Years ago, it sounded more like science fiction: precision drone flights and automated package delivery, then flying cars that today are called electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs), and other aerospace work to create the jobs of the future.
Local, state and national partners will gather at a ribbon-cutting event Monday afternoon for the ceremonial opening of the National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence, which will support the growing field of eVTOLs and other vehicles used in the Advanced Air Mobility industry.
“The opening ... is an important next step for Ohio and for the Springfield area as we seek to grow this next generation Jetson’s-like opportunity,” said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Partnership. “This new statewide asset will help drive new aerospace jobs opportunities right here in Springfield, Ohio.”
The center — being called NAAMCE (which rhymes with Nancy) — is next to the terminal at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. The two-story, 30,000-square-foot office building will be home to administrative, laboratory, meeting and collaboration space and will include 25,000 square feet of aircraft hangar space for the Air Force and private industry.
The building ceremony is just one part of this week’s events.
The second annual National Advanced Air Mobility Industry Forum will be Monday and Tuesday. The event will include flight demonstrations and static displays that will begin at 12:30 p.m. Monday, followed by the ribbon-cutting ceremony for NAAMCE at 2 p.m.
The show’s second day will feature industry panel discussions at Clark State College’s Hollenbeck Bailey Creative Arts and Conference Center in downtown Springfield.
The Dayton Development Coalition is hosting the industry forum in collaboration with the city of Springfield, JobsOhio, Clark State College and the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The list of planned speakers for the NAAMCE ribbon-cutting includes representatives from ODOT, the Federal Aviation Administration, JobsOhio, the DDC, plus Springfield and Clark County.
Tom Franzen, Springfield’s director of economic development and assistant city manager, talked about the many partners involved in the projects, including Gov. Mike DeWine’s office.
“We are happy to be supporting this,” he said. “It really cannot happen without the support of so many others.”
McDorman agreed with Franzen about the collaboration needed on a project this size.
“Springfield is on quite a roll right now, and we know that does not happen without strong partnerships and collaboration,” McDorman said. “We are witnessing unprecedented job growth, a housing explosion, and a downtown renaissance during this important run as a community. We are also experiencing a huge uptick in how people view our community and all the great things happening here.”
Past builds the future
Franzen said he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the progress made but said key decisions in 2014 and 2015 helped propel Springfield here.
City and statewide groups were looking for air space to test drones and autonomous air vehicles and to give Ohio a foothold on future jobs.
“We’ve been working on this really for almost a decade,” Franzen said. “It is exciting to look back and see how those decisions .. are paying off to be able to take advantage of these opportunities now.”
Advanced Air Mobility supporters say it will change the way people travel and how goods are transported.
NAAMCE has secured commitments from Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies to use simulation technology, and in July, South Korean eVTOL developer Plana also said it would lease space in the center.
Franzen said, “In its purest form, it is a facility that will support the collaboration for the development of this Advanced Air Mobility technology ... It will be a place where researchers, industry, academia and the public can work together to help solve the problems and the challenges that will emerge as we develop this technology.”
The center is a $9.35 million project that includes a $6 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, $2.9 million grant from JobsOhio and $450,000 commitment from the city of Springfield.
The center’s initial mission is to support the Air Force Research Laboratory, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Franzen said.
“That is the reason we received the $6 million in grants,” he said.
Franzen said opportunities will follow the aerospace research work, from manufacturing to support services.
A year ago, local officials cited a study from Fly Ohio that said the state can expect more than $13 billion in economic activity in 25 years from autonomous aircraft. The study projected up to 15,000 new jobs and $2.5 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues through 2045 for Ohio.
Center of attention
Franzen said many groups have come to Springfield for a tour of NAAMCE as it was being built and to see the collaboration happening here.
He rattled off tours for a veritable alphabet soup of organizations, including “the FAA, NASA, DoD,” plus state and federal lawmakers and agencies, technology companies and people representing education and workforce development.
“We are doing a tremendous amount of hosting a tremendous amount of people with interest,” Franzen said, maybe five to six such tours a month. “A STEM school out of Chicago brought about 12 students here this summer.”
“It is really an exciting time,” he said, emphasizing the city is playing a small role in the overall process.
Franzen was part of a delegation that attended the Paris Air Show in June and said it was exciting that some attendees there knew of Springfield.
“When you have representatives in Paris with worldwide companies, and they say they are aware of what you are doing in Springfield,” he said, noting the Air Force’s Agility Prime project. “It’s that activity that has put this on the radar of the companies developing this technology throughout the world. That’s amazing.”
The AFRL oversees Agility Prime, which seeks to spark eVTOL aircraft for the military, NASA and the FAA.
Testing the future
Despite the ribbon-cutting event, the NAAMCE building is still being finished, and full occupancy will not come until October, Franzen said.
“We will be flying the plane while it is still being built,” he said.
What will come after the industry forum and NAAMCE’s opening?
“We’re going to be focused on supporting the testing,” Franzen said.
Companies will test systems such as radar and sensors that will help eVTOLs fly, will refine package delivery via drones and will get technology to the market quickly and safely, he said.
“The building is necessary, but really it is the entire ecosystem we are building in Ohio to support the development of Advanced Air Mobility,” Franzen said.