Greenville is one step closer to hearing the roar of a fighter jet in the air.
On Tuesday, aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin celebrated the opening of its remodeled Hangar 11 at its Greenville Operation Centers at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC). The company spent three months retrofitting the 38,000-square-foot hangar for the production of the T-50A, a trainer jet that could garner Lockheed Martin a contract with the U.S. Air Force for its Advanced Pilot Training program.
The hangar, which was constructed in 1958 and later used for modification and repairs to aircraft such as the P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules, features a new roof, anti-reflection floor paint and energy-efficient high-intensity lighting, as well as a roll-up door sized to fit the T-50A as it exits the production line. It also features upgraded offices on the north side.
“Our site and facility are ready to perform … we are ready now,” said Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operations Center at SCTAC.
The Air Force announced last year that it wants 350 new jets to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainers, which, according to Northrop Grumman, were produced from 1961 to 1972. The Air Force uses the T-38 aircraft for undergraduate pilot training. The chosen aircraft will train pilots for the F-22 and F-35 Lighting II. The contract is valued up to $11 billion.
Shortly after, Lockheed Martin announced that it would offer a modified version of the FA-50 Golden Eagle, a supersonic jet fighter developed by Lockheed Martin and Korean Aerospace Industries in the 1990s, instead of a new design.
“The clean-sheet design just wasn’t better than what we had. We would have to figure out how to build it and then produce a prototype, as well as validate the design,” Erickson said.
The upgraded aircraft is retrofitted with an aerial refueling receptacle on its dorsal, a ground-based training system, a fifth-generation cockpit similar to the F-35 Lightning II and open system architecture, which allows for faster integration of new sensors and weapons.
Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries completed the test-flight of the first T-50A in Sacheon, South Korea, in June. The test found that the aircraft has a maximum speed of 1,020 mph at 30,000 feet and a range of 1,150 miles. In August, the companies completed the test flight of the second T-50A, signaling that the company is ready to begin preproduction.
WATCH: Lockheed Martin’s T-50A completes first test flight
The company will begin the preproduction process at the Greenville Operations Center once it receives the aircraft’s major components later this summer. Parts such as the wings, fuselage and tail are being assembled and shipped from South Korea. Two aircraft will be sent to SCTAC.
Teams will then continually assemble and disassemble the aircraft to perfect the production process. The company will then test flight the aircraft, which is expected to happen sometime in November, according to communications manager Leslie Farmer.
Lockheed Martin plans to produce four aircraft a month if awarded the contract. It would create 200 jobs at the Greenville Operations Center, which now employs 600 people. Those employees would stem from Lockheed Martin’s current employee pool or the aviation-training program at Greenville Technical College, according to Erickson.
However, Lockheed Martin isn’t the only aerospace giant competing for the Air Force contract.
The Boeing Co. and Saab partnered to produce a clean-sheet design. However, no details have been provided. And Northrop Grumman partnered with BAE Systems to produce a clean-sheet design, which resembles the company’s T-38 Talon.
Textron AirLand planned to submit its Scorpion jet trainer but ditched it for a new design in February that resembles Lockheed Martin’s T-50A. Raytheon, Finmeccanica and CAE plan to offer its T-100, an Italian-made jet.
“Lockheed Martin has an advantage, because an existing design saves money. And you’re better off not having to design and validate it,” said Jeff McKaughan, a senior aerospace analyst at Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy firm in Fairfax, Va.
In December, the Air Force expects to release a request for proposals, and the competing companies will go through a selection process, including a demonstration. The Air Force expects to choose its winner by at least 2018. Initial operational capability is 2024.