Aviation and aerospace center planned at Astronautics

Coalition of businesses, universities, state formed for new effort

USAF Thunderbirds at the 2015 Milwaukee Air and Water Show. Photo by Fred Shabec.

A group of aerospace industry companies and researchers plan to establish a new aviation and aerospace center of excellence on the Milwaukee campus of Astronautics Corporation of America.

The proposed Center of Excellence for Integrated Aerospace and Defense Technologies is being developed in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. It would bring together industry and academic researchers, engineers and programmers to develop and test new aerospace and cybersecurity systems.

Wisconsin has more than 200 companies with more than 24,000 employees with ties to the aerospace sector, including 140 suppliers to Boeing, according to WEDC.

In addition to Astronautics, which has taken a leadership role in the project, the coalition includes DRS Technologies Inc., B/E Aerospace Inc., the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

The group will need to apply for a grant from WEDC to help fund the project, which will be similar to efforts behind the Global Water Center and Energy Innovation Center, both in Milwaukee, said Mark Maley, WEDC spokesman.

WEDC has been involved in the development of the aviation and aerospace center project and Maley said he anticipates the agency awarding money for the initiative this fiscal year.

The exact amount of state support is yet to be determined. In similar projects WEDC has contributed $500,000 to $750,000 while requiring matching funds from others in the group, Maley said. The match could leverage additional money in the neighborhood of a three to one ratio, he said.

A timeline for the construction of the center has not been established. Whether the center will be within an existing Astronautics facility or in a new structure has not been determined, Maley said. He also could not say for certain at which of the company’s facilities it would be located. Astronautics has its corporate headquarters at 4115 N. Teutonia Ave. and also has manufacturing operations at 1426 W. National ave. The company has considered relocating its headquarters within the region and Chad Cundiff, Astronautics president, said the company is continuing to look at its facility needs.

“Astronautics is excited about the possibility of creating and hosting a center of excellence that will leverage Wisconsin’s position as a leader in innovative technology, especially within the global aviation and aerospace industry,” Cundiff said, in a statement. “The unique competitive advantage of this center will be the blending of aerospace and cybersecurity solutions that will benefit both industry and higher education.”

Partner companies and universities will be able to use the center’s advanced open-source cockpit and navigational systems simulators, integration and verification stations, and security penetration testing for the collaborative development of life-critical controls and general systems controls. Astronautics will provide flight displays, airborne systems and sensor inputs to ensure the center has a representative aircraft environment.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch announced the new partnership Thursday at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.

In an interview, Cundiff said Kleefisch played an important role in getting discussions about the project started with WEDC.

Cundiff said the aerospace industry does a lot of exporting and greats a lot of good jobs, but often faces a challenge in maintaining its talent pool.

He noted southeastern Wisconsin has a strong cluster around controls and systems, highlighted by companies like Johnson Controls and Rockwell Automation.

With no customers in the state and most of its sales outside the country, Cundiff said Astronautics is sometimes “kind of quiet locally, as are some of the other aerospace companies.”

Cundiff said one of the early goals for the center is to expose college engineering students to the aerospace industry. Increasing the number of students choosing the field over other areas of engineering will help foster innovations, research grants, startups and potential a “virtuous circle” that boosts the industry in the state.

He said there is a lot of room for innovation in the industry as air-to-ground connectivity increases, potentially creating a number of cybersecurity issues.


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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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