“While most days are great at Marietta’s aircraft plant, today is one of the truly more memorable ones,” said Shan Cooper, Lockheed Martin’s vice president.
The ceremony, which went smoothly and lasted about 45 minutes, featured a number of dignitaries including Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, U.S. Rep. David Scott, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin Robert Stevens, Vice President and General Manager for F-16 and F-22 programs Jeff Babione and six of the last 16 presidents at Lockheed Martin.
“As I said when the aircraft we’re about to deliver rolled off the assembly line last December, we were joined by a host of other people who were all united with one common goal, to design, build and fly the baddest bird on the planet, would you agree?” Cooper asked, getting a round of applause and a few whistles and yells from the crowd.
Cooper was referencing the rollout celebration Lockheed hosted in December when nearly 1,000 people were there to watch this same F-22 come off the production line.
Executive Vice President of Aeronautics for Lockheed Larry Lawson said it was an honor for him to stand in front of everyone in attendance who have given so much to the program.
“If each of us got up and told just one story about the Raptor, we’d actually have a pretty good party and it’d be a lot of fun,” he said with a smile.
Lawson noted that the F-22 Raptor is an aircraft by which all fighter planes will be judged and that it was a vision of the U.S. Air Force that dated back to the 1980s.
“For me, the Raptor is an example of what can be accomplished with dedication and teamwork and a little bit of skill,” he said. “The F-22 transformed what is expected of a fighter aircraft. I think (Raptor) is an appropriate name for this great fighter because a Raptor flies high above, has a God’s eye view of what’s going on and has the ability to strike with speed and I think that’s our Raptor.”
Isakson also took time to thank members of the Lockheed staff who helped build the Raptor.
“Thanks to the workers at Lockheed Martin who have built the finest weapons system ever known to mankind. God bless you and what you’ve done,” he said, also admitting to having a “love affair” with Lockheed Martin since the 1960s and 1970s when he got to see another locally-made aircraft, the C-5, make its first maiden flight.
“There is no other team on earth like you,” Stevens said about the Lockheed group. “The very existence of this airplane, your airplane, has altered the strategic landscape forever.”
When introducing Gen. Schwartz and speaking about the U.S. Air Force, Stevens also said, “Their mission is clear, to fly, to fight, to win. It is my great honor to introduce the leader who assures that, that mission will succeed with integrity and vigilance.”
Schwartz, who referred to the ceremony as a momentous occasion, also thanked the employees at Lockheed Martin for their work.
“I would like to thank the many, many hardworking individuals from Lockheed Martin … for making today a reality,” he said. “I want to pay tribute to the line workers and engineers whose technical expertise. Your remarkable efforts will make very, very important contributions to our national security for many, many years to come.”
Babione, who has worked with the F-16 and F-22 programs since 1988, spoke last during the ceremony.
“I’ve been part of a great journey, from the prototype to the first production flight. One thing has remained constant in that journey, it’s been the incredible commitment of all of you, the men and women of the Raptor Nation … an un-yielding commitment to deliver the world’s greatest fighter. We have developed an airplane with no equal,” he said.
“It is my honor and privilege to deliver Aircraft 4195 to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force, for today, we complete the Raptor fleet.”
Following his speech, Babione presented the aircraft’s key to Schwartz, who then presented it to Lt. Col. Paul “Max” Moga of the 525 Fighter Squadron and Staff Sgt. Damon Crawford, who will be the crew chief for Raptor 4195.
Mega and Crawford are stationed at the U.S. Air Force’s 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, where the Raptor 4195 will be based out of in the 525 Fighter Squadron. Raptor 4195 will leave Lockheed on Friday for Alaska.
Everyone in attendance then welcomed the unveiling of the last Raptor as a huge garage door to the outside of the plant slowly opened and showcased the final product.
Lockheed built 187 F-22s since production began in 1991, as well as eight test airplanes. Lockheed won an $11 billion contract in 1991 and the maiden voyage of the first F-22 manufactured in Marietta rolled off the production line in September 1997 and was first flown out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta by then 51-year-old Marietta resident Paul Metz.
The 195th Raptor that was unveiled Wednesday was part of a tri-city production. The Palmdale, Calif., Lockheed facility built the “brains” of the aircraft, in terms of engineering, initial development and advanced modernization; the Fort Worth, Texas, plant build the center wing; and the Marietta facility assembled the entire aircraft.
Lockheed learned in 2009 that the 195th Raptor would be the last one ordered by the U.S. military, and it since has been documenting the process of building the F-22 in both text and film.
A three-minute video was shown that depicted the timeline of the fighter plane, from when the contract was originally awarded to Lockheed in 1991 to its first flight in 1997, winning the Collier Award in 2006 when it was also named “combat ready.”
Following the ceremony Babione also answered questions from the press.
“What a great ceremony!” Babione said. “While we are delivering the final F-22 today, I know we’ll have another 20 or 30 years of supporting this great airplane in the fleet going forward and I’m very proud to be a part of that LM contract.”
When asked what will become of the employees who worked on the production line to build the F-22, Babione said some have retired while others have been moved to work on other production lines.
“Many of those employees were able to find positions on those lines. We’ve been very fortunate,” he said.
Additionally, Babione was asked what the company is doing to rectify a recent report from Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., that a “very small” number of pilots have asked not to fly the fifth-generation fighter jets or to be reassigned because of oxygen-deficit problems.
“We are fully engaged in supporting the Air Force and trying to understand exactly what is causing the problems and taking care of it,” he said. “I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to find out and make changes necessary to eliminate this problem. This is a very complex problem. This isn’t about just providing oxygen to the pilot.
“What the pilot does in the F-22, the environment he is subjected to, is very complex so we’re trying to understand, how does the airplane interact with that pilot, how do we maintain a safe environment moving forward.”
Isakson, Gingrey and Scott also spoke to the press following the ceremony and also answered questions about the death of Army 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Walsh, 28, who was killed April 22 when an improvised explosive device blew up his vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Infantry, 1st brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and his body arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base around 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“We all pay tribute and homage to those who sacrifice their lives for our country and it’s only appropriate that if he were coming home today, that we acknowledge that because all these fighters are all about defending our fighters,” Isakson said.
Gingrey said Walsh lived in his 11th Congressional District and split his time Wednesday morning between the F-22 service and arrival of Walsh’s body at Dobbins.
“It’s more than bittersweet. We see the plane leaving home and we see the fighting man coming home for the last time,” he said.
Scott said he felt like it was symbolic.
“(While) we’re rolling out the final Raptor, we have one of our brave warriors coming home,” he said. “We can’t say enough about the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, those who lost their lives or have been injured but it’s all the more reason for us to realize the importance of the Raptor. We owe it to those men and women who gave their lives, that we will never bend down to be anything but superior with our military power in the world.
“We must always maintain our position as number one and it is the Raptor that has done that.”