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CLEARFIELD -- Utah's best-known aerospace company showed off a new machine Thursday that will make a big difference in our nation's air defense.
Alliant Techsystems' latest innovation in aviation manufacturing will help make better fighter jets and deliver jobs to Northern Utah. The new ATK machine makes fiber composite parts for the F-35 Lightning II, which will be our country's premier fighter jet in the years to come.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth-generation fighter that combines speed, stealth and agility to modernize the nation's fleet of fighter jets.
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop was among the guests at the ribbon cutting for the new machine. He pointed out the importance of the work at ATK.
"The F-35 now becomes essential for this country," Bishop said. "That is the future for the defense of this country."
The new machine at ATK in Clearfield is essential to that mission, because it makes advanced fiber composite components for the F-35.
ATK pioneered automated fiber placement technology in the ‘80s. ATK investment and Title III government funding enabled the company to make the machine do the job faster. It robotically layers ribbons of fiber into complex shapes that are used to make 35-foot wing skins and covers for the F-35. ATK makes 14 different components for the F-35.
"The military, of course, has always been on the cutting edge of aviation activity," said Sen. Bob Bennett. "It's the military that has seen many of the changes that's made it possible."
The company also announced a $240 million contract from Lockheed Martin to produce more parts for the F-35. ATK expects 120 new technical jobs from the extra production. More than half of those have already been filled.
Blake Larson, president of ATK Aerospace Systems, says the new machinery enables ATK to produce the F-35 components faster and cheaper.
"We share the commitment with our industry partners to strengthen the security of our nation, to support the end-user of these products, our men and women in uniform," said Larson.
Lockheed Martin has completed more than 270 test flights of the F-35, 15 percent ahead of schedule. So far, ATK says it has delivered nearly 800 parts since production started eight years ago.
Bishop admits, like many others, he does not understand the complex fiber process, but he knows the value of the end product: "Producing aircraft that is lighter, it is faster, it is tougher, it is heartier, it is better for this nation," he said.
Bennett, a self-described aviation buff, marveled at what the Utah company has achieved over the last 50 years.
"To have a company at the top of Utah that is also at the top of the technological effort to take American aviation into the composite age," said Bennett.
ATK also expects spinoff production in the future from this innovative fiber layering process.