Aerospace giant Boeing is in the process of shutting down one of America’s most storied laboratories. “Building 31,” part of Boeing’s research facility in Huntington Beach, California, helped develop some of the Pentagon’s most secretive weapons — that is, until bloated bureaucracy and benefit cuts demoralized and scattered its employees. Under current plans, the 60-year-old lab will close its doors for good in mid-2013.
Over the years, Building 31 trained monkey astronauts; designed rocket, satellite and airplane parts and lasers; and had a hand in the invention of GPS. More recently, the lab helped developed the hush-hush X-37B robotic spaceplane (pictured at Building 31) and the hypersonic X-51 missile. “They make the weapons and one-offs that scare the sh*t out of the other guys,” James Lamont, a former lab employee, told Danger Room in an email. Lamont, a rocket scientist, left Huntington Beach in 2008.
A series of corporate missteps doomed the lab, Lamont said. He blamed Boeing’s marketing department for adding unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to Building 31. “Customers who were used to plainly walking in and fixing the U.S. government’s issues now had multiple departments and skyrocketing costs to deal with.”
The bureaucracy drove up costs, according to Gary Quick, a longtime lab employee. “It’s an inverted pyramid that’s got us at the pointed end — and it’s crushing us,” Quick, a diver trained to recover rocket parts, told Danger Room.