In 12 months, the 187th and last Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor will roll out of the historic final assembly plant -- named 'B-1' -- in Marietta, Georgia. It will be delivered to the US Air Force in February or March, allowing enough time for check-out flights, fixing bugs, coatings and paint. And, for the Raptor, that should do it. Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations supported buying more, a solid if rare display of bipartisan consensus.
But Lockheed's Marietta workforce hasn't quite given up. Jeff Babione, currently F-22 deputy program manager, still seems amazed the program will end in early 2012.
"When I started 20 years ago on the first Raptor I never thought I'd be here for the last one," he says.
Lockheed's workforce is taking special care to preserve the knowledge it takes to build the F-22. The US Air Force earlier this year agreed to store the F-22's special tooling, rejecting an option to destroy the equipment. About 30,000 items will be stored in Conex shipping containers stored in northeast California at the Sierra army depot, which offered to keep the tooling virtually for free, Babione says.
THE USAF justified the decision to store the F-22's tooling to keep the option open for conducting a major service life extension program, as well as making extensive repairs on battle-damaged aircraft.
Of course, the same equipment can be used to restart the production line. Lockheed is very familiar with the practice. In Marietta alone, Lockheed has resurrected production lines for the C-5, C-130 and P-3 fleet. Heeding the lessons of experience, Lockheed is taking an extra step to smooth the restoration of F-22 tooling. Says Babione:
"We're putting together smartbooks, and it's an illustrated manual -- both text and video that explains how the [F-22] tools were used. So they went through and built the part -- whatever part it was -- and documeneted how to do that. Our lessons from this when we did P-3 and C-130 is you've got a guy out there who's been using this tool for 20 years. And he's got that tape mark over the hole that the tool engineers put in there, but he needed to be back a sixteenth of an inch. So that tribal knowledge is built into that tool. We go put a tool in storage, we pull it back out, we strip it, we paint it, all that knowledge is gone. To avoid any of that - and not that anyone would use a tool incorrectly, but to make sure we don't have to remember how to use that tool -- we're doing a very rigorous job of some 80-plus of these smartbooks that explain how to use the tools. Everyone of those programs experienced a significant start-up problem because they didn't have adequate records of how to use the tools. We're going to avoid that. We're going to have a how-to manual for each of the tools."