The Bethesda, Md. defense giant Lockheed Martin Wednesday showcased one Michigan company’s role in the new F-35 Lighting II fighter jet.
The event attracted a trio of United States congressmen — not least for the chance to try out a very slick, immersive F-35 cockpit demonstrator.
Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co. in Warren, which hosted the event, manufactures specialized tooling systems for the F-35, including drill masks and construction templates, as well as the shipping container for the plane’s fuselage.
“All of us here at Futuramic Tool and Engineering Company are very proud of the work we do on the F-35 program,” said Mark Jurcak, President of Futuramic, who joined the company in 1977 straight out of high school making $3 an hour as a lathe operator.
“We appreciate this opportunity to experience first-hand why this fighter is so important to our nation’s future,” Jurcak said. “Programs like the F-35 are not only vital to our country’s national defense, but are helping to bring high-tech, family sustaining jobs to companies all across Michigan … F-35 work has allowed us to invest in facilities and most important retain and create jobs.”
Jurcak said as many of 80 of Futuramic’s 180 employees have worked on the F-35 program. About 20 do now, Jurcak said, but that’s expected to rise as production ramps up.
During the event, Futuramic executives and employees, supplier companies and community leaders got an update on the state of the program, and later had the opportunity to “fly” the plane on the demonstrator.
The demonstrator showed how easy the powerful engines and fly-by-wire systems make the plane easy to fly, incredibly agile — and incredibly deadly. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, easily “shot down” an opposing fighter from a distance of nearly 30 miles over a virtual Las Vegas, Nev.
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills — a retired lieutenant colonel in the Navy Reserve and a former private pilot — marveled at the plane’s performance and ease of handling.
Stephen Callaghan, director of F-35 Washington operations for Lockheed Martin, provided an update on the airplane’s production, which is just starting.
Callaghan said the company is now producing two F-35s a month, which will eventually ramp up to 18 to 20 a month. Four F-35s have been delivered to the United States’ armed forces — two to the Air Force, two to the Navy — for testing.
If all current orders from the U.S. armed forces and its allies are filled, about 3,100 of the planes will be built over the next 25 years, Callaghan said.
The F-35 will be available in a variety of configurations, and is intended to replace virtually all of today’s fighter planes, including the F-16 and F-18, as well as the A-10 antitank and ground support aircraft. Among the configurations are full stealth, with all fuel tanks and weapons hidden in the plane’s smooth underbelly; a vertical takeoff and landing version, which will replace the Marine Corps’ Harrier; and a standard configuration, with large amounts of armaments and auxiliary fuel tanks hanging under the wings.
“The F-35 program will provide the men and women of our Armed Forces with the tools they need to maintain America’s air dominance, and Michigan plays a very special role in that effort,” Callaghan said. “Even at today’s early production levels, the F-35 program generates more than 2,500 jobs and $197 million annually in the state of Michigan. We’re proud to share the experience of flying this fifth-generation fighter with the men and women who are critical to its development and manufacturing.”
Levin called the F-35 “important for our state as we try to rebuild. It’s important for this county and its attempt to build a defense corridor, and it’s important for American manufacturing. We’re determined to make sure that Michigan is in the middle of manufacturing’s rebirth in the United States.
And Levin said that while there’s a debate raging in Washington, D.C. now about the future role of the American military, “one thing is sure, and that is that we cannot simply withdraw. We have a global responsibility.”
Clarke, meanwhile, talked about his father, an immigrant from India, who came to the U.S. in the 1930s to work in a Ford Motor Co. foundry. Clarke said that he wasn’t sure whether all his father’s immigration papers were in order, and that the work eventually killed him — but that he came here because of American ideals, and the F-35 will serve to defend them.
The F-35 program supports a broad industrial base of more than 1,300 suppliers in 47 states and Puerto Rico, contributing to more than 127,000 direct and indirect U.S. jobs and over $12.6 billion in annual economic impact. For Michigan, that translates to more than 2,500 jobs and $197 million in local revenue. These employment figures and economic impact numbers are anticipated to increase as the program reaches full-rate production.