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'Made in West Virginia'

Senator, Sino Swearingen celebrate certification

Senator, Sino Swearingen celebrate certification

December 06, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Douglas Jaffe handed a check for $5,895,000 to Sino Swearingen Board Chairman and CEO Ching-Chaing Kuo Monday morning and received in return an oversized gold key as a memento for purchasing the airplane company's first SJ30-2 corporate jet.

Jaffe, who helped create the jet manufacturing company with Ed Swearingen in 1989, remains a shareholder in the company. His last name is the source of the "J" in SJ30-2, with the "S" standing for Swearingen.

Jaffe said he expects his jet ? actually the sixth to be built, with the first five used as prototypes ? will be ready for delivery in mid- to late February.

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Jaffe received the key during a luncheon Monday at the Sino Swearingen plant on Novak Drive outside of Martinsburg. The event featured U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller as its main speaker.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., worked for 14 years to bring a Sino Swearingen manufacturing plant to West Virginia, making 13 trips to Taiwan. Taiwanese officials comprise the largest group of investors in the company.

The outer shell and wings of the seven-person corporate jet are made in Martinsburg before the body of the jet is loaded onto a truck and shipped to a plant in Texas, where the pieces are assembled and electronic equipment, avionics technology, plumbing, furniture and other equipment is installed.

Orders have been placed for 261 jets, creating a backlog in inventory worth more than $2 billion, Rockefeller told the crowd.

Even if no new orders are placed, filling the backlog will take local workers four years. But, Rockefeller said, he's convinced more planes will be ordered.

The plane can fly across the Atlantic on one tank of fuel. Jaffe ? the man buying the first SJ30-2 ? said it can fly from Texas to Martinsburg and back without refueling.

The company employs about 150 people. Eventually, 400 people should be employed at the Martinsburg plant to build the shells of the jet, which Rockefeller said could stay on the market for 40 years.

The jet's cabin pressure is 12 psi, meaning it maintains sea-level pressure at 41,000 feet ? the highest ever in the industry; it can travel 2,500 nautical miles without refueling; and it travels at Mach .83, or 560 mph, officials have said.

It is the first new jet to be created in the United States from the drawing board up, since Dwight Eisenhower was president, Rockefeller told the crowd of Sino Swearingen employees and city, county, state and national officials at the event.

Before eating, those in attendance were urged to put on their coats and step outside of the plant to see the jet.

It approached the airport from the south, flying low over a line of trees and banked just over the plant, allowing the crowd of onlookers to see the numbers painted on its side.

The pilot then did a second fly-by, prompting Rockefeller to swing his fist forward in a celebratory manner. After landing at adjacent Eastern Regional Airport, the jet's pilot taxied it to the plant and stopped.

Rockefeller affixed to the side of the plane a translucent sticker reading, "Made in West Virginia" and signed his name on the sticker.

"This is a piece of plastic," Rockefeller said of the sticker, "but it's a whole lot more."

"It was always labeled as the fantastic new-age project that couldn't happen. Except that it did," he told reporters afterward.

In October, Sino Swearingen received Type Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for the jet, meaning the planes can be commercially produced and sold.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, who attended the event, said the SJ30-2 is "one beautiful airplane."

She complimented Sino Swearingen, saying Type Certification is not obtained within three years unless cooperation exists between an airplane company and the FAA. She said Rockefeller was the first person to mention Sino Swearingen to her, and that they never had a conversation in which an update on the plane's certification process was not discussed.

"For aviation worldwide, this is a tremendous achievement," she said.

Standing in the cold after the jet flew over and landed, Sino Swearingen employee Tommy Thomas was looking over the plane.

"It was sweet," he said, saying it was the first time he'd seen one of the jets he helped to build in flight. "It didn't make any noise. It's real nice."

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