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Aurora Flight Sciences cuts ribbon on manufacturing facility

Starkville — Economic and industrial officials are hoping that an anticipated mid-May decision on an Army contract will result in even more jobs for the Golden Triangle area.

In late April, Manassas, Va.-based Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. officially opened its Starkville manufacturing facility at Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory and announced that it had received its first order for the Hunter II unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

In layman’s terms, UAVs are aircraft that are capable of conducting reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition via remote control. UAVs that are built by Aurora are based on designs that are licensed from Israel Aircraft Industries, which is recognized as a leader in UAV development, according to Chuck Wilkins, an Aurora Flight Sciences spokesperson.

The opening of the Starkville facility was the realization of last fall’s announcement that the company, which has manufacturing locations in West Virginia and Virginia, was committed to a Mississippi presence. Approximately a dozen employees have been working at the estimated 20,000 square feet of space at the Starkville facility during the past few months.

Those Mississippi numbers could rise markedly. In May, Aurora is anticipating word on an Army contract with Northrop Grumman. If it occurs, Wilkins said that the employment numbers could expand to as many as 300. Aurora president John Langford has said in media interviews that he is confident that Northrop Grumman will land the contract.

Wilkins also said that if everything works as planned, groundbreaking for a permanent 65,000 -square-foot facility in the Golden Triangle Regional Airport should begin this summer.

Wilkins said that Mississippi “was a good fit our marketing strategy.” The company has enjoyed strong relationships with universities that are close to Aurora’s manufacturing facilities, and Wilkins added that Mississippi is advantaged in having a large supply of trained craftsman.

“Additionally, the economic development community here has been tremendous, as well as the congressional delegation and other area officials,” Wilkins said. “The teamwork coming out of this region is phenomenal.”

At the opening of the Starkville facility, it was also announced that Blake Sanders, a Jackson native graduating from MSU this May, will work with engineers and other technicians to build the first working medium-altitude-endurance UAV here. Wilkins said MSU’s aerospace engineering program is known for its quality, and that was another plus in Mississippi’s favor.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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