Sunday, January 06, 2013

Stockton, California: Applied Aerospace flying high


STOCKTON - Honeycomb is the heart of business for Applied Aerospace Structures Corp. in Stockton.

Honeycomb - that's what the company calls its product that crisscrosses graphite and aluminum into uber-strong but lightweight metal posts and panels - is the core material used in most all of the Stockton manufacturer's designs for military aircraft parts, satellite construction and rockets.

"It's the basis of our business. It's strong and lightweight, which is needed for aircraft," CEO John Rule said.

Applied Aerospace Structures has found a growing niche, and it is landing contracts to design and build some of the most important - and coolest - pieces of aircraft, military and space technology parts being produced today.

Current projects include building what's called a radome, a 24-foot diameter, 1,800-pound sphere casing that the military mounts on top of aircraft, like the Hawkeye propeller plane. The radome holds radar and communications equipment to protect it from the elements without inhibiting its signals. The radar technology makes the military planes the "eyes of the fleet" and is used as an early warning aircraft.

"We are making six (radomes) a year, and that's going to increase to eight," Rule said, adding that Applied Aerospace is the only manufacturer in the nation that make radomes.

Rule would not reveal pricing for the radomes or the company's other products. Revenue figures for Applied Aerospace in 2009 were about $40 million annually, according to Record archives. It's one of the largest manufacturers of aircraft and aerospace products in Northern California. Aerojet in Sacramento is larger, Rule said.

With 330 employees at the Airport Way manufacturing center, Applied Aerospace also builds satellites and some parts of the rockets that shoot them into space. Using honeycomb, the company can build 1,200-pound rocket shells. One such rocket was scheduled to be finished before the new year and will be used to transport materials to the International Space Station, Rule said.

"We're hoping the companies we sell these to sell them like hotcakes," Rules said. The rocket shells are for one-time use. They shoot into space carrying a satellite and then peel off. The metal burns away when it re-enters into space.

"It's an expensive disposable product," Rule said.

Applied Aerospace is growing as its partners such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman increase demand for aerospace technology.

The company started in Stockton in 1956 making helicopter rotor blades. It expanded a decade later to include aerospace technology, Rule said.

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