In what appears to signal a significant milestone in the growth of the stealth bomber program, Northrop said Wednesday that it will hire 4,500 new workers in the remainder of this year, primarily in Southern California.
The Los Angeles aerospace firm declined to specify how exactly those workers will be distributed among its various operations, but at least a substantial number of them are expected to be assigned to the stealth program. The company did say that employment would increase at most of its divisions.
Northrop Chairman Thomas V. Jones said at the firm's annual shareholders meeting Tuesday that Northrop's employment now stands at 42,500, an indication that the company already has added 1,500 employees this year.
On another matter, Jones said the company intends to continue marketing the F-20 jet fighter to the Air Force, despite the crash of one of its two F-20 test aircraft Tuesday. "Any loss is obviously bad, but I think the long-term effect can only be determined when we know the cause of the accident," Jones told reporters after the meeting.
John J. Richardson, Northrop vice president of industrial relations, said about 70% or about 3,000 of the new jobs will be scattered at five plants in Southern California and the balance at its defense electronics plant in suburban Chicago and its gyroscope manufacturing plant in Norwood, Mass.
The hiring will boost employment by several hundred at each of the firm's major employment divisions around Los Angeles, including its electro-mechanical in Anaheim, electronics in Hawthorne and unmanned aircraft in Newbury Park, a company spokeswoman added.
But the largest single effect of the new hiring is expected to be felt at the firm's advanced systems division in Pico Rivera, which is currently developing the stealth bomber under contract to the Air Force.
Much Activity Evident
Northrop is prevented by law from discussing the program, but a high level of activity is evident in the stealth operations. Northrop posted a 34% surge in first-quarter sales. Its aircraft segment sales jumped $299 million, and much of that is believed to be from stealth revenues.
The firm is currently building a large aircraft assembly plant in Palmdale, which is known within aerospace circles as the final assembly site for the stealth plane.
In addition, Northrop completed just last week the construction of a 72,000-square-foot office building at its Pico Rivera site, a former automobile factory, and will begin building a structure of similar size within weeks, according to Pico Rivera city officials. It is also expected to start soon on another 40,000-square-foot addition.
Those additions have followed the construction of more than 700,000 square feet of space in the past 2 1/2 years at Pico Rivera.
Since Northrop bought the Pico Rivera site, it has invested $70 million in the sprawling facility. Pico Rivera city planner John Walker said the facility could accommodate up to 10,000 workers.
Richardson, the Northrop vice president, said about 60% of the 4,500 hires will be engineers and 40% will be skilled aerospace craftsmen, such as tool makers and technicians.
The big hiring push at Northrop comes just as other major aerospace firms are aggressively hiring engineers to meet the increasing demands of Pentagon customers. Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell International all have rapidly accelerating aircraft programs and are advertising heavily for engineers and other skilled workers. Last week, Rockwell announced layoffs of 900 at its space shuttle operation, something of a fluke in a generally robust job market.
"There is a shortage of professional engineers in the disciplines unique to our business," Richardson acknowledged.