FORT WORTH --- Bobby Tamplin was 26 years old in 1977, when he went to work as a parts fabricator on the F-16 fighter jet. At the time, he was told his job would last “maybe five years.”
Forty years later, the 66-year-old recently stood on a windy, cold flight line at Lockheed Martin — just a few weeks before his retirement — to bid goodbye to the last F-16 to be built in Fort Worth. It is a bittersweet moment for Tamplin, who grew up working on the assembly line, to remember a time when the plant built almost one fighter a day.
“It was an aerospace milestone to see that many planes come and go every day,” Tamplin said. “But it was exciting.”
Later, when thinking about all the places the F-16 flies, he also said he felt a great responsibility. “You are producing an aircraft that is not only going to change Fort Worth, but it’s going to change air forces all over the world.”
But it’s the end of the line for Tamplin and the Fort Worth F-16 production line. To make way for growing production of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, Lockheed is moving the F-16’s assembly line to Greenville, South Carolina. While engineering, design and modernization activities will remain in Fort Worth, the last Cowtown jet flew out of town Nov. 14.
Over the life of the program, Lockheed has delivered 4,588 F-16s, including 3,620 built in Fort Worth. Along the way the F-16 program created tens of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs that helped countless middle-class families buy cars, build houses and send their kids to college.
“It is a remarkable success story from every perspective,” said Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst with the Teal Group. “Decade over decade, nothing rivals the F-16. It helped make Fort Worth the great aerospace industry cluster that it is today. It is more legend than an airplane.”
“It is hard to describe the importance of the F-16,” said Pete Geren, the former Fort Worth congressman and a Pentagon official in two presidential administrations. He said small business suppliers relied on the work done at the plant, which Lockheed bought from General Dynamics in 1993.
“It is important to Fort Worth but it has been an aircraft that has been highly significant in the military history of the world,” said Geren, president of the Sid Richardson Foundation, a nonprofit run by the billionaire Bass family. “It’s a great American success story. It’s a great Fort Worth success story.” (end of excerpt)
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