Eight months into Bell establishing an office on the west campus of sister company Textron Aviation, Bell Wichita general manager David Smith told AIN the site is growing both in terms of people and the types of work performed there. Established in part to support Bell’s efforts as a finalist on the Army’s future long-range assault aircraft (FLRAA) and future attack and reconnaissance aircraft (FARA) programs—with its V-280 Valor tiltrotor and Invictus 360 helicopter—Smith said other areas have been identified in which the office can support the Fort Worth, Texas-based OEM. “We have all these needs on military programs but there’s also staffing going on in other disciplines and the office is finding a home for all sorts of functions that we hadn’t really anticipated,” he explained.
Smith said he can’t discuss the precise number of employees at the Wichita site, but it is “dozens at this point. This particular site will have ramps during the next 24 to 48 months.”
The positions they are filling are in areas such as cybersecurity, tooling design and improvement, engineering, and supplier support and management for not only the Army programs but also commercial, including advanced air mobility. For example, on the supply side “there’s a lot of existing contracts that need support, updates, change orders, that kind of stuff that these folks will get involved in as the months roll on,” Smith said, noting that Bell has a number of suppliers in the Wichita area for its military and commercial programs such as Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures the V-280’s fuselage. “We have both buyers and sourcing specialists. We’ve got folks that can both pick new suppliers and can grow the existing suppliers and Wichita is a great spot for both of those needs.”
The relationship with Textron Aviation has benefitted Bell as well in terms of sharing employees through collaborative projects between the two companies. “We have great talent sharing,” Smith explained. “For example, the leader of our engineering team here (at Bell in Fort Worth), Michael Thacker, is a Wichita native as well and was a leader in Textron Aviation…so he is a big proponent of that talent sharing. We’ve always been contemplating the ways to share talent, but I think the last eight months of learning opened our eyes to creative ways of multi-siting our staff. It’s great for employee flexibility and it’s great for attracting talent that may otherwise be inaccessible."
Also, the site is proving beneficial in terms of recruiting employees from the outside. “As much as we need to ramp right now on the engineering and the support functions for designing these future aircraft, the future of our business in terms of production of aircraft is substantial, and whether that’s supply base or internal capabilities, we need to be right now pursuing talent that can help us build dozens of future Army aircraft in a given year,” he added. “So we’re looking for that talent right now and we know that Wichita has some phenomenal manufacturing talent—whether that’s metallics like the work that we do with Spirit on the [V-280] fuselage or composites like we do with a number of suppliers in the area like Kaman.”
As time goes on, Smith noted, Bell’s efforts in Wichita could help the area best known for airplane production develop a stronger footing in the rotorcraft sector. “We see a bright future in Wichita,” Smith noted. “We’re trying to help with that in bringing this rotorcraft industry diversification to what today is a legendary city for fixed-wing [aircraft].”