Triangle Airplane Maker Will Open Wake Forest Facility with $65M Air Force Contract

June 9, 2022

Blue Force Technologies, a Triangle-based aerospace manufacturer, is expanding into Wake Forest after earning $65 million in federal grants to develop “unmanned military aircraft.”

The company will invest at least $3 million to renovate and repurpose the former 3Pheonix facility at 204 Capcom Avenue. The 32,000-square-foot space will employ about 125 workers producing the Fury — an “unmanned aircraft” designed for deployment in military training scenarios, according to company founder and president Scott Bledsoe.

BFT’s planes will function as adversary aircraft for simulated aerial warfare.

“We’ll be training manned aircraft in how to fight against Chinese and Russian fighter pilots,” Bledsoe said.

The Fury will save the U.S. Air Force hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses per training session. Tasking a military pilot with flying an F-35 or F-22 fighter jet can cost $50,000 to $100,000 per flight hour, Bledsoe said. BFT’s semi-autonomous aircraft will cost about $5,000 per hour.

“And the other thing is the pilot in that plane who has to pretend to be a Chinese or Russian pilot doesn’t really get training,” Bledsoe said. “So there’s a huge operating cost.”

To complete the Fury’s development, the U.S. Air Force awarded BFT a $50 million contract. Another $15 million is available through a Strategic Funding Increase program.

Bledsoe expects the company will have completed four prototype jets by January, 2024, at which point it can begin flight testing.

“But that will be done out west somewhere,” he said, “so no one has to make angry calls to Wake Forest about the noise.”

At full bore, Wake Forest’s facility will produce five Furys per month.

“And looking to the future,” Bledsoe said, “we think by our aircraft operating as a sparring partner it’s a natural segue into the Air Force making application with unmanned aircraft on the offensive side of things.”

In other words, he hopes one day to see BFT Furys as independent warcraft.

“Early applications might be using it as a (radar) jammer that assists manned aircraft to prevent adversaries from seeing where I am if I’m a pilot,” Bledsoe said. “And if that gets shot down, it’s a much better loss than a manned aircraft.”

Triangle roots

Bledsoe founded BFT in 2011 at a manufacturing site in Morrisville where the company still employs 85 workers. For most of its history, BFT maintained an unsung operation supplying parts for better-known manufacturers.

“We’ve been an under-the-radar, but really capable company for the last decade,” Bledsoe said. “If you haven’t heard of us, you’re not alone.”

The company’s clients include Boeing “and several other companies I can’t say by name,” Bledsoe said. Among his earliest customers was Boom Supersonic, an aviation startup building a $500 million production facility at Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport. Boom plans to revive supersonic passenger travel.

“We actually worked with them when they were a company of two, “ Bledsoe said. “We’re really proud of how they’re doing and they’re an indication of the future.”

Bledsoe couldn’t confirm if Boom might work with BFT again, but said his company will still supply other players in the aerospace industry.

“I think we’ll just keep growing,” he said. “When I was starting the company I thought about going out to California, but someone told me a lot of (the industry) was moving to North Carolina and you can either be a part of a dying ecosystem in California or ahead of the curve here. And that was right on. This is the perfect place to be.”

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