New aircraft rolling out in St. Augustine; The Northrop Grumman facility is turning out three of the battle management planes.

Northrop Grumman is building three more advanced battle management aircraft, with about $76 million worth of work on the project being done at the company's St. Augustine facility.

The first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye plane rolled out of St. Augustine in May and is being prepared for a test flight in late summer, with a second test plane taking to the air in late fall.

On the heels of the $2 billion project to build those planes, the Navy issued a $408 million contract for three more aircraft. Those planes, which are to be delivered by 2010, should be the tip of the iceberg: If the Navy is happy with how the plane works, it is expected to order up to 75 of them, with orders from foreign companies possibly coming later.

The new aircraft - a follow-up to the E-2C - is designed to give the military more awareness of the battlefields on which it fights. The Hawkeye flies about 25,000 feet above a carrier group and keeps track of other airplanes, cruise missiles and other activity in the area.

The new version of the plane has a modern, all-glass cockpit and a better radar array, among other changes.

Work on the new contract is split among various Northrop facilities, with about half of it being done at two New York locations. The St. Augustine facility, which employs about 1,000, will be assembling computer technology systems that have been worked on in New York, as well as assembling the aircraft.

The St. Augustine shop can turn out about eight to 10 planes a year, the company said. No new hires are expected at this stage in the contract, said company spokeswoman Dianne Baumert-Moyik, but that could change as production grows.

Once the plane moves into full production, Northrop Grumman will be looking for the military to allow it to sell the plane to allied countries.

"As interest by international customers expands," Baumert-Moyik said, "there's an opportunity to grow at some point in the future." (904) 359-4103