FORT WORTH - The deafening sound of a single-jet engine seemed to swallow the air outside Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth Assembly plant as dignitaries, many wearing suits and ear plugs, peered high into the sky at an F-35 cutting through the air.
Thursday marked the day the United Kingdom accepted delivery of its first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. It is the first international customer to receive the plane.
Seven thousand people work on the plane here in Fort Worth; in a program that’s endured many challenges along the way -- most notably, growing costs.
"Value for money is crucially important to taxpayers on both sides of the Atlantic; I know that,” said Phillip Hammond, the UK’s Secretary of State for Defense.
Current estimates put the budget at more than $390 billion. There have been calls in the U.S. and abroad to reduce the price tag. In The Netherlands, lawmakers said it’s too expensive and voted to stop the purchase of that country’s first F-35.
However, Lockheed is optimistic they will go through with the purchase.
"I think every country is showing some sign of stress, or concern about their economic future,” said Lockheed CEO Bob Steven. “So the affordability of this airplane is critical."
It's a program that places Fort Worth in a pivotal role and company officials say will lead to added manufacturing jobs in the city over the next several years, as development work is completed.
"This is a superb facility here in Fort Worth," Steven said. "We're enormously proud of it. It’s the crown jewel of our company."
The company plans to deliver 3,000 aircraft over the next several decades.