Rightly so, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen who fought barriers as ground-breaking black pilots in the U.S. military has an impact in Leonardo DRS selecting Moton Field for a proposed plant to build T-100 training jets for the U.S. Air Force.

It was at Moton Field that the Tuskegee Airmen trained for their mission in World War II and flew many of their missions with ties to Italy during the war. Based in Italy, Leonardo DRS is aware of the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“As we worked with Alabama and Macon County we came to more fully appreciate the ties,” says Leonardo DRS official Steve Cortese. “We certainly see it as something that lent a greater emotional sense to the potential partnership.”

Leonardo DRS selected Tuskegee and Moton field as a potential site for a $350 million plan that will employ 750 workers in high-paying jobs. There were more than 100 sites in the U.S. considered by Leonardo DRS.

“In the end, in order to win, we have to be sure we brought the Air Force the best technical aircraft and at a price to be competitive with long-standing domestic powers like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.”

Leonardo DRS, Boeing and Lockheed are the three finalists for the contract to provide 300 trainer jet aircraft for the Air Force over a 10-year period beginning in 2022.

“While certainly the component of the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen we believe causes our offering to stand out in a very unique way in the minds and the sentiment of the Air Force, clearly they are going to make a decision that best meets the requirements and at a price that beats the other two competitors,” Cortese stresses.

Boeing has a large aircraft production facility in St. Louis. That’s where Boeing would build the jet trainer, if it is selected. Lockheed has a plant in Greenville, S.C. with the intent to expand that facility to accommodate the construction of the trainer jet.

Is it an advantage for those companies to have existing facilities in the U.S.?

“We believe building a new plant is really an asset because of our existing production facility (in Italy) and the volume of aircraft we’ve already delivered,” Cortese explained.

“The Air Force, we believe, will be very comfortable that we can create that capability here leveraging the experience we have in production for successful delivery of the aircraft. That’s because we are going to build a factory optimized for this aircraft. The Air Force knows it will be the number one priority to for our company.”

Cortese says the plant will be the Tuskegee Aerospace Development Center.

“The state of Alabama has been partnering in bringing new industries into the state. We couldn’t have found a better home with the expertise to help us do this the right way,” Cortese said.

We want to listen and learn from the experts in Alabama who have successfully done this over and over. and benefit from that experience and those lessons.

“There’s Airbus in Mobile — and the list goes on and on. It really gives us confidence and we think it will also give the Air Force confidence, too. The experience and credibility the state of Alabama has in supporting this kind of industrial development is apparent.”

From all indications, Leonardo DRS has done its homework and having already been selected as one of three finalists for a huge Air Force contract for a significant training aircraft shows that it is in the hunt for a big win.

The outlook is positive with the mantra now “When We Win.”

The local community and state have vital roles in where we go from here. It’s that important — to Leonardo DRS and to the community.

Guy Rhodes is editor and publisher of The Tuskegee News. He is a former recipient of the Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist Award and multi-time winner in the Alabama Press Association contest for Best Editorial Column or Commentary. He can be reached by email at guynrhodes@bellsouth.net

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