Amid the tweets from both President Elect Donald Trump and Lockheed Martin, a group of people including test pilots, engineers, assembly workers and others who worked on developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jet will be celebrating as the 10th anniversary of the inaugural flight takes place.
The First Flight
Thousands of spectators lined the streets along Spur 341 in west Fort Worth on the foggy morning of Dec. 15, 2006.
Jon Beesley, the 66-year-old retired Lockheed Martin test pilot said he remembers seeing the thousands of people watching as he taxied the F-35 down a runway in Fort Worth for its first test flight.
Besides a few small glitches, Beesley described his first real ride in the jet as an “extremely successful flight.”
“I remember being excited for myself and for the team,” Beesley recalled. “We all knew it was going to work, but the proof is when it can get off the ground.”
Beesley returned to Lockheed Martin this week to celebrate the Dec. 15 test flight with some of his former colleagues and others. Beesley, who worked at General Dynamics and Lockheed for 25 years, retired in 2011.
10 Years ago remembered
Beesley said he remembers arriving at the plant a decade ago early in the morning for the test flight. The day was gray and gloomy, and takeoff was delayed for hours because of a dense fog.
When he was finally able to take off at about 1 p.m., Beesley said at the time that the thrust of the Pratt & Whitney jet engines gave him “a little more performance” than anticipated, calling it “a pleasant surprise.”
Chased by two F-16 fighters, Beesley quickly took the F-35 up to about 15,000 feet, where he performed most of the planned tests. But instead of flying the jet for an hour, the flight was cut to about 35 minutes because two airspeed indicators were giving him differing data, something he called a small glitch.
Still, protocol established before the test flight dictated that if there were any problems, the landing gear would not be raised. Beesley spent about 350 hours flying the F-35 taking it up on numerous test flights.
Tweets and stocks
Lockheed Martin shares took a nose-dive after President-elect Donald Trump said over Twitter that making F-35 fighter planes is too costly and that he will cut “billions” in costs for military purchases.
In early afternoon trading the defense contractor’s stock price was down $11.38, or 4.4 percent, to $248.11, knocking roughly $4 billion of the company’s market capitalization. The stock did rebound somewhat later in the day.
Trump didn’t mention any specific company in his tweet, but Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed makes the F-35 one-seat fighter aircraft and is a major U.S. defense contractor.
A local news agency interviewed several Lockheed workers who voiced their concern about the newly elected Presidents tweet. White Settlement Mayor Ron White stated he didn’t like seeing the tweet either.
The F-35 program made up 20 percent of Lockheed’s total 2015 revenue of $46.1 billion. And U.S. government orders made up 78 percent of its revenue last year. The F-35 program directly or indirectly supports thousands of jobs in the Fort Worth area.
In a statement Monday, Lockheed said that it has worked to lower the price of the F-35 by more than 60 percent and said it expects the aircraft to cost $85 million in 2019 and 2020.
Lockheed responded with their own tweet late Monday night stating, “Today’s F-35 delivery to Israel is just one piece in a strong and critical defense relationship for the U.S.”