NIAR and Erickson Precision Ventures unveil inaugural aircraft conversion program


At a media event and celebration today, Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) WERX and Erickson Precision Ventures, LLC announced their first collaborative passenger to freighter (P2F) conversion program of an Airbus 321.  

In May, the duo announced a collaborative agreement to perform as many as 24 conversions per year beginning in 2023, including modification, maintenance and engineering of the aircraft.

“The NIAR team, resources and facilities offer 321 Precision Conversions a unique opportunity to add an expansive mod center to our portfolio of installation facilities, said Gary Warner, Erickson Precision Ventures president. “The scale of the operations here in Wichita are truly impressive, and seeing the level of support from Wichita State University levels gives us all the confidence in the future of the program.”

The A321 P2F conversion is the newest addition to the NIAR WERX portfolio, which also includes P2F and special mission conversions. 

“We’re thrilled to add another aircraft to the NIAR conversion portfolio,” said NIAR WERX Executive Director David Jones. “The agreement with Erickson Precision Ventures allows us to continue to train and prepare Wichita State and WSU Tech students for careers in aviation maintenance and engineering, while expanding the expertise and capability of the Wichita and Kansas workforce.”

In addition to full-time engineers and engineering students at WSU-NIAR, the conversion program will involve the efforts of WSU Tech students through the Get to WERX program. Get to WERX is an earn-and-learn program that offers full-time, paid employment with NIAR WERX while progressing through WSU Tech’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program and simultaneously earning credits towards the Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree in Organizational Leadership and Learning at Wichita State.

“We have seen the incredible impact made on students’ education when starting day one with employment and day two with their education,” said Sheree Utash, President of WSU Tech. “Through the Get to WERX program, they gain real-world, practical experience under the mentorship of experienced engineers and mechanics at NIAR WERX. This collaboration increases and diversifies the opportunities our students have to gain invaluable lessons, experiences and skills.”

WSU President Rick Muma has championed the NIAR WERX MRO program as a critical component of WSU’s vision for providing applied learning opportunities to its students and fulfilling its mission to be an economic driver for Kansas.

“Over the past year or so, the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul program has been an essential driver in fueling the talent pipeline through career training and education for our students, as well as full-time employment for aircraft and engineering professionals in southcentral Kansas,” said Rick Muma, president of Wichita State. “The MRO has also been a fundamental force in advancing the overall prosperity of Kansas by further establishing our reputation as the Air Capital of the World.”

The announcement was attended by special guests including U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, and Erickson Founder Jack Erickson.

“We were especially honored to host Jack Erickson for the announcement and celebration,” said John Tomblin, WSU senior vice president for Industry and Defense Programs and NIAR executive director. “To engage and gain the trust of such respected and established organization as Erickson is a testament to the talent and work ethic of the WSU-NIAR WERX team.”

“Having been in the passenger to freighter conversion business since 2001, converting over 150 aircraft to date, we see the NIAR/ WERX relationship as truly unique,” said Erickson. “The opportunity to plan and execute maintenance and modifications for our businesses, collaboratively with NIAR WERX, offers the potential to meld their research, engineering and technical resources to better serve our customers for the next twenty years.”

Moran and Masterson have been strong proponents for economic impact projects in the region, which has provided Wichita State University the opportunities and support needed to build and expand the MRO program at NIAR WERX.

“Our workforce in Kansas is talented, energetic and eager to contribute to and support the ever-growing aviation industry across the country,” said Moran. “As NIAR continues to build Kansas’ premier air vehicle development and modification center, more partnerships and opportunities will land in Wichita.”

“The benefit to the State of Kansas from this agreement is significant,” said Masterson. “In addition to helping prepare WSU students for the real world through applied learning in the aviation sector, the program continues the trajectory of ensuring that the MRO infrastructure will be rebuilt and maintained in Kansas over the long haul.”

About Wichita State University

Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling more than 16,000 students on its main campus and 9,000 students on its WSU Tech campuses from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Wichita State and WSU Tech are recognized for being student centered and innovation driven.

Located in the largest city in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the United States of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wichita State University provides uniquely distinctive and innovative pathways of applied learning, applied research and career opportunities for all of our students.

The Innovation Campus, which is a physical extension of the Wichita State University main campus, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing research/innovation parks, encompassing over 120 acres and is home to a number of global companies and organizations.

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NIAR WERX, a division of Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, provides engineering, modification/repair/overhaul, environmental test and flight test/certification services. The NIAR WERX team includes a total of 425 program managers, engineers, contractors, technicians and paid applied learning students.

About NIAR

Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research provides research, testing, certification and training for aviation and manufacturing technologies. Established in 1985, NIAR has a +$190 million annual budget; 1,100 employees and nearly 1.6 million square feet of laboratory and office space in six locations across the city of Wichita, the Air Capital of the World. NIAR laboratories include Additive Manufacturing, Advanced Coatings, Advanced Manufacturing, Ballistics/Impact Dynamics, Composites/Advanced Materials, Crash Dynamics, Digital Twin, Engineering Design/Modification, Environmental/ Electromagnetic Test, Full-Scale Structural Test, Nondestructive Test, Reverse Engineering, Robotics/Automation, Virtual Engineering, eXtended Reality and the Walter H. Beech Wind Tunnel.