HOOKSETT — The Growler jet made it to the number one slot on the U.S. Navy’s Wish List — known in Washington, D.C., budget parlance as an “unfunded priority” — and Boeing has pushed forward with a nationwide campaign to rally employees and politicians to get the $1.32 billion in federal funds needed next year for 22 more of them.
On Friday, about 500 employees of GE Aviation wore black T-shirts with “Growler Hornet” in gold and white lettering atop an “18,” courtesy of Boeing and gathered under an enormous white tent to munch on barbecue chicken and ribs. Earlier, employees had the opportunity to try out a flight simulator for the Growler, which was trucked in for the rally.
It was the seventh stop on Boeing’s nationwide campaign to fund the EA-18, as the Growler is formerly known for electronic attack aircraft.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen went table to table during the rally greeting employees, after which she took to the podium to assure them there was bipartisan support for the Growler, the Boeing-made fighter jet that company officials say jams enemy radar so other U.S. planes can attack undetected.
She said Congress has rolled back some of the automatic budget cuts that were to take place because of sequestration, but she feared if Congress did not find ways to work together and eliminate the automatic cuts, the country’s industrial production will be adversely affected.
Shaheen said she would be working on the Growler funding with bipartisan support, and hoped it would make it into the budget for FY 2015.
“The work you do makes such a huge difference,” she told the employees.
Representatives of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter also attended, as they read letters from both, stating that they too supported the funding.
Michael K. Gibbons, Boeing vice president of the F/A-19 and EA-18 Programs for Boeing Military Aircraft, came in from Washington to address workers and answer media questions. He said the Growler is the only aircraft that not only can be used on aircraft carriers, but supports every other branch of the military.
The U.S. Navy already has 138 on order, but now wants an additional 22, at a cost of $60 million apiece.
GE Aviation, which has been in Hooksett since 1968 and has grown from 50 to about 750 employees, makes parts for the engines, which are manufactured in Lynn, Mass.
“The Hooksett team has been vital to the success of the engine,” said Alan DiLibero, GE Aviation vice president of the Lynn Turbofan/Turbojet Department.
He said GE Aviation has made 1,400 F414 engines and has delivered each on time. “That’s truly an impressive performance,” he said.
After the rally, Shaheen tried out the flight simulator. Guided by John Keeven, manager of Boeing Flight Simulation Naval Programs, the senator soared into the sky but, when it was time to land, she was too high and overshot the runway.
Keeven pushed a reset button and the senator was soaring once again, whereby on her second try she lined the Growler up perfectly, landing the jet without a hitch.
“Nicely done,” Keeven told her.