Aerospace and defense manufacturer Bell Textron broke ground on a $20 million facility in Grand Prairie on Wednesday, several months after being awarded a development contract with the U.S. Army.
The company is building its Drive System Test Lab despite protests by its competitors Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, and Boeing over the Army’s selection process. Bell leaders declined to comment on the state of those protests.
The deal, potentially worth billions over the next several decades, would replace the Army’s current fleet of Black Hawks with Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltroter. The aircraft acts as a helicopter during take off and landing, but can reconfigure itself in the air to fly faster than traditional helicopters.
The 37,775-square-foot Grand Prairie facility is expected to cost more than $20 million, according to a Bell filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. It will complement the existing facility that has been in Grand Prairie for years.
Keith Flail, Bell’s executive vice president of military business, said the new facility is symbolic of the investment that Bell continues to make to deliver exceptional performance at an affordable cost to customers.
“This lab gives us the opportunity for our next generation of aircraft to assemble, test and really stress test a lot of the gearboxes and this new technology before we get on the aircraft,” said Flail. “From a safety standpoint, from a schedule standpoint and from a cost standpoint, it’s a huge enabler that gets us in the air faster. Once we get in the air, we have a greater confidence about the safety aspect.”
Bell estimates it will complete construction in 2024 and begin operations in 2025. The lab will focus on risk reduction to validate performance models for aircraft.
The defense company didn’t have specifics on jobs in the new facility, but Flail said the number will be in the double digits.
“The reality is this is an enabler for additional job growth,” Flail said. “Our ability to do this well in this lab creates more growth in the local area, creates more jobs as Bell competes for these future vertical lift programs that have significant numbers associated with them in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. We see a lot of opportunity given the key technologies that Bell has where we’re going to compete and intend to go win those programs. That’s where the big growth will come.”
Flail said Bell is still in discussion with the city of Grand Prairie on economic development incentives associated with the project.
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