Sarbanes visits Hagerstown plant

March 03, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

click on images to see enlargements


U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes visited a Hagerstown-area company on Monday and agreed to urge the U.S. Army to buy more spy planes from them.

California Microwave Airborne Systems Integration Division retrofits standard commuter planes with high-tech surveillance equipment at Washington County Airport's Top Flight Air Park.

The army uses the planes to track drug dealing in South America and military operations in Korea.

Right now the company is modifying two de Havilland DHC-7 airplanes, one of which used to belong to entertainment mogul Merv Griffin, at a cost of about $28 million each.


The Department of Defense hasn't committed to buying any more after the last one is finished in March 1999, said William G. Shaver, president of the division based in Belcamp, Md.

Army generals have identified a need for 18 more of the surveillance planes, he said.

While $28 million per plane seems like a lot of money, the government has paid up to $500 million for new surveillance planes that aren't as versatile as California Microwave's planes, he said.

"We like to think of ourselves as the low-cost alternative," Shaver told Sarbanes.

Sarbanes, D-Md., said he was impressed by the operation and congratulated about 100 employees on the hangar floor for their hard work.

California Microwave"This system looks better and better in terms of cost-effectiveness. We just have to figure out how to get it through the Defense Department," he said.

In between spy plane contracts, the company is lining up other work to keep its operation going, said Plant Manager Chuck Angelo.

Last week, the company got a $15 million contract to test high-tech sensors for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency over the next five years, Angelo said.

Next week, the company will take officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency up in a plane specially built to view disasters from the air.

FEMA could lease the plane when a natural disaster hits, officials said.

Sarbanes helped to arrange the trip, company officials said.

The company also has done aviation engineering work for private companies, modified helicopters and planes with communications equipment and leased equipment for aerial mapping and surveying.

California Microwave's Airborne Systems Integration Division has been in Washington County for about two years. It rents the 89,000-square-foot hangar.

The plant has a payroll of $5.83 million a year, company officials said.

Sarbanes visited the plant after a trip to Frederick Community College.

The National Park Service and FCC announced the creation of a center to study the history and culture of central Maryland and adjoining portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

The Catoctin Center for Regional Studies at the college in Frederick, Md., will coordinate public lectures, exhibits, courses and conferences to foster better understanding of the region's history and culture, college and park service officials said.

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