Area Aluminum Company Reaching for the Sky

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The next time you see one of those high-tech jet fighters roaring across the sky you might consider the possibility that workers from our area have had a hand in making it.

The cockpit of this F-35 – a simulator of one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets – is sitting on a factory floor at Constellium Rolled Products just outside Ravenswood, West Virginia. 

It is here because this is where a lot of the raw material that goes into these fifth-generation planes is produced.

"We buy either prime aluminum or scrap aluminum;  we melt it, put it through numerous steps in our process, rolling it, heating it, stretching it in order to create a product for our aerospace products," explains Kyle Lorentzen, CEO of this Constellium plant.

"It’s a plate product that we sell onto the customer who in turn machines that material to create the part that will eventually find its way onto the airplane."

Constellium and Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer, have had a long-standing relationship dating back to the development of the program. 

Lockheed Martin brought one of its F-35 flight simulators to this Jackson County, West Virginia plant Wednesday to let the employees see how their work turns out.

Daniel Conroy is the Director of the F-35 program’s Washington Operations.

"We’re here to say 'thank you' to the folks who work here at Constellium," he said.

"A lot of the people don’t get to see the final product of the F-35 and see what it is they’re having a hand in building."

Even though this event was on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, one of the first to try out the simulator was U.S. 6th District Representative Bill Johnson – from Ohio.

"Very interesting – they’ve come a long way since my days in a T-37," he said after spending some time in the device.

Johnson is familiar with this kind of training having developed some of the software for the first full-motion Air Force simulators in the 70s. 

This day he was here because of the jobs this project provides to Ohioians

"We have a lot of people in Ohio who work here, about 15 percent are from my district," he said.

"Anytime we have an opportunity to put Ohioians and Americans to work, that’s my priority. "

Constellium CEO Lorentzen said this plant’s success is tied closely to the GDP so growth has been up – and while Johnson says sequestration undoubtedly will have some effect on projects like the F-35, Lorentzen says he sees the project expanding through the next five years. 

While as many as 800 of the plant’s more than 900 workers have something to do with the Lockheed-specific products , it’s expected that as many as 60 of those employees will be working exclusively on the project at its peak.

Conroy said it’s a source of pride as well as a pay check

"They’re great Americans.," he said speaking of the workers at the plant.

"It’s always great to be a part of something that will protect the country in the next 30 to 50 years. Each one of these airplanes has Constellium’s fingerprints all over it."