defense cluster director for the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED).

Indeed, from rocket motors to jet engines, from satellites to aircraft construction, parts and maintenance, some of the nation's leading aerospace companies have found Utah to be fertile ground. The state is home to companies like Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK), Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, SyberJet, Exelis Aerostructures, Williams International, Duncan Aviation and Triumph Gear Systems, to name a few. Meanwhile, the strong employment base provides for a wide range of local expertise and a deep pool of highly qualified talent.

To help this strategic economic cluster grow, EDCUtah and GOED continue to invest in a wide range of tradeshows that target the aerospace and advanced composites industries, including the composites and advanced materials expo CAMX, which will be held Oct. 13-16 in Orlando; JEC Europe, held in Paris in March; and AUVSI's Unmanned Systems show, held each May in Atlanta.

Focusing on the commercial side of Utah's aerospace cluster, Wright offers a rundown of companies shaping the industry from within the Beehive State. Exelis, he says, will use patented manufacturing technology licensed from Bodair S.A. to produce the composite floor beam struts that are the structural support connecting the passenger cabin floor to the A380's fuselage. Composite materials comprise more than 20 percent of the A380's airframe. Exelis also manufactures tail rotor blade assemblies for the Sikorsky S-76D helicopter and composite fiber frames for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft at its Salt Lake City manufacturing facility.

In Ogden, jet engine manufacturer Williams International operates one of the most modern and efficient gas turbine design-to-production operations in the world. The company produces jet engines for corporate aircraft manufacturers like Cessna, SyberJet, Pilatus and Beechcraft, as well as military missile systems. In Clearfield, ATK's Aerospace Structures division has grown its contract with Airbus to manufacture and supply composite stringers and frames for the Airbus A350 XWB -1000 variant aircraft. ATK has already delivered more than 10,000 parts to Airbus.

In Salt Lake City, Northrup Grumman builds and tests navigation systems, gyroscopes and accelerometers for commercial and military aircraft from its new, 52,000 square-foot Navigation Systems Division. The facility is home to an engineering, manufacturing and support staff of about 750 workers. Near the Salt Lake International Airport, Boeing operates a fabrication and assembly operation that employs 575 workers. Meanwhile, production is expected to begin later this year at the company's new 19-acre manufacturing center, where Boeing will build composite horizontal stabilizer parts for the 787-9 Dreamliner.

Rockwell Collins, located in the University of Utah Research Park, has a long, successful history of developing advanced simulation solutions for both military and commercial aerospace applications. By applying its expertise in simulation systems, the company has developed next generation CORE™ simulation architecture, which leverages advanced technologies and a modular design to maximize life cycle value and enhance training effectiveness. A highlight of the CORE simulation architecture is a highly configurable tool suite that provides the freedom to easily customize training for multiple situations.

In Park City, Triumph Gear Systems manufactures and supports power drive and actuation systems for commercial aviation and military applications. In Provo, Duncan Aviation operates a full-service maintenance facility that provides avionics, accessory, engine and airframe technical support for government, business and other service providers.

Earlier this year, actor Morgan Freeman, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and a crowd of about 400 people gathered in Cedar City to celebrate the ground breaking of SyberJet Aircraft's 30,000 square-foot completion and delivery center. Situated at the Cedar City Regional Airport and adjacent to the headquarters of SyberJet's parent company, MSC Aerospace, the completion center will serve as SyberJet's primary focal point for customer interface, including marketing, sales, customer service, pilot training and aircraft delivery.

Together with Metalcraft Technologies, another MSC Aerospace subsidiary, this family of aerospace companies is producing the world's fastest and longest range light business jet, the SyberJet SJ30. The company also supports the manufacture and assembly of aircraft components for many leading commercial and military customers and expects to grow its Utah workforce to approximately 1,200 people over the next decade.

Wright says Utah's core aerospace and defense competencies include production of composite materials, electronics and communication systems. The composite materials, which are made of woven fiber and resin and produce products that are stronger and lighter than most metals, have become integral to the state's supply chain. Because advanced composite materials are becoming increasingly essential to aviation and numerous other applications, the state is looking for ways to help build redundancy into the supply chain and help material suppliers and manufacturers share some of the development risks along with the tooling and handling.

"My office is also working very hard to assist in workforce development, to help train the workforce of tomorrow for the growing opportunities in commercial and military aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles, space operations, satellite systems delivery and all of the necessary support structure," says Wright. "Utah is in a unique position because of the strength of the aerospace and defense companies that are here, the expertise we have, the supply chain, the growth of the industry and the endless opportunities that are developing. This is a great time to be located in Utah, and the future is bright."