NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - L-CAC 66 made an appearance at the Textron Systems plant in New Orleans East Monday, arriving with a deafening roar and cloud of spray.
The Landing Craft Air-Cushion Vehicle rolled off the production line in New Orleans East almost 20 years ago to the day.
Now, the U.S. Navy has ordered construction on the first of the hovercraft-style vehicles designed to replace it
"Every time I see one of the L-CACS, it gives me goosebumps," said Textron Systems Sr. Vice-President Tom Walmsley at a ceremony marking the start of production on the next generation of amphibious assault vehicle.
Textron and its partners, including Rolls Royce, are beginning work on the test model for what the U.S. Navy has dubbed, the "Ship-to-Shore Connector.
Textron has firm plans to build nine of the vessels at its New Orleans East yard, but could be in line to construct a total of 73 ship-to-shore connectors over the next decade.
"This will be about a 10-12 year period of production," Walmsley said. "We'll just start ramping up this year actually."
The work means new life for the Textron yard, sustaining 200 jobs now. However, Textron envisions hiring another 400 workers as it ramps up the construction.
Engineer Keith Dubos was there when the first L-CAC rolled off the assembling line in 1984.
"People ask me, 'how can you work for one company for 33 years?'"
Dubos, who notes the yard was buzzing with activity in the 80's and 90's, says he was by motivated by "the cool technology."
"You saw the cloud of spray it creates. It's got to operate in the heaviest rainstorm, in a salty environment, in sand," Dubos said. "And you've go to do all that while being very powerful, very lightweight and very efficient."
On the outside, the new model looks a lot like the original version.
"Absolutely, nothing novel here," said U.S. Captain Christopher Mercer, who supervises the project. "We figured out in the 1960's how to do air cushioned vehicles."
Under the hood, however, the technology takes a huge leap forward.
The ship-to-shore connectors, which runs about $28 million each, boast more powerful, yet more efficient engines, lighter composite materials and computer brainpower that allows for smaller crew sizes.
The new vessels is designed to land on almost 80 percent of the world's beaches.
Mercer contrasts modern amphibious missions to World War II, when "you might see where the landing craft sort of lands on the beach and the ramp flops open and out come marines and there equipment." The SSC is designed to deliver marines and equipment as large as tanks much farther inland, Mercer noted.