In The News

Bridenstine touts F-35 during simulator program, want them assigned to Tulsa airport

By Larry Levy

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Washington, August 3, 2016 | comments

At the controls of the supersonic fighter plane as it roared off the runway was U.S. Sen. James Lankford, whose first concern on getting into the cockpit was the location of the ejection seat handle.

Minutes later Congressman Jim Bridenstine, sitting in a sister but slightly different, version was catapulted from an aircraft carrier.

Neither got more than a foot or two off the ground on Friday. They were in a trainer brought to Tulsa by the plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to the Ducommun Inc. facility, which manufactures circuit boards for the F-35 Lightning II.

While the trainer has the F-35’s glass cockpit and fly-by-wire controls and does not give any physical sensation, it does give a large multiscreen view of what is outside as the plane climbs, turns, rolls, descends, attacks and dogfights the enemy.

Jason Waldron, formerly a Marine aviator now with Lockheed Martin, sets up the scenarios and can even show the dogfight loser parachuting to safety.

Lankford, Bridenstine and Tulsa Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett — also a pilot — want more than a trainer in Tulsa. They are pushing that some of the 1,763 F-35s being sought by the Air Force be assigned to the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 138th Fighter Wing at Tulsa International Airport.

“Some of the future F-35s should be coming to Tulsa,” Lankford said.

Bridenstine also pushed for F-35s being based in Tulsa and noted that the city’s sales tax vision program provided for $9 million to build a simulator building for the ship.

The F-35 will be “the backbone” of the next generation for stealth planes, Lankford said. Being the strongest nation in the world “will bring a sense of stability to the world.”

It will transform “the way we do business” in the military providing network-centric warfare that will spread the battlefield far and wide and give “us freedom of action” so the enemy will not be able to deny access, Bridenstine said.

Eric Van Camp, director of F-35 business development for Lockheed and a former Marine pilot, described the Lightning II as “a very, very special thing.”

The F-35 has “most sophisticated sensor system ever put on a fighter” that will change the behavior of everything going on” in the battlefield environment,” said Van Camp, a University of Oklahoma graduate who went on to fly Harriers, the vertical/short takeoff predecessor to the Marine version of the new plane.

The F-35 can “sponge up” a lot of information from around the plane and send it to where it will do the most good — a ship, a soldier or another plane, he said.

The planes will be the “cornerstone of our nation’s security for the next three or four decades,” Van Vamp said.

An immediate goal is bringing down the per-plane sticker price by 2019 to between $80 million and $85 million.

The Marine Corps had declared its version of the F-35 had met its initial operating capability before the Ducommun meeting with Lankford and Bridenstine, and the Air Force was expected to shortly declare its version had met the same major milestone.

Besides the Air Force version, the Navy wants to buy 260 F-35s with the carrier capability, and the Marines want 353 of their version plus 67 of the Navy’s model for 2,443 in all by the military

Another 11 countries plan to buy 727 F-35s — Australia, 100; Canada, 65; Denmark, 30: Israel, 33; Italy, 90; Japan, 42; Netherlands, 37; Norway, 52; South Korea, 40; Turkey, 100, and the United Kingdom, 138; bring the world total of Lightning II orders to 3,170

Ducommun’s Tulsa plant has been working on the F-35 since 2008 with between 10 and 15 percent of its present 175 employees working on the project, said Tod Brindinger, vice president and general manager of the firm’s electronic integrated solutions division. All its work is for military planes such as the F-16 and F-18 fighters and C-130 cargo plane.

“Good solderers” are the skill most sought by the company, said Brindinger, who is based in Phoenix.

“Some very sophisticated stuff is being built right here in Tulsa,” Van Camp said.

Ducommun is one of 1,250 companies in 45 states and Puerto Rico making components for the F-35 creating 146,000 direct and indirect jobs. Parts are being made at six Oklahoma locations with an economic impact of $67.1 million and 780 direct and indirect jobs, according to Lockheed.

There is also Cytec Engineered Materials in Tulsa, Precision Machine and Manufacturing in Grove, P&W Sustainment-OK in Midwest City and Pro-Fab and Electro Enterprises, both in Oklahoma City.

Components are also being made in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Besides Lockheed plant at Fort Worth, plants in Italy and Japan will also perform final assembly on some F-35s.

Predecessor to the F-35 is Lockheed’s World War II P-38 Lightning, a twin-engine plane. More than 9,000 were built at a cost of $115,000 each, $1.6 million current dollars.

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