New lab in downtown Macon will bring Robins Air Force Base ‘closer to the students at Mercer’

For the first time, Robins Air Force Base will have an outpost in downtown Macon.

Base and community leaders Monday announced plans to open a software engineering lab at 520 Martin Luther King Boulevard, next door to Capricorn Studios. The lab is under construction on the first floor of the Lofts at Capricorn building and is expected to open in January.

Brig. Gen. John Kubinec, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, said about 50 people will work at the center, including Mercer University engineering students. The purpose of the center, he said, is to have a place where Mercer students can work with base engineers without going through the security process of getting on base.

“We want to be closer to the students at Mercer,” Kubinec said. “We have a huge workforce of Mercer grads, but I want it to be bigger and bigger.”

The lab is a collaboration between the base, Mercer, the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Macon-Bibb County consolidated government and NewTown Macon.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert said he believes the partnership will lead more Mercer students to take an interest in working at Robins.

“There is going to be a mutually beneficial relationship, I am convinced,” Reichert said.

Robins started a similar facility in Warner Robins that was geared toward innovation in manufacturing, including building obsolete parts. But Kubinec said that facility is geared toward experimenting, where the Macon lab will be doing real software work for the base. None of the work will be classified, he said.

Kubinec said Robins is paying all of the costs for the lab, but he did not have an estimate of that.

Reichert noted that as discussions on the lab have taken place over the last few months, it has been referred to as “Project Trailer Hitch.” That, he said, is a common tactic in maintaining secrecy of a development project so that the name doesn’t give any hint of the project.

However, he noted that “Blue Sky” is a popular song of the Allman Brothers, who recorded at Capricorn, and that name matches with the Air Force.

“I think that’s a great name for this and maybe after today’s announcement we can all refer to this as Project Blue Sky, this enormous, fantastic, collaborative partnership,” he said.

Wayne Crenshaw has worked as a journalist since 1990 and has been a reporter for The Telegraph since 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Georgia College and is a resident of Warner Robins.