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Pioneers in the Aerospace Industry

Aviation and Aircraft Manufacturers

Product development at Universal Avionics.Satellite communications at Iridium.

Arizona’s aviation industry contributes $38.5 billion to the economy and more than 470,000 jobs, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. From travel and tourism to aerospace manufacturing and commercial aviation, Arizona’s expertise is extensive.

Beyond aviation and aircraft, a large amount of revenue comes from the development of emerging technologies that support aerospace development. An array of Arizona companies build components and accessories for aircraft and defense systems. These companies provide cutting-edge products to NASA, the Department of Defense, and other national and international entities. Arizona is ranked among the top ten for Department of Defense contracts, with $12.1 billion in contracts awarded in and leads the industry in the production of uninhabited aerial vehicles, aircraft, missiles, space vehicles, environmental control suits, radar systems, and satellite communications.

Many of these companies not only contribute jobs, but foster education partnerships to create a qualified workforce right here in Arizona. Boeing alone contributed $225,000 to Arizona university programs and scholarships in 2011.

Aircraft Manufacturers


Watch a time lapse of the production and flight of the AH-64D Apache Block III helicopter

The Boeing Company has been a major employer in Arizona for more than 30 years. Tracing its history to various founding fathers—including Howard Hughes, Jr., and James McDonnell—the company recorded significant accomplishments in vertical flight throughout the 20th century, and continues to shine in the area of innovation in the 21st century Arizona sun. Boeing’s diversified footprint in the state includes: AH-64D Apache Helicopter production and testing; headquarters to Boeing Unmanned Airborne Systems; a Strategic Fabrication Center producing electrical subassemblies; and maintaining border security integrated fixed towers.

Boeing employs a workforce of nearly 5,000 in Arizona (mainly based in Mesa), and spends $1.1 billion annually with a network of 578 Arizona suppliers to serve a global market. Company charitable, business and employee contributions were $2 million in 2011, and employees volunteered more than 8,500 hours in the community. Boeing contributed $225,000 to Arizona university programs and scholarships in 2011. Boeing is an important partner in the Mesa Public Schools Flight Center.

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is a global leader in the design, manufacture and support of military aircraft. Their Goodyear, Arizona plant focuses on information systems for defense and security. The maker of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the new F-35 Lightening, for which Luke Air Force Base was just selected as the nation’s premiere training center, also makes advanced targeting and navigation technologies. Discover the Lockheed Martin’s radar development in Goodyear.

Northrop Grumman

The MQ-8B Fire Scout has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones.

Northrop Grumman is a premier provider of manned and unmanned aircraft, space systems, missile systems and advanced technologies critical to the nation’s security. Steve Pedigo, Army Corporate Lead Executive for Northrop Grumman, believes southern Arizona is an excellent place for the test and evaluation of upcoming systems. The company employs 800 people in Sierra Vista, and collaborates with the University of Arizona, Raytheon, and Luke Air Force Base, among others. Read more about Northrop Grumman’s unmanned aerial vehicles and their importance in Arizona.

Honeywell, Inc. collaborates to build the Boeing 787—a marvel of commercial aerospace technology.


Arizona boasts 81 airports, including three international airports. In Phoenix, Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix Goodyear, and Phoenix Deer Valley contribute 305,000 jobs with a $33 billion impact to the state. Sky Harbor alone employs more than 33,000 Arizonans and generates $8.2 billion in revenues.

Tucson International Airport (TIA), employing nearly 13,000 Arizonans, and Yuma International Airport (YUM) account for another 200 flights daily. Both these airports have strong ties to the military. TIA is a base for F-16 Falcon fighter pilot training for the Air National Guard. With its close proximity to the major test fields of the Yuma Proving Ground and the Barry M. Goldwater Complex, YUM is a natural location for one of the country’s most prestigious new defense aviation parks—the 120-acre Defense Contractor Complex (DCC).

Information from the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Aerosp​ace Instruments

Universal Avionics

Product development at Universal Avionics.

Tucson-based Universal Avionics creates instruments and accessories for aircraft. Innovative features, advanced technology, pilot-oriented functions and lightweight components remain key elements contributing to Universal Avionics’ success as a leading manufacturer of innovative avionics systems.

An international company, Universal Avionics’ headquarters are strategically located near the Tucson International Airport (TIA) to support the company’s intensive flight test activities. A hangar at TIA houses Universal Avionics’ corporate aircraft, which are utilized for extensive flight evaluation of the company’s products in the development stages, continuing through final design and certification. All of Universal Avionics’ products are built to exact specifications, each undergoing numerous testing phases prior to receiving aircraft avionics certification.

Adjacent to the Corporate Headquarters is Universal’s state-of-the-art manufacturing plant which features the latest in circuit board assembly, final unit assembly and environmental test technologies. Specialized “pick and place” robotics accommodate circuit board designs which use double-sided surface mount technology, fine pitch layouts and very small chip size components. Optimized assembly flow techniques and quality controls are utilized throughout the production process for maximum efficiency and technology.

Did You Know?

  • Universal introduced the world’s first Flight Management System (FMS) in 1982.
  • In 1989, Universal developed the world’s first solid-state Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).
  • The first Synthetic Vision System certified by the FAA was Universal’s Vision-1® in 2002.

Launch Systems


A series of rocket launches shows Orbital technology in action.

Orbital Launch Systems Group provides launch vehicle design, development, integration and launch services. Orbital develops technology for missile defense interceptors, targets, payloads, satellites, and satellite launch vehicles. Two of Orbital’s most popular launch vehicle programs are the Minotaur space launcher and the Coyote ramjet-powered supersonic target. Orbital conducted four successful Minotaur launches in 2011—two Minotaur I and two Minotaur IV rockets—over a seven-month stretch extending the Minotaur family of launchers’ perfect mission record to 23 - for - 23 since 2000. Orbital also conducted 11 missions of our Coyote target for the U.S. Navy, including its first high-altitude Mach 3-plus flight, and delivered a record-setting 17 additional vehicles.

