Elected officials and others representing the region’s defense industry recently crowded around the cockpit of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, waiting their turns to hop in the pilot’s seat, taxi the fighter jet down the runway and launch into the skies on a government mission – all without leaving the confines of the R.I. Department of Administration building, that is.
On May 9 officials from Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the multirole fighter jet, stopped in Providence to discuss the need for the fifth-generation fighter aircraft and how it contributes to Rhode Island’s economy. Part of a national public relations campaign, the event also presented an opportunity for those in attendance to get a feel for what’s it’s like to fly the finished product using Lockheed’s cockpit demonstrator. The demonstrator, modeled after the plane’s single-seat, single-engine setup, allows its users to take a virtual and interactive test flight while exploring the jet’s combat capabilities.
Currently, about 1,400 suppliers in 46 states and Puerto Rico provide the more than 20,000 components for the plane, which range from radar sensors and fuselage to nuts and bolts. Lockheed Martin, the project’s prime contractor, combines all of these components in its mile-long factory in Fort Worth, Texas, where the planes are manufactured.
In the Ocean State, six businesses supplying parts or assisting in the supply chain contribute directly to the F-35 program, including North Kingstown’s Hexagon Metrology, which Lockheed said manufactures a centrifuge lodge; Cranston’s AIM Specialty Materials USA, Geib Refining Corp. in Warwick and Banneker Industries in North Smithfield.
According to Lockheed, the program currently supports more than 50 direct and indirect jobs and has an economic impact of $3.2 million annually in the fall. Across New England, about 277 suppliers contribute, resulting in more than 18,000 direct and indirect jobs, and $1.2 billion in annual economic impact.