If the U.S. Navy chooses Wallops Island Flight Facility as a base for its new MQ-4C Triton surveillance aircraft, it will mean 400 new jobs and a possible economic boost of $400 million in the tristate area.
The Navy has three potential spots in mind to station the Triton – Wallops and facilities in Key West and Mayport, near Jacksonville, Fla.
State officials are expected to decide the location in late summer.
Meantime, officials including Gov. Larry Hogan, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have sent letters to the Pentagon asking that Wallops be chosen.
Wicomico County Council President John Cannon, County Executive Bob Culver and Mayor Jake Day, as well as Sen. Jim Mathias and Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, are also strongly in favor, as are members of the Wallops Island Regional Alliance.
“I’m certainly excited about it,” said an upbeat Cannon.
“I think it will certainly guarantee Wallops’ future as far as being a player, part of NASA. They are closing down a lot of bases. This is a good way to guarantee Wallops is going to stay open,” Cannon said.
County Executive Bob Culver said the economic impact would certainly extend to Wicomico County, since many residents of the Eastern Shore of Virginia travel to Salisbury to shop, particularly at holidays.
The Worcester County Commissioners also sent a letter of support to the Pentagon.
Peter Bale, chairman of the Alliance, explained Triton aircraft would be based at Wallops, which would become its operational facility.
At first, four of the drones would be on site, with as many as eight eventually arriving.
“All of the platforms are being built in California by Northrop Grumman, so the Triton wouldn’t be built here, but there would be as many as 400 jobs here that would support the Triton’s functions — getting vehicles ready for flight, basic maintenance, refueling aircraft — all the things a small facility would offer,” Bale told the Salisbury Independent this week.
Triton’s missions will include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance patrol, signals intelligence, search and rescue and communications relay, according to the Northrop Grumman Web site.
The aircraft can fly more than 24 hours at a time at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.
The unmanned aircraft can travel as fast as 357 mph. It’s 47.6 feet long, 15.4 feet high and weighs 32,250 pounds.
“We’re in a wait-and-see mode. Wallops is an ideal place for Triton. It’s not impacted by hurricanes like the Florida folks could face,” Bale said.
The Global Hawk, from the same pedigree as Triton, already flies into Wallops.
“It comes back and forth and bases out of Wallops for hurricane season,” Bale explained.
Mathias said he is pleased his discussions with Delaware leaders resulted in their endorsement. He called Wallops “the perfect centralized mid-Atlantic location, in close proximity to Naval Air Station Patuxent River and the Navy’s active Hampton Roads corridor.”
“We need the Eastern Shore to be the epicenter for these tech jobs,” Mathias said. About half its workforce lives on the Lower Shore.
Wallops, he said, “grabbed national attention in recent years for sending Air Force satellites into orbit aboard the Minotaur I rocket, for NASA’s moon probe LADEE and the Antares rocket launch.
“We have a proud tradition on the Shore that our kids grow up to be bright and productive members of our community, from farmers to firefighters. Now let’s talk about adding rocket scientists to that list,” Mathias said.
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.