How a team of engineers and a crash diet saved the Joint Strike Fighter.
- By Joe Pappalardo
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
(Page 4 of 8)
“People are proud of their designs. There is not too much interest in other people’s problems,” says Sheridan, flanked by SWAT team leaders in a Lockheed conference room. Each of the engineers—including Sheridan—had original designs abandoned during the redesign. “It’s a transformation from feeling good about protecting yourself to the exhilaration of pushing that margin out,” he says.
If “exhilaration” seems like a strong word to describe the process, it helps to understand the engineer’s mindset. A radical redesign under extreme time constraints is as challenging as the field gets. “It’s not often you get to spend your days with that talent pool and work problems like that,” says Bulnes. “We probably won’t see it again in our careers.”
Joe LeCompte was a 24-year-old rookie electrical power system engineer on Stand Down Day. His job at Lockheed was his first after graduating from Louisiana State University.
The meetings began only after employees were given some time to think. From the first order— “Everyone go to your cube [to brainstorm] and don’t bother anyone”—he felt grateful to be included in the rescue. “I felt really informed,” LeCompte says. “They had charts showing where the program needed to be. It wasn’t like smoke and mirrors.”
Managers that day announced the financial rewards to be paid when weight-loss ideas were accepted: $50 an idea and an equal amount for every pound the idea removed. The bounty was later increased to $100 an idea and $500 per pound.
The mix of candor, pressure, and incentives paid off: Something “did occur to me on Stand Down Day,” LeCompte grins. What occurred to him was to remove a power panel from the right-hand weapons bay by modifying another to handle the work. If realized, the modification could reduce overall weight by more than 20 pounds.
Four months later, LeCompte was called to a SWAT board meeting, where senior Lockheed officers said his idea would be included in all three variants. They awarded him $13,000. LeCompte used the money to close on his first home.
He says he also felt the satisfaction of directly contributing to the final design of the 21st century’s first new fighter, which, thanks to him, has a reconfigured power panel, as well as three other improvements he suggested, each of which removed about a pound.