On 25 August, Airbus Helicopters, Inc. celebrated the 20th anniversary of its industrial site in Columbus, Mississippi (MS) with a retrospective—and a look ahead.

Under skies as colourful as the Mississippi flag, an audience of employees and elected officials applauded the addition to Airbus’ Columbus facility: a display H125 aircraft right by the entrance, with a very Mississippi livery. The magnolia flower was just one reason to cheer.

“We are an entrepreneurial business at heart,” says Johannes Dienemann, Vice PresidentIndustry and Civil Programs at the facility. “Many of our employees have stories of working their way up into leadership roles.”

A truth that dates from the start. Veronica Harris, Supervisor of Planning and Control, was first hired as a security guard, just a year after ground was broken. “My children have grown up while I’ve been at Airbus, so we’ve become a family here,” she says.

 Yet why build a manufacturing site far from headquarters (Grand Prairie, TX) in an area that was not exactly known for high-tech business? The answer lay in the location: the tri-city “Golden Triangle” of economic cooperation provided a ready technical workforce, consisting of about 35% military veterans who could put their skills to use. It also lay in the political support that the area provided. The state was eager to work with Industry in creating jobs and in planting seeds for economic growth. The Golden Triangle has since attracted several other key industrial players.

 From the start, tireless production
Over the years, work came in strong. A few examples: Airbus started with the re-engining of several US Coast Guard H-65 Dauphin aircraft. This was followed by close to 500 Lakotas – 463 UH-72A and 18 UH-72B models for the US Army, five for the US Naval Test Pilot School, and a handful of aircraft for the Royal Thai Army. Roughly two dozen H125 aircraft were built for Customs and Border Protection. And the first wave of US Army National Guard aircraft is starting to come back to Mississippi for an upgrade to its Security & Support Battalion mission equipment package, the first of which was delivered back in 2010.  “This is significant for us but also for the US Army because those aircraft are flying and protecting our nation,” says Dienemann. 

 It would be easy to cite the close to 500 UH-72A and UH-72B aircraft delivered to the Army as success, but the Columbus facility has notched other achievements, too. In 2014, the plant began building the H125/AStar, producing 30 to 40 a year of this popular model. What’s more, over 1,000 newly manufactured or retrofitted helicopters for commercial, medical and law enforcement missions are proof of the facility’s flexibility and its role in creating a safer and tighter-knit society. Look up in any US city and you’re likely to see a Columbus-built aircraft.

 Homegrown and hard-working
Starting with the first 7 employees to 300 today, the site’s impact in creating jobs and opportunities is evident. Veronica Harris is a case $in point; first a security guard then an administrative assistant, she grew interested in Planning and Operations. “I loved everything about shopfloor control. They were the go-getters. I wanted to become a planner.” She now leads her own “busy, busy” team, juggling evolutions such as preparing new programmes like the H160.

Meanwhile, customisation on the first two H160s, recently certified by the FAA, has begun. Twenty years, and the spirit in Columbus is as much go-get-‘em as ever.

Airbus Helicopters, Inc. Columbus, Mississippi by the numbers
1,700+ deliveries
480+ Lakota UH-72 aircraft
500+ H125 aircraft
60+ Department of Homeland Security aircraft
500+ Retrofit modifications
200+ Completions
12 Re-engined MH-65 aircraft

Mississippi H125 static display
The H125 helicopter that now graces the entrance to the Columbus facility joins other display aircraft at Airbus Helicopters sites in France, Germany, Spain and Canada. Its paint scheme reflects its American heritage, as well as that of its home state. The new state flag of Mississippi, a magnolia flower and stars, was ratified in 2021; it is known as the Magnolia flag, featuring red, gold, blue and white. Like the 500 other H125 aircraft that have left the Mississippi facility, the display H125 is a symbol of “what a helicopter is made for: saving lives and protecting the nation,” says Johannes Dienemann.

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