Lockheed Prepares for F-35 Program to Take Off
An F-35 taxis out of a hangar at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant and proceeds to the edge of a runway, the view of the Fort Worth skyline shimmering in the August heat.
A smaller sleek F-16, acting as a chase plane, pulls up behind the F-35 and slowly follows the futuristic stealth fighter as it prepares to take off on another test flight.
Soon the two Lockheed Martin jets — representing the Fort Worth plant’s past and future — take off in a loud roar, quickly becoming small specks in the sky.
Over the next few years, the skies around Fort Worth will be filled with even more F-35s on shakedown flights as the Lockheed Martin plant moves toward full production of what, at $391.1 billion, is called the most expensive U.S. weapons system ever made.
The plant has been building 30 to 40 airplanes a year, but that number is expected to triple by 2017 and hit almost 200 by the end of the decade, military and company officials said.
To get ready, the Fort Worth plant is in the midst of a $1.2 billion upgrade — its biggest since the F-16 was developed in the 1970s — to support the aggressive production schedule.
Inside the mile-long facility, sections of the production line are draped in heavy plastic as new assembly areas are being installed. Outside, workers dangle from portable lifts as they refurbish nine hangars with plans to possibly build two more.
“We have lots of construction [underway],” said Lorraine Martin, Lockheed’s general manager for the F-35 program. “We’re building more structures on the flight line, more run stations, more engine run locations, the ability to have more aircraft in our paint shop.
“We also need to hire
workers. So over the next couple of years, we’ll probably add another
1,000 employees to our production line.”