Columbia Co. To Build Kuwaiti Blimp

December 09, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

A Columbia company has received a $35 million contract from the government of Kuwait to replace a giant radar-carrying blimp destroyed during the Persian Gulf war.

The craft, about three times the size of the Goodyear blimp, is being built by TCOM LP in cooperation with Martin Marietta Corp., which is supplying the radar.

Technically called aerostats, the helium-filled TCOM crafts are designed to rise to 15,000 feet but are attached to the ground by a cable.

From that height, radar on board can "see" beyond the horizon and detect low-flying plane, ships or troops movements up to 200 miles away.

One craft is able to monitor Kuwait's entire border by air, land and sea. The blimp that was destroyed provided the first warning of the Iraqi attack, giving the emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and his family time to flee.

All of the engineering, design work, production planning and support for the craft is done at TCOM's headquarters in Gateway Center in Columbia. The fabrication of the blimps is done at its hangar near Elizabeth City, N.C.

The TCOM award appears to be the first major contract to a Maryland company stemming from the Persian Gulf war.

A 1991 agreement between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir al-Sabah was to have put Maryland in line to win a big share of the estimated $100 billion in Kuwaiti reconstruction contracts.

"There may have been some minor contracts, but we are not aware of any major contracts to Maryland companies" from Kuwait, Curt Matthews, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Employment Development's International Division, said yesterday.

TCOM, a privately held company, has fared well since it was spun off from the Westinghouse Electric Systems Group in Linthicum in 1989.

"We have booked about $250 million in new business since then," said Alfred Boswell, a company spokesman.

Employment at the Columbia operation has doubled over the period, to 140. Including its facility in North Carolina, the company has 219 workers, up from about 100 in 1989.

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