Missi​le Systems


Raytheon employees have been described as a national asset by the U.S. Department of Defense.Located in Tucson, Raytheon Missile Systems is Southern Arizona's largest employer.

Raytheon Missile Systems (RMS) is the world's largest missile maker, and the premier designer, developer and producer of tactical weapons systems for the United States and many allied nations. From the soldier on the ground to the fighter pilot in the sky to the sailor patrolling the sea, RMS weapons are helping to protect warfighters who are defending freedom around the globe. The company's products have been deployed by the U.S. military, and the armies, navies and air forces of more than 40 countries.

With nearly 12,000 employees, Raytheon is the largest employer in Southern Arizona and the fifth largest employer in the state. The company has an estimated $3 billion annual economic impact to the state of Arizona.  Raytheon recently marked its 60th anniversary in Tucson. Raytheon is a committed corporate citizen. Through its MathMovesU program and other community outreach projects, Raytheon is focused on inspiring the next generation of engineers, scientists and technologists. The company is the recipient of numerous manufacturing excellence awards. It consistently receives superior ratings for its security practices from the Defense Security Service. Raytheon has also has been recognized for its energy savings and pollution and travel reduction activities.

Radar Systems

Lockheed Martin

The Tactical Reconnaissance and Counter-Concealment (TRACER) system, provides real-time on board imaging in all weather and viewing conditions.

The maker of the F-16 Fighting Falcon is also a leader in radar and tactical systems. Radar was an invaluable defensive tool in World War II. Unfortunately, in order for radar technology in the 1940s and 1950s to provide the resolution needed for 24/7 reconnaissance, a high flying plane would have to carry an antenna the size of a football field. In 1951, a breakthrough came when a brilliant engineer named Carl Wiley at Goodyear Aircraft Company in Goodyear, Arizona (now Lockheed Martin Corporation) realized radar reflections from discrete objects in a passing radar beam field each had a minute Doppler, or speed, shift relative to the antenna. By precisely analyzing the frequency of the return signal, Wiley found he could create detailed radar image using an antenna that 1/100th the size of the football field-long antenna traditional radar would require. With this breakthrough, Wiley’s patent for ‘Simultaneous Buildup Doppler,’ is widely considered the first Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) patent.

Today, Lockheed Martin continues its pursuit toward the development of next generation SAR and foliage penetration (FOPEN) technologies in classified and non-classified formats. Resolution that had once been measured in feet can now be measured in inches in certain applications. More than 500 SAR systems have been developed for 30 different types of aircraft, including unmanned aerial systems. Recent Lockheed Martin innovations include dual-band VHF/UHF synthetic aperture radar for imaging concealed targets, foliage penetrating radar, reconnaissance sensors encased in pods to enable fighter aircraft to collect imagery, and an all-weather, passive detection and tracking system suitable for real-time 3D air surveillance.

Satellite Communications


Iridium NEXT

Iridium is the only commercial mobile satellite service (MSS) company offering coverage over the entire globe. MSS carriers serve an important role as providers of communications services in areas where the wireline and wireless networks may not extend or provide coverage. Iridium is currently working on the development and construction phases of their new low-Earth orbiting satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, which will be the largest commercial space program in the world with 66 satellites in orbit. It is scheduled to launch in 2015. In a partnership with the Boeing plant in Chandler, Arizona, Iridium NEXT is receiving engineering, systems analysis and maintenance support from 200 Arizona contractors. Additionally, Tempe, Arizona, is home to the company’s Gateway Earth Station, the primary ground station for Iridium.

Space Data C​orporation

Chandler-based Space Data Corporation manufactures and flies high altitude platforms based on weather balloon technology. These platforms provide satellite-like coverage to standard communication devices, allowing users to communicate up to 600 miles and obtain coverage deep into canyons and valleys. This technology supports users including the U.S. military, first responders, search & rescue force, and the petrochemical industry, with applications ranging from critical voice and data communications, telemedicine, and telemetry. 

Operating from 65,000 feet or higher, Space Data’s SkySite® and SkySat™ capabilities are particularly advantageous in mountainous terrain where satellite access is limited, and towers and lower airborne platforms lack the coverage and persistence needed. Further, users enjoy satellite-like coverage without the directional antennas or antenna pointing required for satellites. 

Space Data’s technology is used extensively by expeditionary units of the U.S. Marine Corps and is involved in the FCC’s newly established Deployable Airborne Communications Architecture program for rapidly restoring communications capabilities in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event. In addition to augmenting a variety of communications capabilities, Space Data is beginning to use its high altitude technologies for sub-meter resolution imagery and broadband.

Space​ Suits


Paragon collaborates with major labs and companies to develop suits that enable survival in extreme environments.

Paragon is the premier provider of environmental controls for extreme and hazardous environments. The company designs, builds, tests and operates life support systems and leading thermal control products for astronauts, contaminated water divers, and other extreme environment adventurers, as well as for unmanned space and terrestrial applications. 

Four of its major programs include: Design, analyze, and manufacture the tubing for the environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV); Paragon Commercial Crew Transport-Air Revitalization System (CCT-ARS), a turnkey life support system built to meet or exceed NASA human flight safety standards; Program thermal lead for the Constellation Space Suit System; and the Paragon Dive System, (developed for the U.S. Navy, it protects divers working in contaminated waters and is derived from space suit expertise).

Founded in 1993, Paragon is a woman-owned small business headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, with additional offices in Houston, Texas and Denver, Colorado. Its founders created the company after living in the extreme environments of the Biosphere 2.