Martin gears up for reversers Middle River plant begins major face lift

March 21, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

Construction workers at Martin Marietta Corp.'s Middle River complex were busy yesterday tearing up the maple block factory floor where another generation of workers built B-26 bombers and P-5M seaplanes.

The demolition is part of a $17 million renovation to transform the old aircraft plant into the world's largest and most modern producer of jet engine thrust reversers.

While the company has been making thrust reversers for more than 20 years, it has lately lined up a sizable order backlog for the devices. Part of a jetliner's engine assembly, a thrust reverser acts like brakes by redirecting the flow of the engine's exhaust to help stop planes after they have touched down.

Last summer Martin's Aero & Naval Systems division was awarded separate contracts from General Electric Co. and Pratt & Whitney Corp. totaling $485 million, with an option for an additional $375 million, to produce reversers used on jetliners flown by more than 90 commercial airlines around the world.

The Middle River modernization program eventually will expand the plant's reverser work area by nearly 40 percent, said Gerald B. Goodwin, director of aerostructures and production operation at the sprawling Baltimore County complex. The new floor plan is designed to boost productivity by about 20 percent.

Mr. Goodwin compared the current production operation to a Ping-Pong game, saying that components are bounced around the complex during production.

"They would go from A-building, to C-building, to A-building, to B-building before going out the door for shipping," he said, explaining that the buildings are part of one giant structure.

Workers at the Martin plant have been producing reversers since 1969. There were times in the 1970s, Mr. Goodwin said, when "this was the only thing that kept Baltimore from shutting down." During that era, the Middle River complex had only about 750 workers, including management, compared to nearly 4,000 today.

Martin draws encouragement from aerospace industry projections of orders worldwide for another 34,000 jet engines over the next 17 years.

Last summer Martin received a $185 million contract from General Electric for the production of 400 additional thrust reversers, bringing its total order to 1,200. A few weeks earlier it had received a $300 million contract from Pratt & Whitney for the design and development of 200 reversers. When production on the Pratt & Whitney order begins sometime in late 1992 or early 1993, Mr. Goodwin said, about 350 workers will be building reversers. Today about 150 workers build the reversers that account for about a third of the complex's total sales.

"In July, when this work is complete," Mr. Goodwin said, "it will be beautiful. It will be a sight to behold."

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