NIAR Werx took delivery this week of its first Boeing 777-300ER for a passenger-to-freighter project. Werx director Dave Jones told AIN it is the first of three conversions of the Boeing widebody jet that the organization’s MRO program—in partnership with the Kansas Modification Center (KMC)—expects to complete and deliver by the end of 2023.
Werx is a 2.5-year-old organization founded by the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University to provide a host of services to OEMs, suppliers, business, and military aviation companies—especially startups—seeking to do projects as small as one-off parts manufacturing all the way up to retrofitting commercial airliners for special missions and other purposes. At the same time, it provides real-world learning and experience for WSU engineering students and students enrolled in the airframe and powerplant and avionics programs offered by the university’s technical college, WSU Tech.
Under the 777 project, Werx will assist in the development of an STC for the conversion, which along with the license for such a conversion will be owned by KMC, a newly formed business. Jones said modification will include cutting a hole in the side of the aircraft and adding a structure around it to support a cargo door, as well as installing a new floor with rollers and creating new interior space for extra flight crew and crew rest quarters.
He noted the project will benefit engineering, A&P, and avionics students by giving them hands-on experience with a commercial aircraft, which in turn will help the school attract more students in those disciplines regionally. Jones also expects the project to boost Werx’s workforce in the coming years. “We’re seeing more than 1,000-plus employees working on this in years to come,” he added.
It currently employs about 200 engineers, 100 mechanics and technicians, and dozens of WSU students who work from a handful of former Boeing Wichita buildings that include hangars spanning 111,000 and 47,500 sq ft.