Drone Pilot JobsBoeing to build Navy drones at airport in Mascoutah, IL

September 18, 2021by helo-10


Background articles on Boeing drone project

Here’s past coverage of Boeing’s drone facility project at MidAmerica

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The Boeing Co. is building a production facility at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah that will be used to make the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft-refueling drones.

Representatives of the defense contractor will join Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other state and local officials for a news conference Friday afternoon at the airport to announce the project.

Boeing plans to move 150 jobs from the St. Louis region and create 150 new jobs for engineers, mechanics and support staff once the facility opens.

“That the world’s largest aerospace company would double down on Illinois is a testament to our unparalleled assets in the transportation and logistics sector and the world-class talent of our people,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Boeing already has begun moving dirt for the 300,000-square-foot facility, according to spokesman Kurt LaBelle. It will be built on 34 acres that the company is leasing from MidAmerica, which is owned by St. Clair County. The airport is east of Scott Air Force Base.

Boeing’s leased land is near Illinois 4, just south of the airport’s entrance. The company expects the facility to be completed by 2024.

“The team and state-of-the-art technology we’re bringing to the Navy’s MQ-25 program is unprecedented, and we’re incredibly proud to be expanding both as we build the future of autonomous systems in Illinois,” Boeing’s Kristin Robertson said in a statement.

“We’ve received great support from MidAmerica airport and countless dedicated employees, and we’re excited to build the Navy’s first operational, carrier-based unmanned aircraft right here in the metro-east.”

Robertson is president and general manager of Autonomous Systems, Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “Automomous” is another word for unmanned in the industry.

A test MQ-25 unmanned aerial-refueling aircraft is shown near the AVMATS hangar at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah. Eric Shindelbower

Boeing was awarded an $805 million contract by the U.S. Navy in 2018 to engineer and produce four test MQ-25 Stingrays. The unmanned aircraft (tankers) can refuel fighter jets in the air, extending their combat range, according to the company’s website.

Last year, Boeing was contracted to produce three more MQ-25s for $84.7 million. There’s one test aircraft, known as T1, operating today. It passed a major milestone this spring, according to a June 7 news release from the company.

“MQ-25 T1 successfully extended the hose and drogue from its U.S. Navy-issued aerial refueling store (ARS) and safely transferred jet fuel to a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, demonstrating the MQ-25 Stingray’s ability to carry out its primary aerial refueling mission,” it stated.

The T1 refueled a E-2D Hawkeye in August and an F-35C Lightning II on Sept. 13. In each case, a pilot from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 took off from MidAmerica.

The St. Clair County Public Building Commission, which oversees MidAmerica, approved an agreement Aug. 31 to allow Boeing to develop 34 acres of airport land and lease it for 20 years.

The agreement includes an option for three 20-year renewals, totaling 80 years of possible tenancy.

Boeing provided a broad one-page synopsis to the commission, promising “significant job creation,” economic development for the region and “significant revenue” for the county.

Boeing will pay $65,000 in rent the first year, then about $450,000 annually, according to MidAmerica Director Bryan Johnson.

“All of the revenue from the lease agreement will go back into the airport in either capital projects or operations and maintenance,” he said after the county approved the lease agreement.

Two additional parcels of MidAmerica land could be available for Boeing expansion in the future, Johnson told the commission. The company already has one airport facility, producing components for fighter jets, commercial airplanes and military helicopters.

Boeing’s plan to build the MQ-25 facility was made possible in part by an EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) agreement with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, according to a department news release.

Boeing will receive tax credits valued at $8.7 million while promising to invest at least $200 million in the airport project over 15 years under the agreement’s terms.

“My administration is committed to making continued investments that will modernize our airports, spark new innovation and bring jobs and economic opportunities to our communities from Chicago to St. Clair and beyond,” Pritzker said in his statement.

“I want to thank The Boeing Company for their vote of confidence in Illinois, as well as St. Clair County leadership and the MidAmerica Airport team for giving companies another reason to choose Illinois.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:16 a.m. Friday to add the value of tax credits that Boeing will receive under its EDGE agreement with the state.

This story was originally published September 17, 2021 5:00 AM.

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Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 36 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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