Southern Arizona’s clear blue skies and dry climate have attracted aerospace-related businesses since the early 1900s.
The region’s aerospace industry presence includes defense and space-related manufacturing, research and development, industrial high-tech fields, assembly, distribution, and warehousing. It also includes firms that maintain and rehabilitate the nation’s commercial aircraft fleet.
Tucson is ranked a top 10 metro for aerospace manufacturing due to its highly concentrated aerospace product and parts manufacturing sector that has an 8.62 location quotient, a ratio calculated to compare a region’s industrial activity level to the rest of the United States. The location quotient means that Tucson is 8.62 times more concentrated in the aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry than the average of all metropolitan statistical areas across the country.
The region’s aerospace industry presence includes:
- Defense and space-related manufacturing
- Research and development
- Industrial high-tech fields, assembly
- Firms that maintain and rehabilitate the nation’s commercial aircraft fleet
There are many state and local organizations dedicated to aerospace advancement such as the Arizona Technology Council
(AZTC). The association promotes the interests of a variety of technology, manufacturing and service firms, such as those in the aerospace, bioscience, defense, electronics, information technology, nanotechnology, optics, semiconductors and telecommunications sectors.
The military is a key employer in Southern Arizona and a critical component of the aerospace and defense industry. Many of the aerospace industry’s finest companies benefit from the vast experience of military retirees that choose to continue their professional careers in the region.
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, founded in 1925, is one of the largest employers in Pima County. The 355th Wing is the host unit at the base and provides medical, logistical, and operational support to all associate units. According to a recent Davis-Monthan Economic Impact Analysis Report, the Base continues to be a major driver for economic prosperity throughout Southern Arizona. The report captures key Davis-Monthan economic data regarding employment; annual payroll, expenditures and estimated financial impacts; indirect and direct jobs created; retiree data; and the overall annual economic impact estimate.
The economic impact of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base included:
- $3 billion overall to the local Tucson economy
- 19,321 military retirees in the local community with an annual retirement pay of $513.6 million.
- An estimated 7,577 indirect jobs with an approximate annual dollar value of $338.7 million.
MORRIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE
Morris Air National Guard Base is the nation’s premier F-16 training base and the home of the 162nd Wing which was founded in 1956. Morris ANG Base is the second largest Air National Guard Base in the country and employs nearly 1,900 airmen and civilian personnel. Their diverse missions include F-16 pilot training for U.S. and partner nations, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance missions (ISR), an Aerospace Control Alert Detachment, and domestic operations response capabilities. The 162nd contributes $383 million annually to the Tucson community and spends over $94 million in annual payroll.
Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, bringing with it the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade. The Center is the Army’s premier intelligence training facility for its active, reserve and guard component soldiers and also trains Air Force and Marine Corps personnel. The Fort also serves as the Department of Defense’s HUMINT Training Joint Center of Excellence, providing all advanced human intelligence training across every branch of the military. With a mild climate, 320-plus flying days a year, and 964 miles of restricted airspace that ranges from surface to 30,000 feet, Fort Huachuca is the Army’s only training facility for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operators in the United States. Fort Huachuca is the largest employer in Cochise County.
From aerospace engineers to FAA-certified airframe technicians, Tucson has the educational resources to supply all levels of aerospace workers to companies in the region. Throughout Southern Arizona, there are currently over 25,000 people employed in the aerospace industry.
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
- The College of Engineering at The University of Arizona offers many outstanding engineering programs, awarding 608 bachelor’s degrees, 224 master’s degrees, and 137 doctoral degrees in 2021.
- The Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering (AME) offers ABET-accredited undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering.
- AME research activities are concentrated in fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, multi-body dynamics and control, heat transfer, solid mechanics and composite materials, space technology, biomedical engineering and reliability. Some of the emerging areas of concentration include micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS), nanotechnology and optomechanics.
- UA ranks in the top 10 of NASA grant recipients and is No. 1 in space science research. UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is instrumental in nearly 30 ongoing NASA space missions, including the Hubble, James Webb Space Telescope, OSIRIS-REx and Phoenix Mars missions. Arizona Center for Innovation, located at the UA Science and Technology Park, is a high-tech incubator that focuses on important developing areas including aerospace, advance composites, information technology and the life sciences.
PIMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE (PCC)
- PCC’s dedicated Aviation Technology Center and new Avionics Expansion provides FAA-approved Airframe and Powerplant Certification, Aviation Structural Repair and Avionics Technician Training. The college’s aviation technology degrees and certifications can be paired with training programs customized to employers’ requirements, and are nationally recognized for producing highly-skilled, industry-ready workers. PCC plans to double student graduates annually to 250. The program has an 80 to 90 percent completion rate, with most of the students passing their certification exams. In 2019, Pima Community College received $15 million to expand its aviation technology program to double student enrollment. In 2022, PCC received a $500,000 grant for its aviation training program.
