Cal­i­for­nia plant flour­ish­ing un­der bomber pro­gram

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NEVADA & THE WEST -

PALM­DALE, Calif. — Call it the bomber boom.

A Northrop Grum­man con­tract to build top-se­cret B-21 stealth bombers has brought more than a thou­sand new em­ploy­ees to the Mo­jave Desert north­east of Los An­ge­les.

The U.S. Air Force con­tract for 100 of the bat-winged air­craft is es­ti­mated to run about $80 bil­lion. The fund­ing has wide sup­port in Congress.

Since Northrop won the con­tract two years ago, the pace of ac­tiv­ity at its Palm­dale plant has ramped up.

New em­ploy­ees are work­ing out of trail­ers and tents. Con­struc­tion crews are pre­par­ing to add 1 mil­lion square feet of space to the fa­cil­ity, in­creas­ing its size by 50 per­cent, the Los An­ge­les Times re­ported.

The plant has 3,000 em­ploy­ees and ex­pects that to grow to 5,200 by late 2019, Kevin Mitchell, deputy vice pres­i­dent of global op­er­a­tions, re­cently told a Cham­ber of Com­merce meet­ing in neigh­bor­ing Lan­caster.

The in­creased work­force prob­a­bly will spark hous­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, he said.

Northrop also is reach­ing out to train em­ploy­ees as it seeks hun­dreds of work­ers rang­ing from ma­chin­ists to flight test en­gi­neers. The com­pany is work­ing with An­te­lope Val­ley Col­lege, which re­cently de­vel­oped a train­ing pro­gram for air­craft fab­ri­ca­tion and as­sem­bly.

Mil­i­tary projects are rein­vig­o­rat­ing South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s aero­space in­dus­try, which shrank af­ter World War II.

Northrop’s Palm­dale fa­cil­ity also pro­duces sur­veil­lance drones and the cen­ter fuse­lage for Lock­heed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The B-21 pro­gram won’t be just a flash in the pan, pre­dicted Mike Blades, a se­cu­ri­ties an­a­lyst with Frost & Sul­li­van. About 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent of the Air Force’s $2 bil­lion B-21 bud­get for fis­cal 2018 is flow­ing through Northrop, he said.

“By far, it is go­ing to be the largest source of their fund­ing,” he said. “It is go­ing to be a big deal for a long time.”

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