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Wichita’s Spirit Aero looks overseas for massive research, development expansion

An artist's rendering shows Spirit AeroSystems' new research and development facility in Prestwick, Scotland. Spirit expects to open the 70,000-square-foot building in 2019.
An artist's rendering shows Spirit AeroSystems' new research and development facility in Prestwick, Scotland. Spirit expects to open the 70,000-square-foot building in 2019. Spirit AeroSystems

Spirit AeroSystems will expand by nearly nine times its research and development facility in Prestwick, Scotland.

The Wichita-based aircraft supplier announced Tuesday at the Farnborough International Airshow an expansion that will increase its research and development footprint there from 8,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet.

The larger facility will enable the company to expand its focus on developing infusion processes for composites as well as for part handling, assembly automation, rapid prototyping and virtual and augmented reality.

“The next generation of aircraft doesn’t exist yet, and that’s what we’re concentrating on,” Spirit president and CEO Tom Gentile said in a news release. “Our engineers are inventing the future of flight.”

Wichita and Prestwick are the company’s two sites for research and development that last year yielded new work on the Airbus A320 family of commercial airplanes. The company said in an e-mailed statement that the expansion in Scotland “is a result of the growing statement of work for the Prestwick R&D team,” while “work in Wichita is expanding as well.”

A combination of higher airplane production rates in Wichita and at other Spirit plants, as well as a push to grow its fabrication and defense businesses, “are driving needs for a higher-skilled workforce equipped for advance manufacturing,” Spirit said in the statement. And it’s in advanced manufacturing where much of the research and development work is occurring.

Construction on the expanded research and development facility in Prestwick is expected to begin this year, with an opening set for 2019, the company said.

Spirit said it expects employment in Prestwick to grow because of the new facility, but it wouldn’t say by how many employees.

The company employs about 12,000 people in Wichita.

Spirit Aerosystems President and CEO Tom Gentile talks about the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter and Spirits involvement in building the composite fuselage for Sikorsky Helicopter.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark
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