By Perry Smith
Walking through the expansive manufacturing floor at the nearly 80,000-square-foot Crissair facility in Valencia, you’d never imagine the company’s humble beginnings — an engineer on a sales call with McDonnell Douglas back in 1954.
Wit a small tweak to improve a previously existing valve, the aerospace manufacturer wanted to hear more.
“They were so impressed with the idea,” said president and CEO Michael Alfred,” they bought it, and the rest is history.”
A history that includes manufacturing quality precision components for nearly every airframe manufacturer and major subcontractor in the industry — both for military and commercial aircraft.
The company has come a long way in the last 64 years, Alfred noted, with its Santa Clarita move starting in 2013, after the company, looking to expand its footprint in Palmdale, looked to the south for the next potential expansion of its production and testing facility.
“Valves, valves and more valves,” was essentially how Alfred described his company’s niche in the manufacturing sector. Crissair was “probably the premier producers of the check valve,” Alfred said, and then added “you could not build an airplane without the check valve.”
Every fluid system on an aircraft, whether it’s the hydraulics for the door that keep passengers safe and secure; the luggage hold, which does the same for passengers’ belongings; or the brakes that stop the craft when it’s time to land — Crissair’s parts keep aircraft moving.
A Need For Expansion
Alfred said the move to the industrial park on Avenue Williams took place as a result of the company’s need for more space to meet demand, which was what prompted Crissair to purchase the building’s previous tenant, Canyon Engineering Products, in June 2013.
Alfred gave the Santa Clarita Valley Business Journal a tour of the facility recently, detailing the different aspects of production and testing that take place on the floor, and how Crissair produces parts involved with just about every system of the aircraft among its more than 11,000 designs, with the exception of avionics.
In just a few short years since Crissair’s move to the Santa Clarita Valley, it’d be hard to call the move anything but a big success, with the company receiving a major recognition from one of its biggest business partners, Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed CEO Jack O’Banion presented Alfred with the 2017 Elite Supplier Award at a recent recognition over the summer, which was attended by nearly all of the Santa Clarita Valley’s elected officials, including one of the area’s biggest champions for the aerospace industry.
“Crissair is working on our frontline product for the Marines and Navy, and this achievement is a testament to the significance of the people of the Santa Clarita Valley,” Knight said at the presentation in August. “There are thousands of suppliers of F-35 around the country. But this shows the employees and folks working on the program here are producing a good product, on time and on budget.” After O’Banion recognized Crissair and its employees for their contributions to the F-35 program, Alfred honored the company’s veterans, surprising them with F-35 flight jackets.
The F-35 Program
One of the most exciting projects that Crissair is playing a part in through its Valencia manufacturing floor is the F-35 Lightning II, a state-of-the-art fifth generation fighter pilot being built by Lockheed Martin.
The aircraft manufacturer described the goal of the plane, which became operational in July 2015, was to create: a “supersonic, multi-role F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability with enhanced lethality and survivability in hostile, anti-access airspace environments,” according to the Lockheed Martin website.
In other words: The F-35 is being built to do it all — a stealth plane meant to be able to give air superiority. “The fifth-generation capabilities of the F-35 are essential to our ability to combat 21st century threats,” said Congressman Steve Knight, R-Santa Clarita, during a I take great pride in having the opportunity to recognize the workers in the 25th Congressional District who are an important part of making it a reality for our Armed forces and our allies.”
Projects like the F-35 represent a very significant financial investment in the area, but they only represent a fraction of the 225,000 or so units that Crissair’s 200 employees produce each year at the company’s facilities.
And that’s a good thing, as the F-35’s that are being produced are expected to have a shelf life of decades, even as long as until 2070.
Commercial aircraft is actually about 70 percent of Crissair’s business, with 25 percent being military work such as the F-35, and the other 5 percent being industrial uses, such as for utilities, etc., Alfred said.
“We are building a lot of airplanes right now,” Alfred said, noting at the orders from Boeing and Airbus are close to about 100 aircraft a year.
And whether it’s the mechanism that makes the cargo door latch on a Boeing 787 or the tail hook system that helps the F-35 hook its land apparatus on an aircraft carrier while withstanding a 9,000 PSI spike in pressure, Alfred said the production on the commercial and military side of things isn’t likely to slow down any time soon.
“We don’t make the engines,” Alfred said, describing his company’s role in one of the most complicated manufacturing processes in the world — there are more than 400,000 parts in the F-35, and more than 1.2 million parts for a Boeing 777. “Our valves touch just about every fluid system in the airplane. We make the engines run better.”