Hughes Missile Systems Company in Tucson

A History in Progress

Hughes Missile Systems Company (HMSC) maintains Hughes Aircraft Company's long-time presence in Tucson, a presence that began when the company broke ground for a new manufacturing plant in 1951 in the barren desert south of town.

Aviator-industrialist-movie producer Howard R. Hughes, Jr. created Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932 as a division of Hughes Tool Company, which he inherited at age 19 from his father. He formed the aircraft enterprise as a means of making aviation history.

Experimental aircraft produced by the company achieved numerous speed and distance records. While preparing for an around-the-world flight in 1937, Howard Hughes formed a radio department to develop communications equipment for the flight. That venture made high technology electronics history and became the most successful business to bear his name.

Hughes arrives in Tucson

In 1950, Tucson developer Roy Drachman heard rumors that Hughes Aircraft Company was looking for an inland site for a new manufacturing plant and began a persistent campaign to lure the company to Tucson. His persistence paid off. In January 1951, after 10 days of tours and meetings throughout the Southwest, Hughes executives announced that the company had selected Tucson. Building would begin almost immediately.

This front page photo from the Feb. 3, 1951, Tucson Daily Citizen, depicts the team that brought Hughes to Tucson. The group is gathered at the home of Monte Mansfield (far right), president of the Tucson Airport Authority, who holds a copy of the final agreement with Hughes. The other men are (from left) Roy Drachman, realtor; J. Homer Boyd, chairman of the county board of supervisors; Mayor J.O. Niemann; and C. Edgar Goyette, manager of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. (Tucson Daily Citizen)

Worried at first that Hughes would stay only as long as the Korean conflict continued, Tucsonans were assured by local officials that Hughes was no "temporary war-time baby." The officials were right. The "baby" grew up and at 45 is stronger than ever.

Hughes Aircraft Company's arrival sparked economic growth in Tucson. From l950 to 1960, the city's population quadrupled from 45,454 to 212,893. One year after assembly work began in the new plant, the U.S. Air Force purchased it from Hughes. The facility the Air Force renamed Plant 44 is still occupied and managed by Hughes today.

Aircraft radar units from the company's headquarters in Culver City, California, comprised the first assembled products produced by Tucson's workforce in preparation for the "real" assembly work to come: building the Falcon missile.

The Falcon: A Bird of Firsts, the First of Many

The Falcon missile, pictured here with its namesake perched on top, was the world's first air-to-air guided missile and the first missile built by Hughes Tucson. Hughes produced over 50,000 Falcons between 1952 and 1963.

The manufacturing plant initially was built to produce the Falcon, the world's first air-to-air, radar-guided missile. The first Falcon rolled off the assembly line in 1952, the last in 1963. During that time, Hughes Tucson manufactured over 50,000 Falcons in various configurations. Employment swelled to 5,700 people when production reached its peak in 1957.

The company diversified in the 1960s with two new weapon designs. Hughes produced the Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile in response to the U.S. Army's request for an anti-tank weapon and the long-range Phoenix missile for the U.S. Navy.

Growing Up, Out and Strong

The company opened an engineering development center in the late '60s in Canoga Park, California, where design began on a rocket-propelled air-to-surface guided missile called Maverick. In 1974, the two facilities became Hughes Missile Systems Group (HMSG), a unit of Hughes Aircraft Company. The combined efforts of the engineering (Canoga Park) and manufacturing (Tucson) sites met contract requirements for two decades with improved versions of TOW and Phoenix, as well as additions to the Maverick family.

In 1981, the company developed the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) deployed by the Air Force and the Navy and continuing in full production today. The company also produced missile launchers and a variety of electronic equipment.

The major programs, aided by a few smaller ones, propelled the company through the '80s when the Tucson plantsite's population reached its highest level with 9,000 employees.

Acquiring New Products, Strengthening Existing Products

When the defense budget declined at the end of the '80s, aerospace companies across the country faced revenue and employment reductions, as well as tougher fights with competitors for a shrinking number of government contracts. Companies required commitment and stamina if they intended to weather the lean years ahead and prosper. With more than 40 years invested in the business, Hughes decided to stay and fight.

The company acquired General Dynamics' missile business in 1992 for $450 million and committed an additional $300 million to relocate engineering and manufacturing functions and employees to Tucson from locations in Arkansas and California.

The acquisition added major production programs to the company's arsenal, including the Tomahawk cruise missile, Standard Missile, Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), Sparrow missile, Stinger missile, Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) and the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS). It also filled the product pipeline with a number of developing programs to carry the company well into the next century.

Embarking on the Future

Consolidating operations in Tucson marked a new era in the company's history and created the only facility in the nation producing all-up-round missiles from start to finish. The newly named Hughes Missile Systems Company (HMSC) now occupies two facilities in Tucson covering nearly 3 million square feet. Besides these facilities, the company operates ancillary sites in East Camden, Arkansas; Farmington, New Mexico; Poway, Rancho Cucamonga and San Diego, California; and Louisville, Kentucky.

The company achieved an important goal in early 1996 when it received ISO 9000 registration, a mark of high competitive ability and proof to customers and competitors that our quality system meets a set of high international standards. HMSC completed the registration process in less than half the time it takes for the average company its size.

The process included a series of audits, beginning with a pre-assessment in January. In March, the company completed a documentation audit, and finally in late April, implementation audits for ISO 9001 registration at the Tucson facilities and for ISO 9002 registration at the ancillary sites (ISO 9001 quality systems include quality assurance in design/development, production, installation and servicing. ISO 9002 quality systems include quality assurance in production and installation.)

HMSC manufactures its products for every branch of the U.S. military and for the armed forces of many allied nations. With more than ten production programs, myriad development programs, and more than 7,500 employees, the company is well positioned for continued success. As the year 2000 approaches, HMSC continues its mission as the world leader in tactical missile systems.

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