RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. -- Kyle Lorentzen, CEO of Constellium's aluminum rolling facilities in Ravenswood, hosted a gathering Thursday inside the company's plant showcasing work for the F-35 Lightning II fighter planes made by Lockheed Martin.
"Ravenswood is a key part of aerospace products for Constellium," Lorentzen said. "We have had a longstanding relationship with Lockheed for more than 30 years."
In 2006, Constellium signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to provide aluminum to make the new stealth fighter planes.
"We have 950 employees here," Lorentzen said. "Eight hundred of those employees a day touch the metal we supply to Lockheed Martin for their F-35 planes."
Nationally, there are about 125,000 direct and indirect jobs tied to the F-35 program, according Lockheed Martin, which estimates the economic impact of making those planes at $16.8 billion a year.
Bob DuLaney, an Air Force pilot for 30 years and now a consultant for Lockheed Martin, talked about the importance of new, more sophisticated fighter planes in today's world.
"The average airplane in the Air Force today is 24 years old today. They were all designed in the 1970s or the 1990s," DuLaney said. "The F-35s are new 'fifth-generation' fighter planes."
Last week, a Bloomberg News report called the F-35s "the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program," and a Reuters report said the average cost of a conventional F-35, excluding research and development costs, was $76.8 million last year, down from $78.7 million a year earlier.
"Pentagon analysts still estimate the potential 56-year cost of operations and support for the F-35 fleet at $1.1 trillion," according to the Bloomberg report. "Officials said that estimate could decline as improved data accumulate on aircraft reliability, maintenance and flying hours."
Danny Conroy, an Air Force pilot for more than 30 years who now works for Lockheed Martin, said, "We're delighted to be able to demonstrate the capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II, the world's most advanced military aircraft, here in West Virginia.
"The employees here in Ravenswood are producing critical components for the F-35s flying today," Conroy said.
Conroy said the Air Force plans to buy 1,700 of the aircraft, while the Navy and Marines will buy another 680 F-35s.
Lockheed Martin estimates another 721 of the F-35 fighter planes will be bought by 10 foreign countries: Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Israel and Japan.