Cantor fights for unwanted jet engine
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) projects himself as a staunch critic of government spending. He speaks against big government regularly and offers a "YouCut" service on the Web where ordinary voters can suggest ways to trim the federal budget.
When it comes to federal spending in Virginia, well, that's a different matter.
Cantor has led a charge to keep some $485 million in a $567 billion defense appropriation bill to help provide the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with an alternative engine that the Pentagon doesn't want. The House voted to keep the money in the budget, and the matter is now up to the Senate.
Lockheed-Martin, maker of the fighter that will replace the F-15, F-18 and F-16, has selected Pratt & Whitney (P&W) to make the engine to power the new aircraft.
P&W, however, doesn't have big operations in Virginia, but Rolls-Royce North America does, and it wants to make an alternative engine for the F-35 with partner General Electric.
Rolls-Royce North America moved its headquarters to Reston a few years ago. Plus, the firm is building a $500 million manufacturing facility to make aircraft engine parts just east of Petersburg in Prince George County. State economic development officials have high hopes that the new plant can help push the state into advanced manufacturing, which they think can be a sustainable provider of high-paying jobs.
To that end, former Gov. Timothy Kaine put together a welcome package totaling more than $54 million. As part of the deal, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech will lead a special center to push aeronautical engineering.
The project hit rough air in 2008, however. The initial plan had been for the new factory to make parts for corporate jets. But after several prominent CEOs had the bad sense to fly to Washington in corporate jets to ask Congress for huge bailouts during the financial crisis, the market for such aircraft crashed.
Now, Rolls Royce wants to make bladed discs for the F-35 engines at the plant, along with discs for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus models. It hopes to start building a special unit next year to make the F-35 parts.
Through a spokeswoman, Cantor says that he thinks the project is "worthwhile" and will help to generate jobs in Virginia and that he is willing to make up for the cost by cutting federal spending on other projects.
And even though the Pentagon doesn't want the alternative engine, history has shown that having one available can be a good thing. In World War II, for instance, the P-51 Mustang fighter started out with Allison engines, but the plane didn't achieve its legendary status until they were replaced by Merlin models.
Who made the Merlin? Rolls-Royce.
| June 9, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
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