Tulsa Aviation: A Storied Past with a Bright Future
By CHARLES CANTRELL
BUILDING FOR TOMORROW: NORDAM stands out among all the successful, locally owned and operated aerospace companies to have grown out of the city’s enduring entrepreneurial-friendly culture. Pictured here are NORDAM stakeholders working on a G450 composite thrust reverser.
Courtesy of NORDAM
Editors Note: This is the 18th and final article in this series about the growth of the aviation industry in greater Tulsa and throughout the region. Throughout the series we have explored the many unique contributions Tulsa and Tulsans have made to the advancement of the aviation industry locally, regionally, nationally and worldwide. The editors of GTR Newspapers want to especially thank Kim Jones, curator for the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, for assisting with his bountiful knowledge in verifying the factual content of this series and to the museum for permission to use many of the wonderful historic photos in the series. We also wish to thank Joshua Peck, Curator for the Tulsa Historical Society for his help and assistance in the creation of this series and also for the use of historic photos from that museum’s archive. Tulsa is blessed to have these two fine institutions devoted to preserving the city’s wonderful past. Everyone interested in Tulsa history should take time to visit these fine museums.
Throughout this series we have looked at the many unique facets comprising Tulsa and Oklahoma’s aviation industry story. The series has looked at the vibrant growth resulting from the partnering of Tulsa’s early day oil industry and the birth of aviation in America. We’ve looked at how an unlikely and relatively small city located in the center of the great plains of North America grew into a world player in aviation. How the city’s work force and leadership time and again met the challenge of the day. We’ve met the many pioneers who invariably pushed the envelope taking calculated, and sometimes totally intuitive, risks to further the cause of human flight. Whether it was oilman Frank Phillips partnering with aviator Willey Post to create the first pressurized fight suite enabling high altitude flight and the consequential discovery of the jet stream or WWI fighter pilot, Charlie Short seeing to it that Tulsa Municipal Airport would be home for the 125th Observation Squadron, the first aviation group of the Oklahoma National Guard, each chapter of the story and every player have been uniquely Tulsa. And through it all there has been a common thread. From the start there have always been entrepreneurs with the vision and wisdom to know where aviation was headed and how to position their businesses and the city to remain a vital part of the future of aerospace.
In fact, as the city’s oil industry matured and most of the oil in and around Tulsa and Oklahoma had been pulled from the ground fueling much of the nation’s industrial growth, two world wars and the growth of the city’s aviation industry, there remained that same stubborn entrepreneurial spirit that was there from the start to drive the industry forward. Tulsan Butch Walker started a tiny jet engine repair company in a hangar at Tulsa International Airport owned by aviation enthusiast Roger Hardesty. The two partnered and grew BizJet into one of the premier corporate jet maintenance facilities in the world. As late as 1980, Mingo Aerospace LLC, spun off from its parent company, Mingo Manufacturing, Inc., a diversified manufacturer with an emphasis in petroleum related products to become a worldwide provider of CNC machined components and assemblies for the aerospace industry.
In addition to the many locally owned companies springing up over the years, multinational companies like American Airlines, Amerek, Lufthansa Technik, Honeywell, Standard Aero, Spirit Aerosystems and regional companies like Southwest United Industries would see fit to establish and maintain a presence in and around Tulsa’s vibrant aerospace industry. The cumulative effect of these companies continues to sustain Tulsa as an aerospace hub.
Among all the locally owned and operated aerospace companies to have grown out of the city’s enduring entrepreneurial friendly culture, one stands out as exemplary for how to combine vision, business savvy, dedication and hard work to build a world class company. Tulsa’s own NORDAM best illustrates what is unique and special about Tulsa aviation. The company was founded in 1969 by Ray Siegfried, a third generation Tulsan who over the next 35 years directed the company into a renown global aerospace corporation operating ten facilities on four continents and employing more than 2,900 employees with revenues in excess of half a billion dollars. Under his leadership the privately owned company established a reputation as an innovator, developing new technology and repair solutions for business jet, commercial transport, and military aircraft. In the tradition of city leaders who came before him, Siegfried and NORDAM have consistently served the Tulsa community with honor and generosity.
Ray Siegfried passed away in 2005 and today NORDAM is headed by CEO and chairman, Ken Lackey, whose leadership continues based on the foundation and principles established by the company’s founder.
In May of this year Lackey made a presentation to Tulsa Rotary in which he presented an overview of the status of Tulsa’s aerospace industry and what the future holds for one of the city’s and the region’s major industries. What better way to end this series of articles than with a look into the future through the eyes of one with the expertise and vision to know what’s in store for Tulsa’s 80-year old industry.
Briefly stated Lackey’s presentation had this to say about the future of the aerospace industry and its impact on Tulsa. Research by the Aerospace Industry Association based on new orders, shipments and backorders in recent years supports continued robust growth in the worldwide aerospace market. Tulsa’s aerospace industry is positioned well to address the current and projected developments in the industry by primarily providing OEM/aftermarket manufacturing capabilities along with maintenance, repair and overhaul services to the three major segments of the industry -– business and general aviation aircraft, commercial aircraft and military aircraft.
Emerging and established economies around the world will continue to generate market demand for business and private aircraft. Larger companies and high net worth individuals increasingly place a premium on the ease and efficiency provided by private aircraft over commercial air travel. The future is bright for general aviation and Tulsa is well positioned with ample general aviation maintenance services and OEM/aftermarket manufacturing capabilities to benefit from this trend.
Commercial aviation is entering a new era in which aging fleets of economically inefficient planes will be replaced by lightweight more energy efficient aircraft to help defer ever-rising fuel costs. This development will require planes to use advanced composite materials, an engineering and design area in which NORDAM and other Tulsa aerospace companies have well-established expertise.
In addition, aging commercial aircraft will require increased maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) along with aftermarket retrofitting until such time as they are replaced. Many airlines do not consider these services as part of their core business. They outsource these services and this bodes well for maintenance, repair and overhaul service companies. Tulsa aerospace industry is poised to make considerable contributions in this area of the industry.
Regarding military aircraft the picture differs in that prediction are for a slight overall decline in the global military aircraft fleet. Few if any new military aircraft programs appear on the horizon. Consequently demand for MRO services for military aircraft will grow and this too fits Tulsa aerospace capabilities.
All indications are Tulsa will remain an aviation hub with a bright future. And so the story of the city’s long love affair with aviation will continue rooted in a proud past, anchored in the present with vibrant leadership, a premium work force of dedicated professionals and as always with dead reckoning on the future of flight.