Tag Archives: Bell/Textron

AEDC scores big with Bell Helicopter project

The Texas Legislature took a moment before adjourning this week to offer a well-deserved salute to a company that took a gamble that has paid off in a major way.

The company was Bell/Textron, which once used to assemble aircraft in the Fort Worth area. Then in the late 1990s, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation dangled a significant financial incentive package to lure Bell/Textron away from the Metroplex to the Texas Panhandle.

That was 20 years ago. The Legislature approved a resolution saluting AEDC and Bell/Textron for the decision to relocate to Amarillo. Man, this investment has paid off handsomely.

AEDC lured Bell/Textron to Amarillo with an incentive totaling around $45 million. It included tax abatements and free land next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. Bell/Textron took the bait and built a plant where it assembles V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which at the time — and it still is! — was considered a state-of-the-art airplane that can take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing airplane.

The V-22 has endured some controversy and some tragedy. Planes have crashed, killing service personnel who were aboard. Bell grounded the aircraft while it worked on the issues that caused a particular crash that killed 19 Marines. It fixed the issue.

The plane has been deployed to battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it ferries troops and supplies to and away from the field of combat. It has worked well.

The AEDC incentive that lured Bell to Amarillo drew plenty of criticism, particularly from the Fort Worth area that lost the corporate neighbor. Metroplex media bitched about how Amarillo was essentially bribing companies to relocate to the region.

Well, I believe they were suffering from sour-grape indigestion.

AEDC collects a half-cent on every dollar in sales tax revenue in Amarillo. It banks that money and then uses it for purposes such as the one that brought Bell/Textron to the Panhandle. AEDC sees the money as an investment on job creation. So it has worked. Some projects have paid off better than others. AEDC has had some misfires along the way, to be sure.

However, the Bell/Textron investment has paid off well for the company, as well as for Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle.

The Marines are still flying the V-22; the Air Force and Army have signed on as well.

There are time when you need to take a gamble in search of a big return. Amarillo’s economic development planners saw the potential of such a gamble . . . and have reaped the reward.

AEDC steps up … big time

If Amarillo manages to reel in a project being pitched by Texas Tech University, it can possibly look at its economic development arm as a big reason for the success that will follow.

Texas Tech wants to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo; it would be the second such school in all of Texas, the other one being run by Texas A&M University.

The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation has ponied up $69 million to incentivize Tech even further to build the vet school in Amarillo. Moreover, a significant land donation made possible by the family of Mary Emeny has sweetened the pot even more for Texas Tech.

This is precisely the kind of project that AEDC has helped bring to Amarillo since its creation in 1989. Voters then approved creation of AEDC, which collects a half-cent of sales tax revenue generated in Amarillo and uses it for job-creation projects.

Without question, AEDC’s biggest success to date is the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly project next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. In the late 1990s, AEDC came up with a $45 million inducement that lured Bell/Textron from Fort Worth to Amarillo and … the rest is history.

The Texas Tech vet school is aimed at educating Panhandle residents to learn a profession of untold value to communities throughout the region. Veterinarians could remain in the Panhandle to care for the livestock that populate our region’s ranches and which fuel the agricultural economy.

AEDC has stepped up in a major way once again for the city and the region. Its contribution will be augmented by private donations that local business, civic and political leaders are gathering.

And just as the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy has borne plenty of economic efruit for the region, so would the school of veterinary medicine, which has gone from “possibly,” to “probably” and is on its way to “likely” coming to Amarillo.

Enjoying a front-row seat of progress

Our new “home” across the way from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and the Bell Helicopter aircraft assembly plant has given me a front-row seat to an amazing display of engineering and economic progress.

My wife and I have been living at an RV park within spittin’ distance of AMA and Bell. From our living room we are able to watch jets fly in and out of the airport while also witnessing test flights of a state-of-the-art combat aircraft that is put together right here on the High Plains.

I refer, of course, to the V-22 Osprey, the notable tilt-rotor aircraft that’s seen plenty of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. The Marine Corps has been using the bird to ferry troops and supplies on and off battlefields in both countries for, oh, about the past decade.

The Osprey hasn’t been without controversy. Many of us recall the terrible crash in Arizona that killed nearly 20 Marines on a test flight.

The Osprey, though, has been re-engineered since that crash. It has been improved. It has been modified to some degree. Today, from what I have heard, it has performed its mission well. The aircraft gives American fighting personnel quicker entrance and exit from the battlefield.

Amarillo used an interesting — and occasionally mocked — economic tool to lure Bell/Textron to the High Plains in the late 1990s. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation offered a lot of money that it collects from sales tax revenue to Bell/Textron, which ended up receiving about $45 million in various inducements, including tax abatements and free land next to AMA.

Bell returned to Amarillo, where it once repaired and maintained Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.

AEDC hit a home run when it lured Bell/Textron to the region. We have seen it grow over the years, expanding its mission.

I think of all this on occasion as I watch the Osprey take off and land. I recall the ridicule we heard from the Fort Worth area that lost the Bell operation, thanks to Amarillo’s aggressive and creative marketing campaign.

