- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

Bill Harrell is comfortable and fluent speaking the language of F-16s, F/A 22s, A-10s and other high-powered fighter planes. The letters, numbers and technical jargon trip from his tongue with an ease that speaks of a lifelong acquaintance with patriotism, speed and power.
Mr. Harrell would much rather be flying the planes than talking about them, but after having flown countless missions over Vietnam, Iraq and Europe, Mr. Harrell, a 27-year veteran of the Air Force, is now helping Lockheed Martin to develop one of the most advanced family of fighter planes ever conceived.
The plane, known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, is the first plane capable of taking off vertically and flying faster than the speed of sound. It is also one of the first planes to be developed for five military units: the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force and Britain's Royal Navy and Air Force.
Lockheed Martin last year beat out rival Boeing for a massive contract to produce at least 3,000 of the planes, at a cost just under $50 million each. By 2015, the company projects, the planes will be regularly used to complement Lockheed Martin's other top fighter jet, the F/A-22. Ten other countries have expressed interest in buying the plane, the company said.
Mr. Harrell, 54, is director of the U.S. Air Force JSF Program for Lockheed Martin, the largest U.S. defense contractor. He played an integral role in helping the Bethesda-based firm win the JSF contract, in part by leading an effort to build a flight demonstration center for the JSF and F/A-22 in Arlington. Now, Mr. Harrell is working to ensure that the people who will eventually fly the planes will be happy with what they get.
"To me personally, it's very important that the airplanes are the best we can make," Mr. Harrell says, as he stands before five small models of the JSF, at the Arlington office.
Different branches of the military have different needs. The JSF was conceived about eight years ago as a way for all units to get what they want in a single plane family, thus keeping costs from skyrocketing. Lockheed Martin plans to develop three slightly different versions of the JSF in an attempt to satisfy everyone.
"The number one criterion has always been affordability," Mr. Harrell said. "We have to be able to build this plane in numbers. If I can build a common airplane, I can build it affordably."
These days, Mr. Harrell spends most of his time talking to members of the armed forces, listening to what they like about the plane's design and taking note of suggestions. He is in constant communication with the directors at Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, and travels there monthly.
It's impossible to make everyone happy, Mr. Harrell acknowledges. Some customers wanted a twin-engine plane; others wanted a second seat. But costs prohibited it. And finding a cockpit design to please everyone will be tricky.
"I work with our military customers just about every day," Mr. Harrell says. "There are some trade-offs. It's a lot of give and take."
Naturally, Mr. Harrell is partial to the Air Force version of the plane, which is very similar to the popular F-16. But, he knows that it is the design for the Marine Corps and Royal Navy and Air Force that helped Lockheed Martin win the development contract.
The design for those three customers features a propulsion system that allows the plane to take off vertically, allowing the jets to take off without extensive runway space. The Department of Defense awarded the contract to Lockheed Martin over Boeing in part because even with the vertical propulsion system, its design allowed the plane's main engine to be placed near the back, like most current jets.
At the Lockheed Martin's flight demonstration center in Arlington, Mr. Harrell is eager to show off the JSF simulator. Standing before three large screens, he looks over a virtual horizon and gives instructions to a rookie pilot/journalist.
Left hand on the throttle, he says. Right hand on the stick. Mr. Harrell is soft-spoken, and he is patient, even when the pilot/journalist buzzes by a virtual control tower at more than 1,000 mph.
"I think you just blew out the windows there," he says, smiling.
Deep down, he longs to be in the cockpit. Helping to develop planes is great work, he says, but the recent war on terrorism has caused him to miss flying.
"I'm really sorry I didn't get to go to Afghanistan," he says. "I'm really sorry I'm not out there."
The good news is that his love of flying has been passed on. One of his four sons is now in training to be a pilot.
"I want to make this plane the best, because there's a distinct possibility he's going to end up in one of these," Mr. Harrell says.


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