I love seeing behind the scenes, how things are made, automation and assembly stuff. It’s SO interesting and SO mind-boggling and SO outside of my experiences. SO I had great time when the f-s-i-l took us on a tour of the Lockheed plant in Ft Worth last Saturday. It’s not a place that’s open to the public, but employees are allowed to give pre-arranged plant tours to family and friends.
I could only take in so much, and have already warned the f-s-i-l that now he’s going to have to take me every year or two so that a little more information can sink in every time. Really, this is way out of my knowledge bubble, I can’t even keep the airplane names/numbers straight. The place is huge. The actual “factory” is almost exactly one mile long and employees roughly 14,500 people.
The coolest thing to see was probably the final assembly line where there were about 10 assembly bays/stations, each with a plane at a different phase of completion. We even saw the most complete plane getting powered up with eerie glowing lights and all.
But the coolest thing to learn was that the composite material is made there on site. I hear that term a lot, that a material is a composite, but that I didn’t really understand what that meant. At the plant, there is a room with huge rolls of plastic sheeting stuff, think butcher paper at the elementary schools. People cut off sheets of different stuff and layer it. They they cut it out and fit it onto these molds/forms which are them rolled into giant autoclaves for baking. It’s so weird to think of this bazillion dollar fighter jet made out layered sheets of plastic stuff. Kinda like my old Creepy Crawler kit that I had as a kid (though in that case the plastic started in a liquid form.)
Daughter #1 and I did a double-take when we read that one of the planes was “inherently unstable in flight.” We needed some explanation as to how that could ever be a good thing and why you would design a plane that was inherently unstable. F-s-i-l explained that the plane flies, but it takes a computer to make all the continuous adjustments to keep it in the air and under control. A human alone could not control the plane to do most maneuvers and maybe not even to fly straight. These are apparently not gliders. (And to think that I have trouble keeping those remote control helicopters that you see in the mall up in the air.)
F-s-i-l was very patient explaining lots of engineering and technology and answering all kinds of (stupid) why and what and when questions. So what stands out from this huge overload of information? This little tidbit from a hallway display highlighting the history of Lockheed: A distance record was set when an (unremembered name/number) aircraft flew from Perth, Australia to Columbus, Ohio in (perhaps inaccurately remembered) 57 hours, with a kangaroo on board. I can’t get it out of my mind – what happened to the kangaroo?! Was he buckled in a seat, looking out the window? Was he just in a big crate? Why? Did he have oxygen to breathe and water to drink? Did he just fly back to Perth? How? Did he end up in the Columbus Zoo? Does Columbus have a zoo? Next time I go back, I want some answers.