It’s been just over two years since Sweden-based Saab announced plans to build a major advanced manufacturing and production facility at the Purdue Discovery Park District. Construction of the $37 million, 100,000-square-foot aerospace facility is complete and the plant will soon manufacture part of the T-7 Red Hawk jet trainer aircraft that will be used by the U.S. Air Force. “Our portion of the aircraft is the aft section, which is essentially the entire aircraft, minus the wing, engine, nose cone and cockpit,” said General Manager Robert Ulibarri.
In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Ulibarri told Around INdiana Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman Purdue was an easy choice for the facility.
“Purdue’s a leading innovator, as well as has the top engineering schools in aerospace and engineering,” Ulibarri said. “By having that talent base readily accessible to us, it really promotes a culture growth and innovation in product design.”
Ulibarri says the jet trainer program is an important one for the Air Force and the new aircraft will play a huge role in its future.
“It’s replacing an aging fleet,” he said. “The T-38 was first flown in 1959 and has been the trainer of choice for tens of years since then, but it’s reached its end of life. So, the maintenance costs are extremely high and they’re also not as reliable and the T-7A fills that need.”
When production begins, Ulibarri says the operation will fill the entire volume of the facility.
“Given that the aircraft is kind of like a hollow tube, it’s too big for us to do all of the work from the ground. So therefore, we installed a second story so that we can do work safely from above. We’ll have a little over 130 employees out on the factory side.”
And while the new T-7 Red Hawk may be the most technologically-advanced trainer jet ever made, it’s name is a nod to one of history’s most celebrated group of pilots from World War II.
“The tail of our aircraft is painted red, which is an ode to the Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II. We look to pay homage to that,” said Ulibarri.
Ulibarri adds the future for Saab in West Lafayette is bright.
“There’s going to be an incredible amount of growth. We have high expectations that we will recruit best-in-class talent and as we continue to be a leader in the aerospace market, the possibilities are limitless.”
The Saab facility is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. The company is also expected to announce more enhanced partnerships with Purdue later this summer.