BRISTOL – To show his support for the F-35 Joint Strike stealth fighter, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) paid a visit to Colonial Spring Co., which manufactures parts for the Pratt & Whitney engines that power the plane.
William Lathrop, Colonial Spring president, showed Blumenthal some examples of the precision parts made at the company’s 35,000 square foot facility on Valley Street, such as a deceptively simple-looking round wire.
The wire is in fact a “very sophisticated, very expensive” high temperature nickel alloy damper ring made to precise specifications developed during more than three months of work with Pratt Engineering, Lathrop explained.
The part earned Colonial Spring an award from Pratt for earning Initial Operational Capability (IOC) certification from the U.S. Marine Corps, he said. “Marine jets usually reside on aircraft carriers, so if you have a bad engine and you need to helicopter another engine out you have to drop it on the deck of the ship. One of the requirements you have to be able to drop that engine from 18 inches and it has to survive intact.”
The damper ring Lathrop showed Blumenthal is made to fit into a very narrow groove on the engine to eliminate vibrations.
“One of the tests was when they dropped that engine these rings would pop out of their groove. They’re buried down inside the engine, so you have to start tearing the whole engine apart to stuff it back in its groove, and put it back together -- not a good situation if you have a plane that’s down and you’re trying to get it back in the air,” Lathrop said.
He also showed off a small spring that works as a precision fuel cutoff in an RL10 rocket engine. “We’ve put a lot of effort into it, but you could pick it up and say ‘yeah, OK it’s a spring,’ when it’s much more than that,” he said.
“We have 22 total employees here, so we’re a small but mighty crew,” Lathrop added.
Blumenthal said his visit was to highlight the critical role of the F-35 program in supporting manufacturing jobs in Connecticut and nationwide, as well as its importance in national defense and in sales to U.S. allies.
As a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, he said he has been a leading advocate for the aircraft, which he called “a technological marvel” and “our fighter for the 21st Century.”
“About 190 have already been produced and our military needs at least 2,500, so that’s going to keep you busy for a long time,” he told the Colonial Spring staff.
You folks are among the thousands who produce the components that make up these aircraft, so you are as important as those who serve in the armed forces, because your work gives them the edge over their adversaries, he said.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to be able to buy the F-35 more cheaply, Blumenthal said. Lockheed Martin, which produces the aircraft, “has had a what they call ‘a war on cost’ before President Trump was talking about it. If he wants to take credit for it fine, as long as they keep buying it,” he said, to his audience’s approval.
Ed Grabowski, a tool and die maker at Colonial Spring, asked the senator what’s being done to keep the technology for these components out of Chinese and Russian hands.
Blumenthal said he can’t disclose what he has learned about cybersecurity through classified briefings but the government is actively working on that.
“All of you know the Russians recently had a spy ship off the coast here,” he said. “The ship itself was a Soviet-era ship but it’s got state of the art technology to try to intercept signals, and we need to harden our defenses against that kind of surveillance.”
Lathrop said aerospace has been a good growth area for the company, particularly in the last two or three years.
Grabowski, a Plainville resident, said Colonial Spring is a great place to work. He said despite being semi-retired at 69 years old, and taking the summers off, he still puts in 40 hours a week the rest of the year because he enjoys his work and feels his expertise is valued.
“When I started as a tool and die maker it was like caveman work compared to what it is now,” he said, noting he has kept up with the technology advancements over the years.
“For some reason there seem to be a shortage of tool and die guys as the Baby Boomers retire. Not as many kids are coming into it,” he added.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.