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Hagerstown firms aid U.S. military efforts

March 07, 2009|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN -- In and near the mammoth structure at Hagerstown Regional Airport where thousands of workers built planes during World War II are a handful of companies aiding America's military efforts in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

The companies, which together employ more than 500 people here, have helped one another and worked separately in modifying and/or supplying parts for aircraft the military is using for aerial surveillance overseas, The Herald-Mail has learned.

Just last month, the U.S. Army awarded Telford Aviation Inc., which has a modest operation here, an $11 million contract for work in Hagerstown, according to a Defense Department Web site.

The contract is small compared to the millions of dollars in military contracts awarded to Telford as well as to Sierra Nevada Corp. and California Microwave the past few years -- all for work in Hagerstown, according to a Herald-Mail review of the Web site.

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These companies and others in the area all benefit from such contracts, said Hal Lucas, director of integrated aviation systems at Sierra Nevada's Hagerstown operation.

"That $11 million, that doesn't all go to Telford," Lucas said. "We get some of that money, Avenge Inc. gets some of that money, and we'll turn around to other businesses here in Washington County. They'll build parts we need."

Such work has made Sierra Nevada's local plant so busy it has doubled its employment here to 400 or more people in just the past year, Lucas said.

"A lot of people see the airport as a place where you get on a plane to travel somewhere. And the reality is that in Hagerstown, your airfield is a major generator of jobs and business," he said. "It puts millions of dollars into the City of Hagerstown and Washington County. And people don't see it because it's quiet."

For the defense

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies nationwide that have received military contracts in recent years.

Companies here include:

o Telford Aviation, part of The Telford Group based in Bangor, Maine, providing maintenance and training on special mission equipment for U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs worldwide, according to its Web site.

Here, Telford has offices in Top Flight Airpark -- the huge building once home to Fairchild Aviation -- along Showalter Road near the airport. Nearby, along Pennsylvania Avenue, Telford also has a small building from which it ships aircraft parts to such places as Iraq and Afghanistan. In all, the company is said to have about a dozen workers here.

o Northrop Grumman Corp., based in Los Angeles, which bought the California Microwave operation here in 1999. The company occupies a large section of the former Fairchild building and employs 132 people, according to the latest Business & Industry Directory issued by the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Here, Northrop does such work as integrating multisensor imaging systems and advanced signals collection systems on aircraft, the directory said.

o Sierra Nevada, based in Reno, Nev., which operates out of five hangars at the local airport. In Hagerstown, its workers "fix, modify airplanes for the Department of Defense, various agencies, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), other folks that need ... radios installed, cockpits upgraded, that sort of thing," Lucas said.

In twos or threes, the companies have worked together here on contracts in which only one of them is named, Lucas said.

"It's absolutely a team effort," he said. In going after contracts, "we compete against them, good-naturedly. (But) we know all these people and we work together."

Hush-hush work

Understandably, because they are working for the military, the companies are reluctant to say much, if anything, about what they do here.

Comments on "all activities related to this type of stuff ... has to go through the government," said Marvin Harrell, a local Telford official.

A spokesman at Fort Monmouth, N.J., which issued the contracts, didn't answer a reporter's questions last week. Instead, spokesman Ray Rubman suggested the reporter file a written request with the Army's Freedom of Information Act Program.

Lucas said Sierra Nevada "bought tens of thousands of parts last month alone just to install on airplanes (here), and we built in our shop 6,000 parts that we installed on aircraft."

He declined to identify any of the parts, instead referring a reporter to Sierra's "military customer."

Some information about the contracts is easy to come by, however.

In fact, anyone with access to the Internet can find it just by going to the Defense Department's Web site at www.defenselink.mil/

Keyword "Hagerstown, Md., contract" and you come up with more than 30 such contracts.

The last, issued Feb. 9, is the $11 million contract the Army issued to Telford.

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