Final F-22 rolls out of Marietta plant

The final F-22 Raptor fighter rolled off the Lockheed Martin assembly line in Marietta on Tuesday, signaling the end of a two-decade program that produced one of the most lethal -- and most expensive -- warplanes ever.

Tuesday’s celebration included a marching band and speeches from Lockheed officials about the tenacity of employees who worked on the program.

“It was a hard-fought program to bring here and these folks have proved that they could build the most advanced aircraft in the world,” said Shan Cooper, general manager of the Marietta facility. Most F-22 workers will move to Lockheed’s other programs or provide support for the F-22 fleet.

Money for the program was cut in 2009, 18 years after Lockheed won a contract in 1991 to begin building a successor to the F-15 as the Air Force’s primary “air superiority” fighter. The program gave a new dimension to the Marietta plant, known best for producing cargo planes.

As it moved into production, the F-22 was dogged by criticism of its cost and usefulness in the post-Cold War era. The plane boasts an unprecedented combination of stealth, maneuverability and firepower, but it has not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In all, the plant built 195 F-22s -- about a quarter of originally projection. The Air Force pegs the per-plane cost at $143 million, although estimates range to more than double that including all development costs.

Despite the criticism, the plane is serving its purpose well, said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager of the F-22 program.

“It’s been deployed around the world and our adversaries know that it’s close by,” he said. “The way I talk about it is: the most effective weapon is the one that’s never used.”

Assembly line tooling will be stored, along with photos, video and detailed instructions, in California. The plane is not approved for export.

About 5,600 Lockheed employees worked on the F-22 program at its peak in 2005, including 944 in Marietta. The current number is 1,650 companywide, 930 in Marietta. More than 200 Marietta jobs have been trimmed this year, and more cuts could be coming next year, said union local chief Denise Rakestraw.

However, 600 Marietta employees will handle technical support and modernizations for the existing F-22 fleet. Others will move to other Lockheed programs including the C-130J and the F-35.

F-22 Raptor facts:

- Built at three Lockheed facilities: Marietta (final assembly) Fort Worth, Texas, and Palmdale, Calif.

- Operational fleet: 187; 195 total Raptors produced (8 as test planes)

- 5,600 Lockheed employees on project at peak period in 2005; 944 in Marietta;

- F-22s based at: Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; Holloman AFB, N.M.; and Hickam AFB, Hawaii.

- Raptor dimensions: 62 feet long; 16.67 feet tall; wingspan of 44.5 ft