Bristol banking on jet fighter

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BRISTOL Aerospace is retooling its Winnipeg operations in preparation for expected contracts to produce parts for the Joint Strike Fighter military jet in development for the U.S. military.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/09/2008 (5134 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRISTOL Aerospace is retooling its Winnipeg operations in preparation for expected contracts to produce parts for the Joint Strike Fighter military jet in development for the U.S. military.

Magellan Aerospace Ltd., Bristol’s parent company, said on Tuesday it will spend $120 million on new equipment, research and training over the next five to seven years at Bristol to facilitate work on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Bristol has already been making some of the structural components for the new fighter (four prototypes have been built and flown). But the new investment is in anticipation that Bristol will win major contracts for complex composite wing and body parts.

Jim Butyniec, president and CEO of Mississauga-based Magellan, said discussions with the prime contractor on the project, Lockheed Martin, have been going on for several years, but contracts have not been completed.

The federal government’s new Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI) will make a $44.3-million loan available to Bristol for the life of the project. It is only the second loan commitment SADI has made since it was formed in April 2007 to encourage research and development in the Canadian aerospace and defence industry, enhance competitiveness and foster collaboration with universities and research institutions. The Winnipeg-based Composites Innovation Centre will work with Bristol to fine-tune the best way to produce the exacting tolerance levels required of the composite material that will be used to make some of the parts.

Bristol and Magellan officials say the focus on JSF work will elevate the technical know-how of Bristol and its 650 workers.

Don Boitson, Bristol’s general manager, said part of the $120 million will go towards retraining the workforce, which he anticipates will remain stable for the next three years.

But he said that after production of the JSF starts ramping up in about four years and then hits full production in eight years, it would likely mean some staffing increases.

Aerospace industry officials say Bristol’s opportunity to become more heavily involved in the JSF program could be as important for the future of Bristol as Boeing Winnipeg’s involvement in the development of the new 787 airliner has been for that company’s operations in Winnipeg.

“This is very important for Bristol,” said Robert Manson, the province’s senior aerospace official, who has been working for many years at getting Manitoba companies involved in the JSF program. “It will be a brand new aircraft, with 20 years worth of production initially.”

The thinking is that some of the new composite technology and manufacturing processes that Bristol will have to learn will be used in the future for other military or commercial customers.

It will also put the company and its workers in a stronger position compared to the competition.

“By moving up the technology training ladder it enables us to bring our people to a level where their jobs are more secure because the technology is there and we are one of the few people around that can do that kind of work,” Butyniec said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Joint Strike Fighter

What is it? Also called the F-35 Lightning II, the Joint Strike Fighter is a stealthy, supersonic, multi-role jet fighter designed for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to replace the A-10, the AV-8 Harrier, F-16 and the F/A-18.

How much will it cost to produce? Latest estimates that came out this spring was that it will cost the Pentagon about $300 billion for 2,443 of the jets to be delivered by 2034.

Will it only be used by the American and British military? No, it is expected to eventually replace 13 different types of fighters now used by about 11 countries including the Royal Canadian Air Force.

What types of parts have Bristol and Magellan already been making for the JSF? There are contracts with engine manufacturers Pratt and Whitney and Rolls-Royce to build the fan sync ring and front frame that Bristol has been producing in small quantities for about five years. Magellan has letters of intent with Lockheed and its primary sub-contractor, BAE Systems, in relation to the production of two major assemblies.

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