Officials cut ribbon for new Edmonds College fuselage lab

Officials participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony (L-R): Cassie Franklin, Larry Cluphf, Cameron Myers, Amit Singh, Rick Larsen, Dave Somers.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and several local and state elected officials participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the grand opening of Edmonds College’s new fuselage lab, located at the Washington Aerospace Training & Research (WATR) Center at Paine Field. This state-of-the-art facility will provide students with hands-on training using a Boeing 767 Tanker fuselage.

As the lead Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Larsen said that the new fuselage lab “represents a bold commitment to developing and growing a highly skilled aerospace workforce here in northwest Washington.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen highlights what the FAA Reauthorization Act does and how that helps to create and maintain jobs at Paine Field and Washington state.

“I want to be sure to say that because there are folks who want to grab that mantle,” Larsen said. “We need to invest in this skillset to maintain our leadership in the soon-to-be aerospace capital of the world because it certainly is one of the best trained women and men in the aerospace workforce.”

The 12-ton fuselage section – nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” – was donated by Boeing on June 16, 2023, to be used as a training tool for aerospace manufacturing students. It was converted into an aerospace manufacturing training lab, providing students with realistic, hands-on experience.

In May, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years, providing funding and setting priorities to enhance aviation safety, improve consumer protections, modernize infrastructure, advance technological innovation and strengthen the aviation workforce. The reauthorization allows the administration’s funding and legal authority to operate for five years through fiscal year 2028.

Larsen added that the FAA Reauthorization Act also “maintain[s] our leadership in aviation safety and innovation, strengthen and diversify the aviation workforce and make historic investments in sustainability, resilience, consumer protections and accessibility.” 

The act also includes:

-$60 million for workforce development grants to grow the next generation of aviation manufacturing workers, maintenance technicians and pilots.

-$12 million of the $60 million supports outreach and education opportunities to low-income and underrepresented communities in the aviation workforce.

-$4 billion annually in funding for the airport improvement program; $650 million of that goes to invest in small to medium-sized airports, including Paine Field and Bellingham International Airport.

“We need to – on purpose – promote and recruit people in these communities so that everybody has an opportunity to participate in a good job in aerospace,” Larsen said.

Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center Executive Director Larry Cluphf thanks many people who had worked with him during his career at the WATR Center. He retires on July 5.

Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center Executive Director Larry Cluphf, who is retiring July 5, said that the WATR Center’s 12-week training program had more than 4,300 students since the center’s opening in 2010. About 90% of these students worked in the manufacturing industry. Of those, 86% worked in the aerospace sector, he said. Cluphf added that retrofitting the Gray Ghost took two years to complete. 

“Imagine the logistics of trying to get a fuselage off the second-story balcony of a Boeing building, bring it across an airport, lift it over a building, make a customized cradle for it, and then maneuver it down and secure it in,” Cluphf said. “That was step one. It took a year.”

The second step involves turning the fuselage into a manufacturing lab, which includes adding electric wirings, insulation and air conditioning. “This allows [us] to train students on an actual airplane so they get the skillset before they actually set foot on the factory floor,” Cluphf said.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers recalls many employees had trouble finding skilled employees to work in the aerospace manufacturing business.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said she is proud to have the country’s only fuselage lab in Everett.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said that many employers in the aviation manufacturing industry have trouble finding skilled workers. “[The WATR Center] and the opportunities give everybody the training they need,” Somers said. “Paine Field is one of the premier aerospace centers in the world, and we need to keep it that way.”

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin recalled the need for workforce development when she was at a Paris Air Show before she was a mayor. “I was so proud to be on that trip with Larry and have you articulate all the great work that’s been happening here,” Franklin said. “This is the only fuselage for any college in the country. That is so impressive. So proud to have this in Everett.”

Edmonds College President Amit Singh expresses appreciation for the collaborative work between local businesses and different levels of government.

Edmonds College President Amit Singh thanked Larsen for his support in the college’s manufacturing program and collaboration with the WATR Center. “He and I have been in this building a couple of times, and he loves to come out and see what’s happening,” Singh said. “He also funded us for a program [where] we are expanding beyond aerospace – maritime and robotics. We got $1.3 million from his office. Thank you, Congressman Larsen.”

In 2023, Edmonds College partnered with the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Center (AMSC) and the WATR Center to provide specialized training for manufacturing jobs

Attendees climb up to see the interior of the Gray Ghost.

Edmonds College is the only West Coast college – out of 25 colleges – that was selected to participate in the program – the Manufacturing Imperative – Workforce Pipeline Challenge (MI-WPC). The nonprofit Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) launched the program last fall with support from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC). It aims to train more than 75,000 people nationwide for manufacturing jobs, and this workforce growth would have an economic impact of about $6 billion.

Cluphf led most of the attendees inside the Gray Ghost and showed the wirings and insulations that were designed as part of the lab. “The students will be able to see how important it is that they work together so that the parts fit properly,” he said. “Because their job will show what the next person can do on their job. This is instrumental in improving our quality assurance.”

Larry Cluphf gives a tour of the interior of the Gray Ghost where aerospace manufacturing students will be learning.

Cluphf spread his hand around the fuselage and said that there will be different stations where students identify 15 or 20 flaws in a product or design. “They’ll be able to send their [quality assurance] team in and identify those marks. That way we can train the inspectors on an actual aircraft.” These inspections include seats, vent and electrical installations. 

Cluphf said that the fuselage lab is ready to go. Students may come in and start learning and practicing.

“Investing in people is just as important in investing in roads, taxiways and runways,” Larsen said. “To build these airplanes…we’ll need to invest in those folks.”

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

  1. Larry Cluphf is an exemplary leader and genuine advocate for students. He worked super hard to have all the pieces in place. We wish him well in his life iof retirement, with his beautiful wife., Cathy Ann. Both, have dedicated their lives to giving to others. May they be blessed. Much success to the center!

  2. Larry Cluphf has pioneered and led this highly innovative program with brilliance and tenacity. His belief in having students have a real hands on experience will lead to a higher level of airplane safety for all of us. We thank you for your herculean efforts to make this happen and make our world a safer place to navigate. Congratulations on your well deserved retirement! May you leave knowing how much you have contributed to this invaluable program at Edmonds College.

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