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Friday, September 1, 2006

Modifications: Taking the Wraps Off

Aerospace Integration Corp. has made a name for itself integrating aircraft systems for special operations forces. Now it wants to work for the “green” Army.

Aerospace Integration Corp.Having spent nearly 10 years building a workforce of former special-operations personnel skilled at rapidly meeting the aircraft systems integration and modification needs of current special operators, Aerospace Integration Corp. is ready to come out of the dark.

AIC was born as a result of the disconnect between the needs of special operations forces and the ponderous procedures of the government and industry system for developing and procuring gear for the regular forces,

“What we witnessed, and I witnessed first hand,” said AIC President George Gonzalez, “was that special operations was and is fairly unique.”

Back in the late 1990s, the mission of special operations forces (SOF) was diverse, their funding streams were very small and their requirements changed almost daily. As a result, large defense contractors and their industry partners didn’t pay much attention to special ops forces, focusing instead on contracts with the regular Air Force and Army.

“SOF was more problematic than it was worth, really,” Gonzalez said. “So the niche that I saw was for a small, agile company that was what we now deem ‘the responsive advantage.’”

That advantage, he explained, is the ability to provide an interface between large manufacturers and technology firms and the quick-reaction needs of special ops forces.

To achieve that advantage, AIC set up shop in 1997 in Crestview, Fla. to be close by the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field. It was the “blue” special forces’ backyard. The people the company hired were, like Gonzalez, ex-special forces. More than 90 percent of the company’s 345 employees have served in special operations units; they come from all ranks and areas of expertise, according to the company. Gonzalez estimates 85 percent today have top-secret clearances. That all helps AIC understand its customers’ mission and goals.

The plan seems to have worked.

AIC expects annual revenues to rise from $34 million last year to $65 million this year. In April, MTC Technologies, Inc. bought all of AIC’s outstanding common stock for $41.3 million, plus the assumption of $3 million in debt and additional moneys if operating goals are met through 2007.

The acquisition “gives us access to the market capital necessary to make the proper investments,” Gonzalez said.

So why would a company that has succeeded in proving that “responsive advantage,” a company that Gonzalez has described as “SOF through and through,” want to come out of the black world?

Gonzalez says the reason is the change in the Army, particularly Army aviation.

“The large army components are now taking on a lot of the special ops characteristics,” he said. “We can be instrumental in helping them through that transition and transformation and bring a lot of the core knowledge that we’ve learned.

“We’re expanding our market presence to include the larger, green army and army aviation,” he said. “But the strategy is identical.

Toward that end, following the strategy that worked with the Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida, AIC this year set up a new operation in the backyard of the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville.

AIC reached a lease agreement with the city of Albertville, Ala., about 50 mi. southeast of Huntsville, to establish operations at the Albertville Municipal Airport. It leased an 8,000-sq-ft hangar for use in integrating enhanced technology into military helicopters.

Combined with AIC’s wire harness and kit-fabrication facility in Huntsville and its Airborne Systems Div. in Crestview, AIC says, the Alabama operations give it the capability to perform production installations of newly-designed systems on rotary-wing aircraft.

AIC also is beefing up its Army aviation expertise, hiring retired Gen. Tom Konitzer. 

Currently president of the Army Aviation Assn. of America, Konitzer brings 31 years of military and 9-plus years of industry experience to AIC’s efforts to establish itself with Army aviation.

He served as deputy commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center and School at Fort Rucker, Ala., assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault) and commanding general of the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker. 

A master aviator, he managed two major helicopter rebuild programs that included establishing on-site, depot-level repair facilities to repair both storm- and battle-damaged aircraft.

Also, in January, the Airborne Systems Div. in Crestview obtained an FAA Part 145 repair station certificate with a limited airframe rating to perform systems modification and technology insertion on civil aircraft.

The certificate authorizes it to perform work on the Sikorsky S-92, the initial airframe included in its capability list. The company plans to add other aircraft as requirements arise. While the move is intended to support Sikorsky’s S-92-based bid for the U.S. Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue-X contract (of which AIC is a part), it could help at a time when the Army is looking more at commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) aircraft. That service’s recently awarded (and protested) Light Utility Helicopter contract was crafted to be a heavily COTS program to help the Army control the aircraft’s life-cycle costs.

Two tenets of AIC’s strategy are “concept-to-combat systems integration solutions” and “blocks of block mods.”

AIC

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