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Pinellas Park plant to play key role in manufacture of new Lockheed Martin fighter plane

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young remembers being a little kid in World War II, and the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter that was his favorite plane.

Now, as chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the longest-serving Republican member in Congress, Young, 82, is playing a role in the accelerated development of a much more advanced plane.

It's the F-35 Lightning II, a name that Young says brings back memories.

It's also bringing more high-tech, well-paying jobs to the area, according to representatives from Lockheed Martin Corp., which makes the jets.

The F-35 Lightning II has extreme stealth capabilities. It also has heightened aviation electronics that mean it can succeed where today's jets can't, Lockheed officials said.

The company manufactures three versions of the plane, fulfilling the needs of the Air Force, Marines and Navy. One takes off and lands conventionally. Another can land vertically. And another is carrier-based.

Steve Cobb, general manager of the Lockheed Martin plant in Pinellas Park, said the facility considers itself a center of excellence for producing fighter jet canopies — the transparent, aerodynamic enclosures that cover cockpits.

The plant has about 15 people working to make three canopies per month. But it expects to employ as many as 100 in that role as production increases from 36 planes a year to about 200 in 2020.

Nationwide, production of the F-35 will have an economic impact of $16 billion, including $1 billion in Florida, said retired Maj. Gen. Bob Dulaney, who works on the project for Lockheed Martin.

At an event Monday to promote the project, some guests took turns stepping into an interactive F-35 cockpit demonstrator.

Young didn't enter the cockpit, but his son Billy Young flew in his place, making barrel rolls and shooting enemy planes.

"This is a program in its infancy," said Michael Rein, director of F-35 communications for Lockheed Martin. "The folks here in Pinellas are really on the ground floor."

EDITOR'S NOTE — This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: Billy Young is a son of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. His relationship to the congressman was incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story and in the accompanying video.

Pinellas Park plant to play key role in manufacture of new Lockheed Martin fighter plane 07/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 10:55am]
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