Hawker transfers lab testing to WSU's NIAR

When the economy declined, so did work at Hawker Beechcraft's electromagnetic compatibility, mechanical and environmental test laboratory in east Wichita.

The labs don't stay busy all the time. That's expected to change, officials say.

Hawker Beechcraft is transferring the equipment and operations of the test labs to Wichita State University's National Institute for Aviation Research, officials said Friday.

"We weren't keeping it busy enough to justify having it," said Ed Petkus, Hawker Beechcraft vice president of product development and engineering.

NIAR will pay $400,000 for equipment that has outstanding balances, and it will lease the facilities from the company. Hawker Beechcraft will donate the remainder of the equipment, valued in the millions of dollars. NIAR will have access to Hawker Beechcraft's runway.

Ten employees will be affected and will have an opportunity to join WSU.

The change will be effective April 26.

The lab — called the Aircraft Environment Research and Testing Laboratory — performs a variety of environmental tests, such as electromagnetic effects, lightning effects, temperature and altitude, humidity, operational shock and vibration, salt spray, flammability and icing for aircraft safety assurance and certification.

The change will be good for the company, for NIAR and for Wichita, officials said.

"Wichita is going to get a world-class test-type facility," said Hawker Beechcraft director of engineering Paul Jonas.

NIAR will perform testing for Hawker Beechcraft but also plans to expand the capabilities and its workload there.

"I have big plans," said NIAR executive director John Tomblin.

Tomblin plans to offer testing services to aviation and non-aviation industries and to federal agencies, such as NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense.

With an increase in composites used in aircraft designs, "we want to make this a center for electromagnetic testing and... lightning testing," Tomblin said.

He also plans to expand services so companies will no longer have to travel to several facilities to access all the testing required for components used in aircraft.

The goal "is to be a one-stop shop for the aircraft companies, to do the testing and to be a magnet to draw people here," Tomblin said. "If we're going to have one of these national facilities, why not have it in the Air Capital of the World?"

Between the company's facilities and NIAR's existing facilities, it will be able to perform 80 to 85 percent of the necessary testing.

With an investment of another $2 million or so, "we'll be there," Tomblin said.

NIAR also will use the facilities to help educate WSU students.

It's the second facility for NIAR on Hawker Beechcraft property.

Since 2004, NIAR has operated an Aircraft Structural Testing and Evaluation Center there.

Its main facility is on the WSU campus. It employs 300 people, including 200 full-time staff members and faculty associates.