Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boeing's Cecil Work Boosting Air Force; $69.7 Million Contract Is Converting Fighter Jets into Drones for Training

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boeing's Cecil Work Boosting Air Force; $69.7 Million Contract Is Converting Fighter Jets into Drones for Training

Article excerpt

Byline: TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS

The F-16 that touched down at Cecil Field on Friday morning is destined for a somewhat ignoble end: first turned into a drone and then shot down into the ocean.

For the Air Force and the workforce at Cecil, though, the plane represented the first step in something much bigger.

In coming years, workers at the Boeing facility based at Cecil will turn that F-16 and many more like it into aerial targets that will help the military develop new weapon systems and tactics.

As Boeing works on that $69.7 million contract, about 45 jobs will be added to the 250-person workforce Boeing now has at Cecil.

In some ways more important than the raw number of jobs, though, the project demonstrates Boeing's commitment to the area, said John Haley, senior vice president of business development with the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"It adds to the credibility of Cecil to have more major first-line manufacturers doing this sort of work here," he said.

Cecil got the work because it shares similarities with F/A-18 repair work Boeing is already doing at the site, said Steve Waltman, the company's director of Aircraft Sustainment & Maintenance. "We'll use the existing facilities, the existing skills," he said.

The modification of the aircraft is important if the United States is to maintain the aerial dominance it has enjoyed for decades, said those involved with the project.

While the Air Force has been focused on supporting the fight against low-technology-level foes in Iraq and Afghanistan, it can't let its skills in more sophisticated air battles languish, said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

"We must remain prepared for operations across the full spectrum of conflict," the congressman said.

The new drones will enable the military to do so by putting fourth-generation aircraft in the enemy role, moving forward from the third-generation F-4 Phantom II now being used, said Ken Hislop, QF-16 program manager. …

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