Dothan Eagle: U.S. Rep. Martha Roby tours Bell as huge Navy helicopter contract decision looms
OZARK – While she doesn’t have a say in the decision, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby believes Ozark should be the site of a large U.S. Navy helicopter contract.
“There’s a lot going on here that is really good,” Roby said after touring Bell's Ozark plant. “These are individuals who are supporting our warfighter. There’s a lot of opportunity for this facility and a lot of room for job growth.”
In April, Bell submitted a proposal to the U.S. Navy to construct 130 new helicopters over the next five years, the 407GXi, for the Navy’s Advanced Helicopter Trainer program. While parts of the helicopter would be manufactured in various places, they would be shipped to Ozark for final assembly if Bell wins the contract.
The final decision, which officials believe will come in November, rests with Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. If Ozark is selected, Bell plans to hire another 30 people for its local facility, said Carl Forsling, Bell’s global military sales and strategy manager.
Forsling believes Ozark’s location near the U.S. Navy’s Advanced Helicopter Trainer program makes a natural fit for the contract. The program is based at Naval Air Station Whiting Field near Milton, Florida.
“There are a lot of efficiencies to be gained in terms of production as well as export going into the future,” Forsling said.
Forsling said the Wiregrass area’s labor base also benefits Bell’s chances to land the contract. Bell's local facility is near the Alabama Aviation College, which trains hundreds of students each year in aviation skillsets like airframe and powerplant mechanics and avionics.
“We think a lot of the experienced base in south Alabama and northwest Florida is going to carry over (to the new aircraft),” he said.
While the 407GXi would be a brand new helicopter, it shares the same engine family as the current TH-57 Sea Ranger – with some upgrades in power and controls, Forsling said. Additionally Bell has built other iterations of the 407 since 1996 and currently has logged more than 5.5 million flight hours on those aircraft.
“You’ve got the foundations of a well-established and proven aircraft with a long history but with the latest technology systems in terms of the mission,” Forsling said.
Bell currently supplies the Navy helicopters that are used in the “Fire Scout” program through its work at the Ozark facility, a previous Eagle report noted.