WSU National Institute for Aviation Research converts aircraft


WERX of the National Institute of Aeronautics Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University has received its first Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft which will be converted to a freighter. The Kansas Modification Center is a new venture that will meet the growing needs for MRO and conversion programs due to the increase in e-commerce and express freight markets. (September 8, 2021)

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An office of the National Institute for Aeronautical Research at Wichita State University is expanding its aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul initiative and will convert a Boeing aircraft.

NIAR’s WERX location has received its first Boeing 777-300ER passenger plane that workers will convert to a freighter aircraft, the university announced Wednesday. It will then be transferred to a customer in the e-commerce and express freight market.

“This is an exceptional chance for students to gain hands-on real-world experience, working under the mentorship of experienced engineers and licensed mechanics,” Sheree Utash, president of WSU Tech, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how the growing program would impact employment figures at NIAR and in the region’s aviation industry.

NIAR will convert the aircraft alongside the Kansas Modification Center, a new venture to meet the needs of the aviation industry for maintenance, repair and overhaul programs. He will own the aircraft’s supplemental type certificate and authorize conversions.

The new venture is led by Jim Gibbs, who is the founder of a Rose Hill-based aerospace company, according to the company’s website.

In addition to jobs, the 777 Aircraft Conversion Program will provide students with a hands-on learning opportunity within the Wichita State College of Engineering and WSU Tech’s airframe and powertrain mechanics programs.

“This is a rare opportunity for students to gain experience working on an industry program alongside and under the guidance of NIAR’s team of seasoned experts,” said Dave Jones, Director from NIAR WERX, in a statement. “Our engineers have the unique opportunity to pass on their combined 7,500 years of experience in design, production and testing to the next generation of aviation professionals.”

NIAR WERX modification facilities are near McConnell Air Force Base on the south side of Wichita. Typically, WERX site workers quickly implement methods to design, modify, test and certify new aircraft and modifications or overhauls.

NIAR WERX employees design the structure and subsystems; stress, fatigue and damage tolerance; avionics for electrical and mechanical systems; flight sciences, external loads and structural dynamics and power plant and airworthiness certification.

Governor Laura Kelly and Senator Jerry Moran visited McConnell Air Force Base on Wednesday for the announcement. In a statement, Kelly said the new collaboration fits well with the state’s Growth Framework, an economic development plan for Kansas developed by the Kelly administration.

The collaboration “will create new opportunities for commercial aviation while demonstrating the world-class sophistication of our state’s aviation experts,” Kelly said in a statement.

“There is no better state than Kansas to take full advantage of this project – the opportunity is tailor-made for our state and our aerospace assets.”

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This story was originally published September 9, 2021 4:09 a.m.

Megan Stringer reports for The Wichita Eagle, where she focuses on issues facing the working class, labor and employment. She joined The Eagle in June 2020 as a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues and communities. Previously, Stringer covered business and economic development for the USA Today Network-Wisconsin, where his award-winning stories touched on everything from retail to manufacturing and healthcare.