- PCC’s Manufacturing Technology programs support workforce development and training for the aerospace and defense sector in a variety of ways. Programs in Engineering, Machine Technology, Design and Prototyping, and Mechatronics support the sector in developing talent in design, prototyping, fabrication, automation, instrumentation and process control, and optics technology. These programs have received national accreditation and have strong connections with national and regional employers and K-12 systems in order to build a strong talent-supply system for the aerospace and defense sector.
- Thanks in large part to advances in technology, workforce education and training needs are changing rapidly. The College is responding by developing six Centers of Excellence (CoE) focused on Applied Technology, Information Technology, Health Professions, Public Safety & Security, the Arts, and Hospitality. The CoE’s allow for flexible, high-touch/high-tech training and innovative learning that students need in order to be prepared to succeed in today’s ever-changing, technology-driven workplace.
EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide is here to meet the growing educational needs and demands of the aviation and aerospace community. The Embry-Riddle campus – located on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – offers associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as undergraduate FAA Part 65 A & P certification to military, veteran, and civilians. Academic programs are available using multiple learning modalities, including online, classroom, and virtual classroom instruction.
PIMA COUNTY AEROSPACE RESEARCH CAMPUS
The Pima County Aerospace Research Campus is being developed to address the increasing need for supply chain locations for the aerospace industry and other key sector industries as well as imports/exports with Mexico. The property is mostly flat, virgin desert located immediately south of the Tucson International Airport complex and Raytheon Missile Systems.
With over 500 total acres available in planned lots ranging from 24 to 47 acres, users have the opportunity to consolidate and customize properties to meet their specific needs. This park is the initial portion of a larger planned industrial park that will encompass as much as 2,400 additional acres over time. Recent announcements of companies locating in the Park include Raytheon Missiles & Defense and World View Enterprises.
The aerospace and defense cluster is a leading contributor to the local economy in Southern Arizona. It encompasses over 200 local companies including a number of large international corporations with manufacturing facilities in Pima County. Here they make aircraft parts and equipment, or refurbish existing aircraft.
“The Southern Arizona labor market and important aerospace presence offers a large talent pool to support the service center’s continuing growth.”
Matthew Nichols, Bombardier company spokesman
Southern Arizona Space Industry (Deloitte Study 2018)
Southern Arizona has a solid foundation of competencies around optics, space situational awareness, and space and missile vehicle manufacturing.
To lead and grow, Southern Arizona is building on the following areas for growth:
- Manufacturing including space and missile systems, launch vehicles and subsystems, and satellite systems and subcomponents.
- Mining and energy including terrestrial resource extraction, resource extraction optimization, and associated technology development.
- Verification and validation capabilities including full-scale system testing, destructive testing, and lifecycle validation of volatile systems such as rocket engines and controlled explosives (separation, auto-termination, etc.)
- Enabling technologies and services for increased space launch cadence and supply including space situational awareness, orbital debris analysis, and orbital slot surveying.
The University of Arizona Space Facts:
- Arizona ranks fifth for NASA-funded activity.
- U.S. News & World Report ranked UArizona as the top two public university in space science. (2022)
- NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy called UArizona a “crown jewel” among U.S. universities doing space science research. She called the school a significant partner with a “towering reputation in astronomy, planetary science, and astrophysics.”
- UArizona has been involved in every Apollo Mission.
- UArizona led OSIRIS-REx NASA Mission where in 2020, the craft landed on the asteroid Bennu to sample and collect the asteroid’s organic material to be analyzed by UArizona researchers.
- $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope was launched in December 2021. The telescope captures every detail and the most in-depth look ever. Fourteen countries partnered and contributed to this space telescope.
- Astronomers realized early on that with its dark skies and great weather, Tucson was a great place to locate telescopes.
- UArizona is leading NASA’s HelioSwarm mission that will launch in 2028 to better understand plasma, the state of matter that makes up 99% of the visible universe.
The Space Industry cluster in Southern Arizona
FreeFall Aerospace develops lightweight and low-power antenna systems to move data for space and ground communications.
Phantom Space is a space transportation and rocket manufacturing startup based in Tucson.
Paragon Space Development, a Tucson-based company and global leader in life support and thermal control technologies, was recently awarded a long-term NASA contract to develop the next generation of space suits.
World View is a near-space exploration and technology company with the goal of increasing access to and the utilization of the stratosphere for scientific, commercial, economic and military purposes.
Raytheon provides end-to-end space solutions – from ground control systems to on-orbit sensors – to keep customers informed and ahead of the threat.
Lunasonde is a startup that focuses on subsurface imaging from space, and Exolaunch is a global leader in rideshare launch, development, and integrated services.
Ruda Optical is an optical design and assembly firm.
Airy Optics is an optical design and polarization analysis company.
Ascending Node develops technology for spacecraft mission designers.
Learn more about space in Tucson in the 2024 winter edition of BizTucson here.