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Constellium takes to skies in new F-35s

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.

"These planes are designed to enter highly defended airspace, because of their stealth. They can take off in 600 feet and they can do vertical landings," Conroy said.

Today, Constellium is one of 46 companies that are supplying parts to Lockheed Martin for its F-35 fighters.

"This is a combat aircraft. Flying an aircraft is a tough business, a deadly business," Conroy added.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised Constellium employees as "men and women on the front line who give the country what it needs."

Manchin also praised Constellium for investing up to $50 million needed to "build the world's largest stretcher" to make rolled aluminum.

That stretcher was needed to create single pieces of aluminum needed large enough to build the new fighter jets.

Making aluminum for the new F-35 planes, Lorentzen said, posed a real challenge to the company.

"In order to meet a critical need for very large monolithic components for the F-35 aircraft, we needed to produce very large plates of previously unheard-of dimensions. We believe we achieved this feat by combining our unique manufacturing capabilities and tailored product range."

Praising the workers at the Ravenswood plant, several of whom attended Thursday's program, Manchin said, "You are serving our country in such a critical way."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said, "In November 1957, the first aluminum was produced in the Ohio Valley. It is probably unrecognizable compared to the products being made today. Innovation is driving this company.

"What really excites me is what is ahead in the future for this industry," Capitol said. "And if you look at all the aircraft in our country, there could be a little bit of West Virginia in them."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, sent a letter to Thursday's meeting, stating, "Constellium's high-performance technologies are being used to manufacture the next generation of aircraft. Constellium workers are on the cutting edge of technology."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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