BELLEVUE, Wash.—Esterline Corp. has secured a contract valued at more than $190 million to supply sealing and low-observable products for F-35 Lightning II fighter planes.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., which is producing the aircraft for the Defense Department, selected Esterline Engineered Materials, based in Los Angeles, to supply the products. The contract covers the low-rate production phase of the manufacturing program and involves an estimated 596 aircraft to be produced through 2017.
The contract covers two technologies, said Rick Gentle, president of Esterline Engineered Materials.
The first involves the production of typical sealing devices. Gentle said they are similar to airtight seals commonly found on other types of aircraft and contain silicone-based elastomers.
“The other technology, which is the low-observable technology, I can't really divulge much about the formula of those products as they are considered classified,” he said. The low-observable technology materials are attached to structural fasteners on the plane to keep the outside surface stealth.
Two Esterline Engineered Materials plants—Kirkhill Elastomers in Brea, Calif., and TA Aerospace in Valencia, Calif.—will help fulfill the contract. The majority of the work will be carried out at the Brea plant.
The company said it may invest in equipment and personnel in the future to meet increasing production needs.
“As the ramp-up starts to occur on the various low-rate initial production phases, we will be adding additional capacity in both human resources and equipment and also looking at various methods of automation to get to the production rates that we're looking at,” Gentle said.
Plans call for the production rate, currently 34 aircraft per year, to increase to about 200 aircraft annually by the end of the ramp-up period. That could mean the hiring of a couple hundred additional workers, depending on how much automation is incorporated into the production of components, Gentle said.
Esterline supplies the F-35 with a variety of components in addition to the engineered materials covered under the most recent contract, including specialized sensors and systems. In total, Esterline provides components valued at about $800,000 for each aircraft produced, according to company officials.
The F-35 Lightning II is being developed for use by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and for America's allies. Three variants of the F-35 allow for conventional takeoffs and landings, short takeoffs and vertical landings, and carrier-based takeoffs and landings.
Receiving the contract to provide seals and low-observable products for the aircraft was a major victory for Esterline, Gentle said.
“It's a great platform for technology innovation, and it shows the strength of our ability to provide solutions to extreme environments,” he said.
The company played a role in developing the low-observable technology used on the F-35 and for ensuring the integrity of its properties, Gentle said.