Aerospace center opens with fanfare, great expectations

EVERETT — The building isn’t grand, but the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center is teaching students the nuts and bolts of modern airplane manufacturing.

The “beta” class of 20 students opened their books and bench vises Wednesday morning after a celebratory grand opening with dozens of elected officials and aerospace dignitaries on June 3.

“We know this is not the Taj Mahal, but it’s our beginning,” Linda Lanham, CEO of the Kent-based Aerospace Futures Alliance that helped spearhead the effort to open the center, said at the grand opening.

Larry Cluphf, director of the center, said the goal is to put the curriculum online to make lectures available at any time while eventually offering hands-on classes at the center around the clock, Monday through Friday. Edmonds Community College will operate the center.

The first eight to 10 instructors are subject-matter experts, mostly retired Boeing workers with thorough knowledge of airframes and powerplants, Cluphf said.

“These guys are top of the line,” he said.

Cluphf believes the center’s format will help ease older aerospace workers back into the education system, but he emphasized the center is driven by business and industry training needs, not arbitrary scholastic rules. For example, classes within the certificate programs are modular, so workers who need to learn how to drill titanium or composite materials will only need to take one of those modules in the 18.5-credit aerospace assembly mechanic course.

Training is the industry’s highest priority, Lanham told the assembled crowd at the grand opening. The Paine Field center has a companion facility in Spokane that will be run in conjunction with Spokane Community College when it opens later this year.

“Technology is moving faster now than we can train,” Lanham said.

The center will serve as a pipeline for newly trained workers. Lanham said Boeing, which donated $2.5 million in equipment to the center, is committed to extending job offers to all qualified graduates of the center.

Boeing official Norma Clayton echoed the sentiment, saying the partnership with the center is of high value and interest to Boeing.

Boeing vice president Larry Loftis, Everett site manager and 777 program general manager, said Boeing is committed to keeping its lead in technology and innovation. All of the company’s strategies require qualified workers.

“It’s important to have this center to lead us into the future,” he said.

The Snohomish County Council wasted no time getting into gear. County Executive Aaron Reardon said the council stepped up “lightning quick” when EdCC President Jack Oharah sought help for a building where he could put the proposed training center.

Two days later, Reardon told Oharah he had his building, 15,000 square feet in a vacant unit at 3008 100th St. SW at the entrance to Paine Field.

Other county workers and Snohomish County’s state legislators stepped up to help see the effort through, especially Rep. Mike Sells and Sen. Steve Hobbs, Reardon said.

“We didn’t let pessimism or low expectations hold us back,” Reardon said.

“None of you know how tough it was to make this happen,” Oharah said.

Others trumpeted the new center at the open house.

County Council Chairman Mike Cooper reflected on the training center’s initial announcement on July 9, 2009: “It’s amazing we’re here one short year later.”

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee called the center a “statewide achievement.” He secured a federal appropriation of $600,000 to help launch the center and has requested another $1 million appropriation for 2011.

Lanham thanked state senators Paull Shin, Jean Berkey and Tracy Eide, and state representatives Mark Ericks, Marko Liias, Jeff Morris, Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney of Seattle and House Speaker Frank Chopp. Many of them attended the open house.

Gov. Chris Gregoire arrived in time to help pull the wraps off the new center’s sign outside.

“Investment in this center will really keep us ahead of the game,” she said.

The governor said the center could help fulfill the dreams of Washington state children who see Boeing’s planes under construction and dream themselves of someday joining the assembly process. With the center, they’ll be able to get the training here to build those quality planes in the future.

The initial certificate class that starts Wednesday will cover aircraft familiarization, sealing and safety, manufacturing paperwork, engineering processes, hand and measuring tools, blueprints and picture sheets, bonding and grounding, and introduction to composites during 99 hours of training for nine credits.

Students in the 18.5-credit aerospace assembly mechanic certificate course that starts July 6 will study power island equipment; basic drilling and riveting; 90-degree drilling, reaming and permanent fasteners; wing structure project; fuselage skin assembly; hand and measuring tools; drilling titanium and composite materials; mechanical sealant applicant processes; fiber-reinforced composites manufacturing; and electrical bond and ground.

Other aerospace certificate offerings at the center will include electrical, hydraulics, functional test, composites repair and quality assurance.

Considering the strong student demand for the first class, Cluphf said he expects to need another 10,000 square feet in the building sooner rather than later.

For Michael Dunlop, the trip to the grand opening was a homecoming of sorts. About 20 years ago, he was running Tyee Aircraft in the same building. Now he’s president of Net-Inspect, a Bellevue-based company that will donate server-based quality-control software that has become the “de facto standard” for aerospace firms around the world. Depending on the number of site users, clients pay up to $40,000 a month for the service.

“It’s like Facebook for the aerospace industry,” he said.

Learn more

If you’d like to know more about the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center, go to or call 425-640-1840.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102,

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