The Austin Company celebrates our centennial of serving the aviation and aerospace industry this year. This centennial is marked by many significant milestone projects, beginning in 1916 with the creation of a facility in Buffalo, NY, to manufacture training aircraft for the U.S. War Department as it prepared for the important role aviation would play in military, and later, civilian roles. A mere twelve years after Kitty Hawk, the industry was committed to producing nearly 7,000 JN-4 “Jenny’s” to train pilots. After the war was over, these planes sold for $200.
A few of Austin’s milestones in the first fifty years included a new plant for William Boeing in Seattle and an airport in Burbank (originally Boeing Field, then United (Airlines) Field, then – and still is – Burbank airport). By WWII, Austin plants and airports had been constructed in Seattle, Wichita, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, New York, and many other cities. The first fifty years culminated in 1966 for Austin in the master planning, design, engineering and construction of a new aircraft manufacturing plant to build the 747 for Boeing in Everett, WA. When completed, it was the largest industrial building in the world. With subsequent expansions, mostly done by Austin, it remains the world’s largest building at 472-million cubic feet.
Boeing’s commitment to the 747 was a bold and courageous move. Most industrial historians agree they “bet the company” on that plane. And they trusted the design and construction of their plant to their long-standing partner in creating their facilities – The Austin Company. Austin continued at Everett, expanding it for the 767 and 777.
In the 1970s, in the U.S. alone, there were several major aircraft manufacturers all competing for market share of commercial and military aviation: Boeing, McDonnell, Lockheed, Douglas, Grumman, Northrop, General Dynamics, and others. Austin worked for all of these firms and others, creating manufacturing and research facilities, a logistics center for the space shuttle in Florida, aircraft maintenance facilities for United Airlines in Chicago, Alaska Airlines in Seattle, Eastern Airlines in Miami, Continental Airlines in Denver, and many other locations.
The impact of the 747 was that it made the world smaller. More people could get to more places they could never drive to. Passenger comfort was at an all-time high. Its impact on the future of aviation cannot be overstated.
And while the 747 made the world smaller, Austin’s reputation as the firm who built Everett grew larger. In the 1970s, Austin created a 3-million square-foot aircraft maintenance base in Greece for Hellenic Aerospace, and a similar one in Iran for Iran Aircraft Industries. Austin’s team left Iran just weeks before the fall of the Shah and overtake of the U.S. Embassy. In the 1980s and 90s, we designed a Technical Training Institute in The UAE, a Flight Operations Command Center and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, and participated on several airport projects in the U.S. and Japan.
Understanding how to handle very large buildings led us to more large buildings. The C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane was built in Long Beach, CA, in a plant designed and built by Austin. Boeing again turned to Austin for the design and construction of the 1.5-million square-foot Delta IV Rocket plant in Decatur, AL.
In the meantime, we got involved in a wide range of projects, in a wide range of locations to support this industry, which challenged our design and construction professionals to develop new and safer solutions … from more efficient laminar flow models for aircraft painting, to safer and more efficient chemical milling operations of aircraft and rocket parts, to exploring the most effective modes for stripping aircraft of paint.
Toward the end of this first century of aviation facility leadership, we designed and built new aircraft facilities for Airbus in Mobile, AL; Northrop Grumman in Florida, and Embraer and the Melbourne Airport Authority in Florida. More aircraft have been assembled in Austin-built facilities than in facilities designed or built by any other contractor.
There is a certain passion for this industry that is unmatched by other industries we work in.
There is an adrenaline rush one gets at the airshow when a Blue Angels F-18 flies overhead; when the aircraft has already passed before the sound hits – both physically and audibly. We love being part of that experience (yes, we built the F-18, F-15 and AV-8B Harrier plant in St. Louis, too). Generations of Austin design and construction professionals have participated in these projects. Aviation and aerospace is in our DNA.
We are a part of the industry’s history. And while we wonder what the next century will bring, one thing is for certain – Austin’s first one hundred years is a pretty good start.
“What the history of aviation has brought in the 20th Century should inspire us to be inventors and explorers ourselves in the new century.”
“The 20th Century was the century of Aviation and the century of Globalization. The next century will be the century of Space.”
“Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.”
William S. Burroughs