I also look with some pride at what this community has been able to accomplish for its local economic health as well as contributing to the nation’s vaunted military establishment.

I spoke once with a Marine pilot who was stationed in Amarillo to test-fly the Osprey earlier in its development. He mentioned to me how this aircraft was so hard to learn to fly, but once he got the hang of it, the Osprey has turned out to be a lot of fun to fly.

On occasion I think of that Marine as I watch the Osprey glide through its paces above us, and I wonder how much fun they’re having overhead.

Thornberry to head armed forces panel

It’s official: Mac Thornberry is going to become the next chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

They’re cheering at three key locations in Thornberry’s sprawling 13th Congressional District in Texas: at the Bell/Textron and the Pantex operations in Amarillo and at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls.

Thornberry’s constituency includes those enormously important operations.

Here’s the question: Is the veteran Texas Panhandle congressman going to protect these operations from possible budget cuts at the expense of other equally important defense-related projects?

I pose the question because for the two decades Thornberry has served in Congress, he’s been ensconced comfortably and quietly on the back bench. He hasn’t made much noise about the work he does on behalf of those projects. He does so quietly and with little fanfare.

Now, though, he assumes a high-profile role as chairman of one the House’s most visible committees. He’s become the go-to guy on armed services issues. The pressure is going to be on the congressman to deliver the goods back home while listening with a fair and impartial ear to the needs of his colleagues’ districts elsewhere. There might even be colleagues on his committee who’ll be sure to push hard for spending in their districts. With limited money — relatively speaking — to go around, the House panel is going to have to husband its resources carefully.

How is Chairman Thornberry going to respond to those pressures with the eyes of the nation fixed on how he conducts himself and how he runs this congressional committee?

Good luck, Mr. Chairman.


V-22 Osprey earning its wings

Here is some news that is going to cheer up the good folks assembling a state-of-the-art airship next door to Amarillo’s international airport.

A law student and former Marine who’s studied the bird says the V-22 Osprey is good ship.


It’s shown some weakness, some vulnerability and certainly been through some controversy, but it is superior to the aircraft it was designed to “displace,” the CH-46 twin-rotor helicopter.

It flies much faster and delivers troops and supplies in far less time.

The V-22 has had a rocky ride to be sure. You’ll recall the ship that crashed in Arizona, killing 19 Marines on board. Development and assembly was stopped in Amarillo. Critics began yammering about how dangerous the bird could be to fly.

The Marine Corps and Bell/Textron engineers fixed what was wrong and the aircraft has performed well on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every leading-edge aircraft has gone through difficulty. The V-22 is really no different in that regard. Its bugs have been troublesome and, yes, have produced some tragic consequences. I ask, though, isn’t that the norm when introducing aircraft with technology never before used?

It takes off like a helicopter, tilts its rotors forward and flies like an airplane. It’s a difficult ship to learn to fly, but as a Marine Corps test pilot told me once years ago, once you learn how to fly the Osprey “it’s a joy to operate.”

I’ll take him at his word.

The Osprey isn’t perfect, as the essay attached to this blog notes. It still costs a lot of money to manufacture and its capabilities have limits.

But it plays a key role in our nation’s defense and our neighbors at the assembly plant in Amarillo deserve high praise for the role they play in that effort.

Cutting-edge aircraft pose problems

Watching the “60 Minutes” report on Sunday about the F-35 fighter being developed by Lockheed-Martin reminded me of a somewhat similar issue close to home.

The report dealt with the difficulties that the contractor is having getting the aircraft ready for deployment. The F-35 is supposed to replace virtually all tactical fighter aircraft used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The Air Force version is being developed for landing strip takeoffs and landings; the Navy version will be launched by catapult off aircraft carriers; the Marine Corps version will be a vertical takeoff and landing bird.

It’s years behind schedule and more than $150 billion over budget.


I couldn’t help but think of the troubles that accompanied the development of the V-22 Osprey, the state-of-the-art tiltrotor aircraft that’s being assembled in Amarillo and deployed in combat zones in Afghanistan; the Osprey also saw duty in Iraq.

Bell/Textron built the assembly plant here in the late 1990s, it hired a skilled work force and began assembling the aircraft. It met with difficulty. It crashed on occasion — and in one horrific accident, it crashed with 19 Marines on board, all of whom were killed.

The Marine Corps grounded the aircraft and began examining what went so horribly wrong. It turned out to be an issue with the rotor, which lifts the aircraft off the ground like a helicopter and then rotates forward to fly the bird like a conventional fixed-wing airplane.

Engineers resolved the issue and the Osprey has been performing well on the battlefield.

When the tragedy occurred, then-Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger noted that all state-of-the-art, leading-edge aircraft have endured problems, controversy, glitches in design and performance. The loss of so many lives in one horrific accident, of course, made the Osprey a larger target than usual.

All this to suggest that it is my hope they fix what’s ailing the F-35 and that it gets into the air. Pilots from all the services set to use the airplane say it will outperform any fighter in use by any nation in the world and will be superior to the super jets being developed by Russia and China.

If only the costs weren’t so overbearing.