ILC Dover of Frederica has leased approximately one-fourth of the long-closed Sunroc plant in Dover to expand its capability to manufacture airships that monitor terrorist activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Sunroc facility, formerly the site of a large water cooler manufacturer, has been vacant since the company left Dover almost five years ago, taking with it more than 120 jobs. The 250,000-square-foot building on Starlifter Avenue, east of Dover, is owned by the Montchanin Development Corporation of Wilmington.
ILC makes the lighter-than-air vehicles, known as aerostats, for the U.S. Army under a contract with the Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corporation.
ILC spokesman Brad Walters said the company has manufactured the vehicles for 25 years, but required more room to accommodate the giant airships.
“We did some research locally in Kent and Sussex counties and ended up with the Sunroc facility. We can’t build them all in Frederica.”
The lease is expected to bring several dozen new jobs to the county, at least on a temporary basis.
“Our production right now goes through December,” Walters said. “The lease is for a year. We’re hoping to get additional units, but we’re waiting for funding.”
The ILC-built aerostats are 208.5 feet long, measure 69.5 feet in diameter and can carry a ton of payload as high as 15,000 feet. The height at which they fly and their construction make them difficult targets for ground-based attacks.
Similar vehicles are in use along the U.S. southern border to monitor illegal immigration.
“They allow a radar package to be deployed so they can do surveillance of activity on the ground,” Walters said. “It allows the good guys to see what the bad guys are doing.”
When coupled with the radar and its ground-based support and analyzing components, the aerostats are known in Army lingo as the Persistent Threat Detection System.
Inflated with helium, the PTDS vehicles are tethered to the ground via cables. They are constructed of layers of laminated cloth that retain the helium for long periods of time.
Because of the upsurge in need for the aerostats, ILC already has added 40 new jobs at its Frederica plant, Walters said, and expects to add more there and at the Dover site.
“It will be a combination of hiring and transferring people,” he said. “We’ll bring in some new people to the Frederica facility and when it gets running full speed we’ll probably be adding 30 to 40 more.”
Although his organization was not involved in securing the Sunroc plant for ILC, Kent Economic Partnership CEO Dan Wolfensberger is pleased at least some of the facility again will be productive.
“It’s all good news, obviously,” he said. “We’re tickled. It’s activity at the Sunroc building, it’s activity overall, so it’s all extremely positive.”
Page 2 of 2 - Wolfensberger said his group has been trying to attract industries to the plant to include flowers, pottery and leather from Central and South American nations, but the job has not been easy, given the current economy.
“The president of the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce is working to make it happen, but it’s been difficult for them to raise money.”
Long known for manufacturing suits for the U.S. space program, ILC also holds a number of contracts for the defense department. The aerostat program is one more the company is pleased to be working on, Walters said.
Email Jeff Brown at email@example.com.