Cobham Composites opens newest facility in Suffolk, Va.

Facility will manufacture bomb covers, Miniature Air-Launched Decoy fuselages, CH-53K helicopter rotor components, and internal components for F-135 and F-119 engines; plant will employ 200 by 2014, with more expected.

Cobham Composite Products (San Diego, Calif., USA) on May 3 officially opened its newest manufacturing facility, located in Suffolk, Va., USA. The 73,500-ft²/6,828m² plant is expected to employ at least 200 people by 2014, with likely expansion plans to increase that number. Initial work will focus on manufacture of carbon fiber composites in sheet molding compound (SMC) and unidirectional prepreg form to produce bomb covers, unmanned aerial vehicle fuselage parts and internal components for the F-135 and F-119 engines for, respectively, the F-35 and F-22 fighter aircraft.

On hand for the ribbon-cutting were more than 75 customers of Cobham and several dignitaries, including Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson, Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, U.S. Representative Randy Forbes, and U.S. Senator Jim Webb. All emphasized the local, state and federal cooperation required to recruit Cobham to the Suffolk location, just west of Norfolk, Va., and in the heart of what is known as the Hampton Roads region, home of military installations that serve all four branches of the U.S. military system.

The facility was built with a $300,000 grant from the Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund, a $73,600 grant from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, an $824,400 grant from the city of Suffolk, and $1.6 million in federal funds for production of the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) fuselage.

The facility, which began production in January, is currently manufacturing small-diameter bomb covers made from carbon fiber SMC, the fuselage for the U.S. Air MALD, and carbon fiber counterweight components for Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter rotor blades. Coming to the facility soon are customized compression presses and machining centers for production of internal components for Pratt & Whitney’s F-135 and F-119 jet engines. Much of the work, says Jeremy Wensinger, president of Cobham Defense Systems, is duplicative of production currently done at Cobham’s San Diego facility. The redundancy, he said, is required of defense work contracts as a risk-mitigation measure. That said, he expects the Suffolk facility will develop its own production business given the rich aerospace and military community in which the plant is located.

Equipment in the Suffolk facility includes an American GFM (Chesapeake, Va., USA) cutting table, two Assembly Guidance (Chelmsford, Mass., USA) laser projection systems, an Accudyne Engineering & Equipment Co. (Bell Gardens, Calif., USA) press, two curing ovens from Wisconsin Oven (East Troy, Wis., USA), and a coordinate measuring machine from Nikon Metrology (formerly Metris). The plant was built in accordance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements and is expected to receive LEED certification for materials use, air quality, energy conservation and other building features.