On Oct. 14, 1947, the world was forever changed when test pilot Chuck Yeager strapped into his experimental Bell X-1 jet nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis” and thundered through the clear blue skies above the Antelope Valley. That day he would become the world’s fastest man, and the first person in history to break the sound barrier.
That momentous achievement would pave the way for decades of cutting-edge aviation and aerospace innovation that happened right here at home. Growing up in Lancaster, I have vivid memories of seeing the still-awe-inspiring SR-71 Blackbird disappear in a flash and watching the first space shuttle land at Edwards Air Force Base.
Time and time again California and our region have proved it has the right stuff, and we are still a proud contributor to the safety and defense of our country today. The aerospace industry is so critical to our state that it actually generates more revenue than both the film and agriculture industries combined.
The state’s legacy of hard work and innovation is best represented through our supplier network building the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II.
There are over 350 suppliers for the F-35 across California, generating billions of dollars annually and providing roughly 13,177 people between Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale with good mortgage-paying jobs that keep them close to their families. Valencia-based Woodward, which manufactures various components for the aircraft, employs roughly 630 local employees alone.
The F-35 first entered service with the Marine Corps in 2015 and has since proved to be a formidable tool in protecting our nation, interests and allies. The increase in global demand for the F-35 will create more opportunities for California workers and companies, but that can only happen if the program is fully funded by Congress.
And due to the policies coming out of Sacramento these days, California is frankly losing its cutting edge. We can no longer take for granted the industries that have called the Golden State home for so long. Keeping the F-35 funded will help the state attract and retain the type of highly skilled workforce we need to compete with other states seeking to expand their manufacturing and technology sectors by attracting new businesses.
The significance of the F-35 is felt beyond its impact on California’s economy. It is feared among our enemies as much as our allies praise it. Our Air Force and our allies need its fifth-generation technology, stealth, lethality and interoperability.
Prioritizing full funding for the F-35 program signals to our allies that the United States is holding to our commitments. A fully funded F-35 tells our local businesses that we support them and shows the American people that Congress is keeping its commitment to industrial workers.
Without adequate funding, the jobs the F-35 program has created in our state and local communities will be lost. The loss of these jobs would affect tens of thousands of local workers and families, not to mention the dramatic effect it would also have on our national security and alliances.
Our own Congressman, Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, has done fantastic work on behalf of our military and aerospace industry in Washington. I applaud all the work he has done on this front, and I am very grateful for his leadership. As he says, “Our district relies on aerospace and defense like no other congressional district in the nation.”
Faced with bold adversaries and record-high inflation, the F-35 solves a complex problem — it intimidates our enemies and sustains our economy with jobs at home, keeping families together and thriving.
Sen. Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District, which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita, and Victor valleys.