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Tuskegee Pitches Hard for Italian Aircraft Plant

Tuskegee Airmen in a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.

Tuskegee Airmen in a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.

Library of Congress photo

As the mayor of Tuskegee says, it would be a pretty great Christmas present.

The Macon County city between Montgomery and Auburn is in the running to win a $250 million jet factory that would create 750 jobs on the airfield where the Tuskegee Airmen once flew. For that to happen, a company called Leonardo DRS has to beat out Boeing, Lockheed and Sierra Nevada to win an Air Force contract to manufacture T-100 training jets.

The decision is expected at the end of this year or early 2018. Mayor Lawrence F. “Tony” Haygood Jr. says the city has been recruiting hard for months in every direction. “As a community we’ve been contacting all the citizens we can, and they’re contacting people they know in the military and government, to uplift the message of Tuskegee and Moton Field for this contract,” Haygood says.

Tuskegee already beat out more than 140 American cities when Leonardo DRS picked it in March. It would be the company’s first American manufacturing facility. State and local incentives for the factory have been estimated at about $100 million over 30 years. Jobs at the plant would pay an average of $24 an hour.

The proposed plant site is located at the same highway exit as the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, one of the state’s top tourist attractions. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Tuskegee pilots flew from Licata, Sicily in July, 1943 and supported the Allied landing at Anzio, Italy in January, 1944. Designated as the 99th Fighter Squadron, Tuskegee Airmen flew missions against enemy targets over Cassino, Italy, on May 12-14, 1944, along with the white group to which it was attached.

Joe Turnham, director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority, says the T-100 factory would be a generation game changer for east Alabama, while adding another branch on the vine of military suppliers helping to defend the U.S. and its allies. “Leonardo builds a proven trainer aircraft that’s widely used around the world; they picked a historic site in a great area on the I-85 corridor, and people analyzing the deal say the plane can be built at a low cost and be an American-made product. We think Leonardo has a real shot at this.”

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