Wichita For an industrial facility, Sedgwick County’s new National Center for Aviation Training has a light and futuristic feeling.
It is a group of three sleek steel-and-glass buildings near the Col. James Jabara Airport on North Webb Road. They are arranged in the shape of a wing, with angled, wing-like roofs.
When Sarah Leftwich, associate vice president for academic affairs at the Wichita Area Technical College, first saw them, she thought they looked like the buildings in the “Jetsons” cartoon show.
Nearly a decade in the making, the center will soon be completed, with WATC classes scheduled to start Aug. 16.
The facility came in under budget, a rare gift from the recession. The county approved $54 million for it, but bidding was competitive and bids came in low. The total cost is roughly $49.3 million, although final numbers won’t be in for a few months, said Marvin Duncan, director of customized training and work force development for the county.
The center’s mission: to serve as a national hub for aviation education, training, and research, providing a work force for the industry while speeding new technologies into production.
And, maybe, helping the county hang on to its aircraft companies.
“We respond pretty rapidly to what they need,” Leftwich said. “We want to train a work force for them.”
Big companies are looking for a research capability and work force training, said John Tomblin, executive director of Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, which will provide research and training on cutting-edge technology for the industry at the center.
“It would be hard-pressed for anybody to offer more than we are. We would hope not only to keep what we have, but to attract others,” he said.
“We have everything here in one location, and we’re locating it in one of the largest aviation clusters in the United States,” Tomblin said. “That’s an extreme home-field playing advantage here. I’m hoping the whole aviation industry in the United States comes here to train.”
NIAR will host a workshop at the center on composite materials and processes for the Federal Aviation Administration Sept. 14-16, with 120 international aviation authorities and experts expected to attend.
The WATC will coordinate the programs and instruction at the center under the direction of the Sedgwick County Technical Education & Training Authority.
A majority of the programs will be up and running by early September, with others to be added in January and next spring, Leftwich said.
A grand opening for the public hasn’t been scheduled yet.
The WATC already has enrolled about 400 students in the manufacturing programs, and 300 in the aviation programs, Leftwich said. Several hundred more students are expected to sign up in the remaining weeks of enrollment.
The three buildings include an administrative center for WATC and NIAR offices and student-assessment rooms, a manufacturing technical center, and an aviation service center.
Among the features:
• A joining room filled with robots performing the latest welding techniques to replace older riveting technology.
• A room for two autoclaves that process composites with heat and pressure to form aircraft parts.
• Paint labs to learn the complicated art of painting an airplane, a program that will start in the spring. Students will be able to practice virtual painting using a wand hooked up to a computer.
• Four labs for computer aided design software training, where students can fit a whole aircraft together electronically before cutting a single part.
• A 200-seat lecture hall with a large door on one side for bringing in a fuselage, part of a wing or other aircraft parts for demonstrations.
• A hangar with doors large enough to accommodate most general aviation aircraft.
Students will learn the skills they need to graduate directly into aviation industry jobs.