Wednesday was a momentous occasion for the Yuma International Airport as it hosted a dedication ceremony for its new $5 million Aviation Industrial Center on the west side of the airport within the Defense Contractor Complex.
Right up to the last minute, workers were putting some finishing touches on the 32,000-square-foot AIC, a state-of-the-art, multi-tenant aircraft hangar and maintenance office complex that has two bay hangars designed for use by aerospace companies on a short- or long-term basis.
The new aviation building has been named in honor of World War II flying ace Joe Foss, a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot who flew the F4F Wildcat and became America’s first “ace of aces.”
Foss was credited with 26 aerial victories and was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1943. He served as the executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, which has been re-activated as VMFA-121. Based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, VMFA-121 is the first operational squadron of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jet in the world.
“It is an honor to dedicate our newest hangar to Joe Foss on Patriot’s Day,” said Gladys Wiggins, interim airport director. “The significance of this dedication will tie aviation’s greatest war heroes to our future war heroes serving right here in Yuma.”
Completion of the Aviation Industrial Center comes as delivery of the F-35 continues at MCAS Yuma. The air station began receiving delivery of the aircraft, the B variant with short-takeoff and vertical-landing capability, last fall from the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to reach its full complement of 16 jets by the end of the year.
MCAS Yuma is slated to have five F-35 squadrons, each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. These 88 aircraft will replace Yuma’s four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers.
“It’s exciting to see more jets make their way through the plant to be delivered to Yuma,” said Eric “Beans” Van Camp, director of F-35 domestic business development for Lockheed Martin. A former Harrier pilot who was based at MCAS Yuma for several years, he was part of a delegation from Lockheed Martin to attend the dedication of the AIC.
He said that Lockheed Martin has no plans at this time to use a part of the building. However, he said, it will be an important resource to the companies that support defense aviation.
“Because Yuma is the first location for the F-35 in the Marine Corps, it’s such an important location for Marine aviation in general,” he said. “There likely will be opportunities for companies to contract support activities that may go into Yuma. The companies wouldn’t create facilities indefinitely pending their next contract, so a readily available facility would be viewed favorably when it came time to consider renewing their presence.”
Currently there are no tenants for the AIC, said Julie Engel, president and CEO of Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation (GYEDC). However, GYEDC is marketing the facility to direct contacts that would be a good fit for the building and information has been sent to one particular client in the aviation and defense industry, she said.
“Absolutely, it’s a tremendous asset for the region and the aviation sector,” she said. “It will be a catalyst to attract business. There will be a lot of lookers. Not all will fit in the building but will choose Yuma anyway.”
The Aviation Industrial Center was funded in part with a $3.8 million grant from the Economic Development Administration as part of the airport’s ongoing efforts to provide support for defense contractors and to promote economic development in the Yuma region. The airport financed the remaining $1.2 million through 1st Bank Yuma and began construction in November.
Yuma architect Chris Thompson, of Patterson Thompson Architects, designed the hangar and Eckard Commercial Construction of Yuma was awarded the construction contract.
“This magnitude of investment doesn’t happen on its own,” said Wiggins, saying that Engel and Alan Pruitt of Western Arizona Economic Development District were instrumental in identifying the grant opportunity and helping the Yuma County Airport Authority obtain the EDA grant.
“The Yuma community continues to work together to build and promote Yuma’s aviation assets,” said Rob Ingold, airport board president. “We appreciate everyone’s dedication and support, and we look forward to finding suitable tenants and working on our next big hangar project in the near future.”