Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced jet fighter ever built, officials say, and some of its most important components are being built in Tioga County.
Lockheed Martin said production of the "integrated core processor" for new F-35 aircraft will create more jobs in Owego in the next five years.
Company officials described the ICP as the smallest and most durable warfare supercomputer ever created.
Navy Program Director Bob Rubino said each tiny device is installed in the nose of the plane and helps protect pilots by increasing their ability to see other planes while avoiding being seen themselves.
"Like sensor fusion, which the integrated core processor gives you and is being built here in Owego," Rubino said, "That gives the pilot much more situational awareness than any other pilot out here today."
The F-35 Lightning is designed to replace 2,443 aircraft currently in use.
They include the F/A-18 Hornet and Harrier jet.
The F-35 is the first jet designed for three branches of the military: The Airforce, the Navy and the Marines.
The development has already generated $600 million for New York state, despite only a handful of fighters completed.
Rubino said full production could begin as early as 2018.
"As you get up to that full rate six years from now, that will only increase and create more jobs for the state of New York," he said.
At a demonstration in Owego, the F-35's easy-to-read computer consoles made it feel like users were playing a video game.
However, the flight hasn't always been smooth for the F-35.
The production of the plane has incurred several delays and cost overruns.
The average cost of each jet has almost doubled to more than $137 million since 2001.
Lockheed is currently building an average of three planes a month.
But it says as production moves forward and more aircraft are built each month, the price should fall back to around $70 million each, which is more in line with older models.
Despite higher than expected costs, Congressman Richard Hanna (R-22nd) said the project delivers thousands of jobs and is essential to America's defense.
"This isn't a blank check," Hanna said, "I think that costs do go up, that's the nature of this kind of business. It's unfortunate."
Hanna, who also sat in the cockpit of an F-35 simulator, said he's on board to keep Lockheed in the Southern Tier.
"My job is to help keep them here, ask them questions constantly about what we can do to make it easier for them to be here," he said, "Because we know New York is a difficult place to do business."
Lockheed said it's put the past behind it, and the F-35 project is now running ahead of government projections.
The company expects to be producing squadrons of the new jet before the decade is over.