This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to tour the Sikorsky helicopter facility in Stratford, Connecticut. The company is locked in a fierce competition with Lockheed over who gets to make the next Marine One. I won't take a position (yet) on which contractor's chopper best suits the president, but I do admit the tour of Sikorsky's main factory was impressive. "Connecticut is a blue state, but this installation is all red," one of the reps told me. And I believe it. Enormous American flags hung from the hangar lofts while burly, bearded men donning American flag t-shirts refined blade spindles and assembled gearboxes. About 40 Stratford plant employees have served or are currently serving in the Middle East.
Seven other journalists and myself were then taken through a hangar where EH-60 Blackhawks were being worked on--some of them destined for Iraq, a few for Colombia. I asked one of the vice presidents about the Blackhawks in Iraq (the Army owns more than 1,500 of them). "We're constantly trying to improve their flaw tolerance," he told me, but added that almost every single Blackhawk that returns to its base comes back with at least one bullet hole in it.
We then entered the Executive Transport Center and stood less than 100 yards from the super-secret sector classified as "Yankee-White-Clearance." Beyond that the rest of the reporters and I speculated on what we saw. The Sikorsky officials wouldn't even acknowledge there was anything there, as if it were invisible. Said one, "I ask that you don't write about that." And so, in the interest of national security, I won't. (But I think I saw two pilots who looked a lot like Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine.)
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