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BERKELEY — As Boeing prepares to spin off one of its aging fighter jet lines in St. Louis, the company is expanding into research and development with a new 47,500-square-foot facility here that will focus on the next generation of military aircraft.
The new location will be part of “Phantom Works,” Boeing’s narrow-edge unit that performs research, development, and prototyping work for the company’s defense business.
Steve Nordlund, chief executive officer of Boeing St. Going into the US Air Force, and other services, like the Navy.”
The new building is in addition to, and will be located adjacent to, the company’s existing Phantom Works site in St. Louis County. It is expected to be commissioned in 2025 and will focus on advanced coatings. Nordlund said that most of what Phantom Works does is classified.
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In the future, Nordlund sees “a network environment of aircraft, both manned and autonomous, working together collaboratively and collaboratively.”
Nordlund was previously General Manager of Phantom Works. He said in February that Boeing’s recent domestic hiring was focused on engineers, a sign that the company was looking toward developing new products and technologies.
Boeing has about 15,800 employees in the St. Louis area, the second-largest workforce after Washington state. St. Louis’ operations focus mostly on defense products such as the F-18 and F-15 fighter jets, the T-7A trainer, and the MQ-25 tanker aircraft. It makes munitions in St. Charles, and added a new building there last year to increase capacity.
The company is building an assembly line to make MQ-25 drones at the Central American Airport in Muscat. It already manufactures a small number of MQ-25s in St. Louis County.
The drones will be used to refuel other planes, so planes like the F/A-18 can fly longer than the aircraft carriers from which they launch. But Nordlund believes they can be used for other purposes, too.
Pete Coons, vice president and general manager of Phantom Works, said autonomous technology has “always been an integral part” of Boeing’s defense business.
That won’t be Boeing’s only focus going forward. The company will continue to work on everything from materials science to software and conceptual design. But in the future, the company predicts that there will be more autonomous aircraft and technology in the fray. Boeing uses simulations to test how human pilots interact with autonomous systems and, more importantly, how confident pilots are in those systems when working with them.
Kunz said the technology can range from simple automation all the way up to sophisticated cognition and decision making.
“There is value across that entire spectrum,” he said.
The company added a new advanced composites manufacturing center in Mesa, Arizona, last year, and opened a lab and testing facility in the St. Louis area over the winter.
“We’re not done,” Nordlund said Thursday morning. “We’re on a steady diet of investments.”
Earlier this year, the company revealed plans to end production of the new build of the F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2025. The aging fighter jet line has been on the wane for years, but February’s announcement was the first publicly revealed schedule. Production could be extended to 2027 if Boeing receives more orders from the Indian Navy.
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