Lockheed: 104 years after first flight, Marietta icon thrives

With 5,000-strong local workforce, military aircraft maker still a major local economic booster

It was 104 years ago today that Allan and Malcolm Loughead brothers took their first flight with a customized aircraft.

Their business, the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company – pardon the pun – took off.

The company prospered, the profits began to flow, but correcting people on the pronunciation of their Scottish surname got a bit tiresome. And so in 1926, with added funding and partners, the company was renamed with phonetic spelling.

A lot of air has passed under the wings since then. Along with a series of corporate combinations that led to the 1995 combination with Martin Marietta, an iconic, Cobb Country presence that once had as many as 33,000 workers at the 8.5 million square-foot plant off South Cobb Drive.

That peak came in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War.

The corporate presence has shrunk to 5,000 workers – about half of them working on production of the C-130. But even at that more modest size, Lockheed remains one of the largest manufacturing plants in Georgia.

The plant is a longtime landmark in Cobb, a sprawling presence that floods local roads with vehicles every eight hours. Among its workers are people whose parents, grandparents and ion some cases even great grandparents worked in the building.

But any threat to the plant could pummel the region’s economy: Lockheed’s payroll and other spending in Marietta pumps $700 million a year, company officials say.

Which is why the company, along with the International Machinists Union, have been lobbying already for a new C-130 contract after the current deal winds down in 2020.

It is also why there has been some concern about the new administration's attitudes toward contractors. So far there's only bee rhetoric, but the issue was serious enough for Lockheed Martin's chief executive to publicly urge then President-elect Donald Trump to save the F-35 stealth fighter program, which Trump had blasted for "tremendous cost and cost overruns."

Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson even went to Trump Tower to make her case for the fighter.

Most of the F-35 work is done elsewhere, although the center wing assemblies are made at the Marietta plant.

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in local business news. Subscribe to myAJC.com.