May 30, 2022, © Leeham News: NIAR WEXR, the aerospace research arm of Wichita State University (WSU), will join with Precision Aircraft Solutions for passenger-to-freighter and MRO for the Airbus A321, Boeing 757, and the Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) MD-87.
NIAR WERX already converts and performs maintenance on MD-87s and it partnered with Kansas Modification Center to convert Boeing 777-300ERs into freighters. Kansas Mod is not part of the Precision Aircraft deal.
Although announced last week, NIAR and Precision have been working toward this arrangement for some time. NIAR already has been setting up conversion lines and tooling for the A321 and 757. Emphasis will be on the A321. The hangar to be used is a giant one previously used by Boeing for the 747-200 Air Force One work, which is now performed in San Antonio (TX). Four to five lines can be installed in the hangar. This gives the capacity to convert 12-24 aircraft per year. The first A321/757 lines will be ready in the third quarter this year, says David Jones, NIAR WERX executive director.
NIAR WERX isn’t well known, other than as a research arm of WSU. But it has performed engineering and modification work on the F-16 and F-18 jet fighters, the B-1 bomber, and Blackhawk and Apache helicopters. It’s also performed work on military derivatives of commercial aircraft, although Jones declined to specify which ones. (Most likely this includes the Boeing 737 and 767, the active Boeing commercial-military airplane programs today. Out-of-production Boeing 707-based KC-135s and Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) KC-10s might be others.)
Jones said NIAR is about six months away from obtaining a Supplemental Type Certificate for a Boeing 737-500 airplane used to contain oil spills.
The MD-87 modification work is for Erickson Air Tanker, which uses MD-87s for forest fire control. MD-87s replace Douglas DC-7s previously used by Erickson, which were retire last year. Jack Erickson is the principal owner of Precision Aircraft.
NIAR WERX, with Kansas Mod, is one of three companies converting 777-300ERs to freighters. The other two are IAI Bedek and Mammoth Freighters. A fourth company, Eastern Airlines, is pursuing a quasi-freighter conversion program for 777-200ERs, but without a main deck cargo door.