Fort Worth has been making aviation history since 1911.
From the time the first aircraft, a Bleriot XI monoplane, took off from a racetrack west of downtown that year, the city has made a major contribution in both commercial and defense aviation and, in turn, airplanes and helicopters have been a major contributor to Cowtown’s economy.
The city became home to American Airways (now American Airlines), Bell Helicopter, Carswell Air Force Base and the Convair bomber plant that later became General Dynamics and is now Lockheed Martin.
More than 67,000 aircraft have been built in or near Fort Worth, contributing about $1 trillion (adjusted for inflation) to the local economy over the years, according to Jim Hodgson, executive director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum.
Since 1942, military planes produced at the bomber plant — including the B-24, B-36, B-58, F-111, F-16 and F-35 — have had a significant impact in war, adding to the storied aviation history of the city.
And now another fighter jet, developed by Lockheed Martin and built partially in Fort Worth, made its combat debut this week as it took part in attacks over Syria that targeted operations of the militant group, the Islamic State.
The F-22 Raptor, a stealth jet billed as the world’s most expensive and advanced fighter plane, was assembled at a plant in Georgia, but workers at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth built the mid-fuselage section.
It has not been smooth sailing for the aircraft to get to this point.
Designed to replace the aging F-15 fighter, the F-22 has been criticized by some in Congress and the Defense Department for being too costly (about $190 million each), having some design flaws and posing a safety risk after some pilots complained about a lack of oxygen in the cockpit.
After having been grounded for four months to examine and fix the oxygen problem, the plane was gradually returned to service, although it was never used in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
This week, in the second wave of strikes against the militants, the Pentagon showed photos of strikes by F-22 planes on a building in Raqqah, Syria, which contained the command and control center of the Islamic State.
The Raptor, hard to detect on radar, can carry air-to-air missiles guided by a global positioning system which can be a huge advantage in a place like Syria that is said to have a very effective radar network.
President Obama and his military advisers have warned that the operation against the Islamic State will not be a quick mission although the U.S. role mostly will be limited to airstrikes, advising other foreign forces and supplying weapons to some rebel groups — not American combat troops on the ground.
That means the F-22 is likely to see a lot more action in the country’s latest “war” on terrorists.
And with that will come a continuation of Fort Worth’s contribution to aviation history.