The Boeing Co. is increasing employment at its Mesa plant as the company revs up development of an upgraded version of the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter.
Site general manager Ed Koopman said the company is planning to add about 200 employees, mostly software and avionics engineers, to its staff to develop the next generation of the powerful Apache. When the expansion is completed, Boeing will employ about 4,300 people at the Mesa Apache works, he said. The company celebrated two milestones Thursday when the 500th D-model Apache and the last of 22 training Apaches were delivered to the U.S. Army.
The 500th Apache Longbow will go to the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. while the trainer will go to Fort Eustis, Va., where it will be used to train Army technicians in the maintenance of the complex machines.
Boeing has a backlog of more than 300 Apache Longbows to be delivered to the U.S. Army and several international customers, which will keep the plant busy through 2006. Boeing is scheduled to begin deliveries of the next generation Apache Longbows, called the Block 3 version, beginning in late 2007.
The Block 3 helicopters will have improved communications capabilities to link Apache pilots with field commanders and units on the ground. Other next-round enhancements will include a new composite rotor blade, improved drive systems and software that will help pilots make combat decisions.
Boeing will upgrade 284 D-model helicopters to the improved standard in a $2.5 billion program that will continue for several years beyond 2007.
The Apache received a boost in February when the U.S. Department of Defense decided to cancel the Comanche scout helicopter program, a joint project of Sikorsky Aircraft and Boeing's Philadelphia works. Already that cancellation has allowed the Army to transfer $2 billion to Apache production, said Col. Ralph Pallotta, Apache program manager for the U.S. Army.
Some of Boeing's Philadelphia employees have been transferred to Mesa to work on the next generation Apache, and some development work has gone to Philadelphia, said Al Winn, Boeing's vice president of Apache programs.
“There was a lot of Comanche technology that could be applied to the Apache Block 3s,” he said. “Their people have been helping to integrate that into the Apache.”
Nevertheless, Boeing has been having trouble finding qualified engineers to fill all of the available positions, Koopman said.
“The (job) market is very tight right now,” he said. “Southern California has been in an uptick. Seattle has been working on the 7e7 (Boeing's new commercial jetliner). But that's good news for young folks coming out of places like ASU, the UofA and Stanford.”