Cvi hero

Cv International is proof that there’s more to Bend’s economy than beer, mountain biking and skiing, though Central Oregon’s outdoor amenities largely explain why the company, founded in Torrance, Calif., came to town about a dozen years ago.

Cv International manufactures a group of products that seem, at first glance, to have little in common. They include mobile nitrogen generators and service kits as well as complex maintenance platforms for nearly two dozen varieties of military and commercial aircraft. As is often the case with successful companies, however, this mix is a consequence of expertise and opportunity. And it works.

The company was founded in 1981 by Robert Tatge, an engineer and inventor who sought to develop mobile systems to provide nitrogen to aircraft, says George Darcy, Cv International’s chief marketing officer. Nitrogen is an inert gas that loses pressure less quickly than air and does not produce moisture when the temperature changes. It’s also abundant, making up almost 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere. These qualities make nitrogen an ideal gas for aircraft tires and struts as well as fuel tank “inerting,” in which an inert gas replaces air to reduce the risk of explosion.

From its original location in Torrance, Cv International produced mobile systems for generating and delivering nitrogen. It continues to do so today with its latest model, the MNG4, which can run on diesel, aviation gas or electricity.

But even mobile nitrogen generators are fairly bulky and can’t meet every aviation need, Tatge discovered while talking with soldiers returning from Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, says Darcy. They described problems providing nitrogen to aircraft in remote desert locations. Tatge and Cv International responded by developing a backpack system consisting of high-pressure tanks and gauges that could be helicoptered along with a technician to waiting aircraft. Think Ghostbusters of the Gulf War.

Cv International continues to produce backpack kits along with support equipment, including nitrogen generators and backpack-filling equipment. Parts are machined and assembled at the company’s facility in Bend, while gauges and accessories are sourced locally. There continues to be significant demand for backpack units among utilities, gas and oil companies and – an area of strong growth – operators of wind turbines, says Darcy. In many turbines, the machinery that translates blade movement into electricity relies upon nitrogen. But the business part of most turbines is hundreds of feet above the ground, requiring a mobile nitrogen source for servicing.

The business evolved further in 2005 following a meeting between Tatge and current CEO Dan Warden, a retired US Air Force acquisitions officer for the Air National Guard. Warden helped Cv International secure a large maintenance platform contract for KC-135 aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The KC-135 is a refueling aircraft based on a Boeing 707 airliner. Several years later, a Montana-based group that includes Warden and Darcy bought the company.

The decision to move to Bend shortly thereafter was driven, in part, by its outdoor amenities. Skiing and mountain biking notwithstanding, the company continued to grow. From a single site on the east side of the city, Cv International has expanded to occupy 40,000 square feet spread across four buildings.

Maintenance platforms now make up the biggest part of the business, says Darcy. The company has won a number of large awards, including a pair of NATO contracts, one in 2017 to build KC-135 platforms and a second in 2019 to build platforms for C-130 aircraft. The company also has won contracts to build platforms for F-16 fighters, C-17 transports (see photo above) and even the E-4 “doomsday” plane, a 747 configured to serve as a mobile command platform for the president, secretary of defense and other officials in the event of a nuclear attack.

In addition, Cv International serves as a contractor for Lockheed Martin, providing a pair of maintenance platforms and a nitrogen cart. In both 2021 and 2022, Lockheed Martin named Cv International its supplier of the year for the F-35 fighter program.

The company manufactures maintenance platforms for commercial aircraft as well, including 737s, 747s and 787s. It also produces guardrail systems for transformer maintenance and gas-sampling systems.

Operating a manufacturing business in Bend does have its challenges, says Darcy. These include high material and transportation costs and finding engineers and skilled welders. Bend is fairly remote. And, despite the region’s recent growth, the population is still fairly small.
It’s also difficult for a business in an expensive area to compete on a cost basis with companies in less pricey parts of the country, says Darcy. But Cv International succeeds by leveraging the high quality of its work, he says.

Despite such challenges, Cv International continues to grow, and its mix of products and contracts, particularly its long-term contracts with Lockheed Martin, has allowed it to avoid layoffs. The company employs about 50 people.

MNG 4 rt side CVI
Cv International's MNG4 mobile nitrogen generator can run on diesel, aviation fuel and electricity.
NBSS backpack
Cv International's backpack kit allows technicians to provide nitrogen to difficult-to-reach equipment such as wind turbines.
KC 135 side
Cv International's first maintenance-platform contract involved KC-135 aicraft.
Amer Airl tail
Cv International manufactures complex maintenance platforms for military and civilian aircraft. The platform above allows maintenance of airliner tail sections.