The event drew many big names, including Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta); U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Moultrie); State Senator Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna); Christopher Kubasik, Lockheed Martin president and chief operating officer; Ralph Heath, executive vice president of Aeronautics; and Tom Burbage, former general manager of the Marietta plant and Lockheed Corporation’s executive vice president of the F-35 program.
Burbage said the company’s programs “live and die within the whims of Washington,” but said he had worked for several years with Gingery and Chambliss and that they have always been on the side of maintaining air superiority and air dominance.
Burbage said the Lightning II “represents a quantum leap in air dominance capabilities, enabling the U.S. and its allies to counter existing emerging and future threats,” adding that the F-35 program in Marietta is “the most complex project we’ve ever attempted.”
Gingrey and Chambliss both have experience with armed forces legislation, as Chambliss is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Gingrey is a former member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Gingrey said they both “feel very strongly that (the F-22) flight line should still be open, but unfortunately, the powers inside the Beltway have made another decision there.”
Shan Cooper, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the Marietta plant, said that at peak production, around 2015, the plant will build an aircraft a day and employ around 1,000 people and 500 more through subcontractors. Currently, there are about 300 employees dedicated to the F-35 program in Marietta, Stinn said.
Cooper has said they will try to integrate F-22 jobs into the F-35 program, as the last F-22 is expected to be delivered next spring. Spokeswoman Stephanie Stinn said the company has 1,000 employees dedicated to the F-22 program, with half of those employees working in production.
“Over the last several years, we’ve been talking a lot about the F-22 and the contribution that the F-22 was and now is going to make to the security of the U.S.,” Chambliss said. “Today and for the last 50 years, the United States of America has maintained air superiority and maintained air dominance. But we have potential adversaries out there who are constantly trying to get the edge on technology that we have always maintained.”
With the combination of the F-22 and the F-35, the U.S. will be the only nation in the world with “first-day fight capabilities,” Chambliss said.
Lockheed would not specify when production on the planes began in Marietta, but Stinn said the first four lots, 63 aircraft, are already on contract and in some form of assembly. The company has already delivered the first six aircraft, and is in the process of negotiating its fifth production lot.
The stealth fighter has three variants that will be used by the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and allied countries. To date, the Air Force plans to operate a fleet of 1,763 F-35s, and the Navy and Marine Corps plan on using 680, Stinn said.
Stinn said the F35’s center wing, constituting much of the fuselage, is built in Marietta and then sent to Fort Worth, Texas, where the final assembly line is located. Marietta employees also will apply stealth coatings to the F-35’s tail.