Asst. to Editor
With a packed parking lot and lots of happy faces, two companies, Sikorsky Aerospace Services (SAS) and Aviation Training Consulting (ATC), made it all official on Friday, Oct. 26, with a Memo of Understanding to open the Altus Sikorsky Training Academy.
Sen. Jim Inhofe said that Altus has a lot of advantages for aviation-related industry, with the Altus Air Force Base training programs, and the proximity of Fort Sill. “But,” Inhofe said, “what really made this partnership possible happened when the Sikorsky people met the people of Southwestern Oklahoma… Sikorsky is a big deal,” he added.
Inhofe said that Oklahoma is unique in that “all five of the state’s military installations have benefited with each Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” He said there have been some challenges with rotorcraft, but he said there is new legislation that’s coming to develop strategy for the future of rotorcraft.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be supplying the first students at the Sikorsky Training Academy (STA) in Altus. “This is a wise decision.” Looking toward the officials from Sikorsky, Inhofe said, “We will work hard for you.” Inhofe said that he likes Obama and that he worked with him in the Senate, but, he added that Obama has been the most anti-defense, anti-military president. People expect the best equipment to protect people going to war. Our country used to spend five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Inhofe said. Now he hopes we’ll be able to raise the percentage to five percent again. Part of those trained to fly the best equipment might be trained here in Altus.
Frank DiPasquale, Sikorsky Vice President of Relations said he was “proud to be welcomed like this. We don’t just build machines, we help others in times of trouble.” The audience was shown a video on field evacuations by Black Hawk crews. Some of the scenes have been portrayed in movies. While the audience had been waiting for the ceremony to start, they were treated to a video on “Sikorsky in the Movies”. It was quite an impressive list: Working Girl, The Perfect Storm, Apollo 13, Titanic, Clear and Present Danger, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, just to name a few.
Sen. Mike Schulz said this part of the state has a long history with aviation. “This is the opening of a new chapter,” he said. He grew up watching different kinds of aircraft flying from the Altus AFB. He said that Sikorsky, ATC and FlightSafety will all be part of the Southwestern Oklahoma family.
Steve Estell, Sikorsky Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, said that the U.S. Department of Defense has a contract with Sikorsky for 600 more Black Hawks within five years. “But, the real growth is in international sales. World politics is changing. New allies are emerging, like the UEA.” Estelle said, “They will be receiving quality training here.” Through the use of video clips from poignant rescues, Estelle showed the versatility of the Black Hawk as a troop carrier and rescue resource. “Altus will fill the last gap for Sikorsky,” Estelle said. “The U.S. Army has trained many pilots, but they have their limits.” Now, by selling more helicopters to allies, Estelle said, this presents a great opportunity for Altus.
Estelle said this relationship between Sikorsky, ATC and Altus began a couple of years ago. He said he came here and a Council member, Rick Henry, showed him the former QMA facility. “We do it right,” Estelle said. “It takes us a while to make up our minds, but there’ll be no divorce.” This met with a round of applause from the audience. He continued, “This is absolutely the perfect location.” He said he checked out Robert Cox (and ATC) from a distance. He said the company saw multiple advantages of Altus: ATC, a lot of space to grow, airspace, a cadre of instructors, the proximity to Altus AFB and their training, and Ft. Sill’s tactical training all added value to the Altus location.
It won’t just be Black Hawk training here. Their new helicopter, the S-97, has capabilities “to fly at 25,000 feet at 200 knots, is being offered to the U.S. Government and to the international market,” Estelle said.
Referring to the S-97, Robert Cox said, “It’s the future of helicopters.” He said Black Hawks have saved thousands of lives. “An airplane can throw you flowers, but a helicopter can come get you.” Cox said that “a big part of the process here is the people. This isn’t a dying town. This is a happy town.” With this $100 million investment in Altus, it probably just got happier.
A plaque was awarded to Robert Cox for his service to the state from Governor Mary Fallin. In addition to the panel of speakers, Maureen Sutherland sang the Star Spangled Banner, Pastor David Player gave the invocation and Allison Cope, a young student led the audience in “Oklahoma”.