Wichita State partners with Rocket City to aid military readiness

Two Wichita State University organizations have established a solid presence in Alabama’s largest metropolitan area.

The National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) and FirePoint Innovations Center recently hosted a grand opening event at the Big Spring Summit in the heart of downtown Huntsville, Alabama, showcasing 6,000 square feet of newly renovated space in the building.

Strategically located near the Redstone Arsenal, a hotbed of Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA aviation development, the satellite location allows NIAR and FirePoint to accelerate collaboration with Huntsville-based military units and their collaborators and provides the ability to conveniently hold meetings and events in downtown Huntsville, rather than obtaining clearance for visitors on base.

The grand opening celebration drew a crowd of more than 50 military, industry and university constituents, and included remarks from U.S. Senator Jerry Moran; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Major General Thomas W. O’Connor Jr., U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command; WSU President Rick Muma; FirePoint executive director Steve Cyrus; and John Tomblin, WSU senior vice president for Industry and Defense Programs and NIAR executive director.

“Wichita State’s presence in Huntsville paves the way for a new era of collaboration and innovation, forging strong connections with the defense industry and offering our students valuable experiences to shape the future of aerospace technology,” said Muma.

Those in attendance were in agreement that the relationship between Wichita State, Huntsville and the military is based on simultaneously strengthening the warfighter and the economy.

“This is about a better economy for our country through the acceleration of science, technology and research; but perhaps more importantly, it is about defending our country in a time in which our adversaries are real,” said Senator Moran. “It’s that much more rewarding to celebrate job creation and economic growth when it is built on efforts to strengthen our nation’s defense.”

“What we end up with is a product that is a center of excellence for aerospace whether its rockets, whether it’s airplanes, whether its flying machinery, whether it’s missiles,” said Battle. “We end up with a center of excellence that protects the warfighter and protects the country.”

Both NIAR and FirePoint conduct research with Redstone Arsenal units including the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center; Aviation and Missile Command; Program Executive Office of Aviation; and Material Command.

MG O’Connor praised Wichita State’s relationship with and support for the military, citing creative methodologies have pushed people to achieve outstanding results.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “If you look across the geopolitical environment, there are a lot of challenges that face our nation and our way of life, and there’s no doubt it that it’s going to take a collective effort to figure out how to remain ahead and create a strong national defense.”

NIAR’s office suite includes workspaces for six employees and a 22-seat conference room with a city-view and adjoining hospitality and flexible lounge space. Huntsville-based staff are currently focused primarily on programs related to additive manufacturing and hypersonic material development.

“Linking these two cities together in the development and support of future air and space vehicles will allow us to propel the U.S. forward in world leadership in aerospace,” said Tomblin. “Looking at future needs of long-range precision fires, hypersonics and advanced materials, the world of space and aviation will continue to collide. This expansion into Huntsville will aid in that by combining the strengths of the Air Capital of the World and Rocket City.”

FirePoint’s new Applied Innovation Center (AIC) in Huntsville is a collaboration, prototyping and testbed facility aimed at accelerating technology discovery and adoption throughout Army Aviation. The new facility features two on-site prototyping and testing labs along with the resources to support partnership collaboration between private-sector emerging technology companies that might otherwise go undiscovered, to tailor commercial solutions for Army Aviation specific requirements.

It also provides an open avenue for small, cutting-edge companies to get introduced to the DoD and overcome some of the challenges non-traditional businesses face in the defense market.

This early-stage collaboration lowers risk for both the Army and non-traditional tech firms. For Army Aviation, it provides an opportunity to integrate and test private-sector technologies to ensure compatibility prior to acquisition. For small businesses, it shrinks the yearslong process and steep financial investment required to sell technologies into DoD and allows them to engineer specific solutions based on clear need, direction and collaboration.

Ultimately, that means getting cutting-edge technologies into the Army Aviation pipeline faster and more economically for both sides.

About Wichita State University

Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling more than 23,000 students between its main campus and WSU Tech, including students 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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