Lockheed Martin has entered the final 12 months of a key transition phase at its massive final assembly plant for the F-22 in Marietta, Georgia.
By November 2011, Lockheed is scheduled to roll the last of 187 F-22s and the first inner-wing shipset of the F-35 out of the historic B-1 building. But contrary to warnings about job losses prior to the F-22's termination, activity inside the Marietta factory has never been busier. In addition to gaining a major share of the F-35 supply chain, the site is in the process of trebling C-130J production to about 36 a year, while also ramping up outer-wing production.
Over the next 12 months, Lockheed's goal in Marietta is to complete a seamless transition from F-22 final assembly site to F-35 structural supplier, with the vast majority of the F-22 workforce crossing over to F-35 production.
"On the production side, our focus right now is to finish strong [on F-22]," says Jeff Babione, F-22 deputy programme manager.
Past experience suggests efficiency drops as production lines near their final days of activity. But Lockheed intends to accelerate the pace of F-22 final assembly to smooth the transition schedule.
Lockheed workers are currently assembling the 169th of 187 F-22s that will be delivered to the US Air Force by February or March 2012. The last airframe will actually roll out of the B-1 factory in November 2011, allowing two to three months for check-out flights, fixing glitches and applying coatings and paint.
At the same time, Lockheed has cleared out a roughly 23,200m² (250,000ft²) space used for C-5M tooling storage opposite the F-22 assembly area. In that space, comprising one-fourth of the floor area of the B-1 facility, it is installing tooling to assemble all of the inner-wing modules for the F-35.
The inner-wing module comprises the aft section of the centre-fuselage where the wings attach to the centre-barrel. The work includes building up the J475 and J480 substructures, combining both into the J470 inner wing module. The structure will then be shipped to Fort Worth, Texas, where it will be mated to both outer-wings to form the J450 section - one of four major structures mated together in final assembly of the F-35.
For the past year, Lockheed has been transferring workers from the F-22 line in Marietta to the F-35 line in Fort Worth for early training. By the time F-35 production ramps up in Marietta, there should be an experienced workforce.
"If we fail," says Lockheed senior production manager Brian Drummond, "we have no excuse. Absolutely none."