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    “They are the last line of defense for quality” … F-35 PEO visits Fort Worth assembly line, praises workers

    F-35 PEO Assembly Plant Tour

    Photo By Senior Chief Petty Officer Matthew Olay | FORT WORTH, TEXAS (Nov. 03, 2022) – F-35 Joint Program Executive Officer (PEO) Lt....... read more read more



    Story by Chief Petty Officer Matthew Olay 

    F-35 Joint Program Office

    FORT WORTH, TEXAS— Anybody who dismisses the slogan “Everything is bigger in Texas” has most likely never been to Air Force Plant 4.

    Sitting adjacent to Naval Air Station Reserve Base Fort Worth, the sprawling, 7.5 million square foot facility takes up the equivalent space of 130 football fields, has a staff of over 15,000 government and contractor employees, and is centered on a main production floor that stretches just over one mile from end to end.

    It’s not too surprising, therefore, to learn that a plant like this one—a facility with such expansive space and such a high volume of manpower—is one of just three locations worldwide (the other two being in Italy and Japan) where the Department of Defense’s most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II, is assembled.

    Taking the opportunity to travel to the plant for the first time since he assumed leadership of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office in July, F-35 Program Executive Officer (PEO), Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt, paid a visit to the Fort Worth F-35 Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) facility Thursday, Nov. 3.

    Along with attending a series of briefs and taking various meetings during the day-long stay, Schmidt was joined by Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II Program at F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, for a guided tour of the FACO’s main production floor. During the tour, Schmidt interacted with some of the men and women who assemble the F-35 over the course of three eight-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, five (and up to seven) days per week.

    “I can tell you that it was the best part of my week,” Schmidt said of his visit to the FACO, shortly after wrapping up his tour of the production floor. “I did have a chance today to talk with the men and women in final assembly who really are the heroes of the F-35 program,” the PEO continued. “They are the last line of defense for (aircraft) quality.”

    Schmidt emphasized that, when it comes to all his priorities concerning the F-35 program, quality is indeed one of the most important.

    “Quality has to be baked in,” said Schmidt. “I want airplanes delivered on a schedule, but that is nowhere close to the priority of quality, and quality over schedule.”

    Schmidt also pointed out that it isn’t just he who is counting on the quality of F-35 assembly, but—on a larger scale—it’s the warfighters flying the Lightning II who put their lives on the line every day while trusting the jet’s quality.

    “(F-35 pilots) need to know that that jet is 100% safe and free of defects and ready to go,” said Schmidt. “It is of utmost importance that quality here on the assembly line and in production is uppermost in everyone's mind, because… those (pilots) out in the field, they are absolutely relying on that to be done so that they can go out and do their jobs.”

    Schmidt’s point is not lost on the people working the front lines of F-35 assembly at Air Force Plant 4; people like Isaac “Ike” Rios, a sort of “Jack of all trades” aircraft mechanic who has experience as an F-35 assembler, electrician, and numerous other skillsets that contribute to bringing each F-35 on the assembly line to life.

    “I take my job very seriously, it’s very important to me… the job I do and what gets done around me,” said Rios, who has been working at the Fort Worth plant for the entire 20-plus years since the F-35 program showed up, and for a whopping 42 years at the plant, total.

    “I always watch other guys with what they’re doing,” Rios continued, “and (I) make sure everybody’s careful with what they’re doing—whether you’re electrical, power or explosives—we’ve all got to watch out for each other.”

    Jonathon Tobias, a front-line supervisor who looks after two teams comprising approximately 20 workers, also said the importance of quality in aircraft assembly is a top priority.

    “When you realize that there’s a person that sits in front of this (aircraft) that we’re building… I mean, that’s huge,” said Tobias. “I would hate to see someone get hurt that’s in a product that we build,” he continued, reemphasizing the sense of responsibility he and his teams feel, and the emphasis they put on quality.

    Just as the PEO had made mention of how much he appreciated having the opportunity to meet the assembly line workers of the Fort Worth FACO team, many of those members—like Rios and Tobias—said the feeling was mutual.

    “It’s nice to see the general come today,” said Rios, “it was very beneficial to us!”

    “Me and our management group in this area tell these guys all the time, ‘Hey, great job,’” said Tobias, the front-line supervisor. “But when you have someone like the PEO come down and talk to workers and say, ‘Hey, you all are the ones that are (building the F-35) … Without you all, this wouldn’t be happening’… To have someone that high up come down and say (that)… well, that means the world to these guys,” said Tobias.

    “That’s all this whole area has been talking about all morning since (the PEO) left.” Tobias added. “So, it means a lot.”



    Date Taken: 11.08.2022
    Date Posted: 11.08.2022 14:51
    Story ID: 432884
    Location: FORT WORTH, TX, US 

    Web Views: 355
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