For over 10 years, Australia's largest independent aerospace and composites business, Quickstep, has worked hand in glove with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Lockheed Martin and other industry partners to manufacture components for the C-130J Super Hercules and F-35 Lightning II aircraft.
To date, Quickstep has delivered over 240 wing flap shipsets for the C-130J and over 16,000 components for the F-35.
For Michael Baker, Engineering Manager at Quickstep, the opportunity to participate in the two programs and see their components contribute to the security of Australia has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his role.
“Australia has always been the sole manufacturer of composite wing flaps for Lockheed Martin’s C-130J. The program has a rich history spanning back to the early 1990s, when the composite flaps were first designed and produced in Bankstown, Sydney.”
In 2012, Quickstep took over that plant and, with it, manufacture of the wing flaps, a move Michael says was made possible in part thanks to Lockheed Martin’s commitment to keeping production in Australia.
"This enabled Quickstep to seamlessly continue manufacturing wing flaps, and more importantly, it ensured the production and jobs would remain onshore. Production of the composite wing flaps has remained at the same factory for over 30 years. In fact, we still have the original design drawings of the C-130J wing flap which bear the names of the engineers.”
Key to this effective transition was the introduction of automation, which saw Quickstep move away from manual processes and embrace robotics.
“In one instance, we went from manually installing 14,000 fasteners per shipset to introducing a state-of-the-art robot capable of drilling, countersinking and wet installing rivets in one go.”
“We are very solutions driven at Quickstep, and Lockheed Martin has always been open to using the latest technology and data to make processes more efficient.”
Michael believes this mutual focus on innovation and excellence has helped shape the relationship between the companies.
“We have a direct line of communication with their design engineering team, and we actively work with them to ensure our products remain cost-effective and competitive,” he said.
“Working with Lockheed Martin has created opportunities for knowledge sharing, enabled Quickstep to build credibility and to move up that value chain. Our work on the C-130J and F-35 programs really pivoted Quickstep from being a small technology company to becoming Australia's largest independent composite component manufacturer.”
Reflecting on his 32 years of experience in aerospace, 10 of which he has spent with Quickstep, Michael recognises his career has grown in tandem with both programs.
“My experience on the C-130J and F-35 programs has been instrumental in my professional development. From being hands on as an engineer to now actively coaching and mentoring the next-generation aerospace workforce. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Jim Croan, Quickstep Group’s New Business Manager, echoes Michael’s sentiment.
“The aerospace industry has been kind to me,” he said. “I’ve had a remarkable career so far, and I am passionate about sharing my experience and knowledge with Quickstep’s junior staff to accelerate their growth and development.”
Much like Michael, Jim has had an extensive career in aerospace working on both the F-35 and C-130J programs.
“As one of the partner countries for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Australia had the opportunity to embed engineers into Lockheed Martin’s design teams in the US. In the early 2000s, I was lucky enough to spend two years living in California working at Skunk Works, which is Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Program.”
Jim credits that experience as one that kickstarted his passion for business development.
“I learnt how Lockheed Martin operated, and what was required of Australian industry to win contracts. I also began to understand what drew Lockheed Martin to Australia.
“We have a relatively small manufacturing industry, which pushes Australian engineers to be agile and gain a broad spectrum of experience. As a result, we excel at solving complex problems across multiple functions.”
In addition to the work on F-35 and C-130J programs, this problem-solving capability has seen Lockheed Martin engage Quickstep to design and develop unique and innovative composite solutions.
“Quickstep’s partnership with Lockheed Martin has enabled us to hone our expertise in advance composites manufacturing and diversify our business offering. We are exploring opportunities in space, drone and hydrogen storage production to name a few. It’s an exciting time for defence and aerospace industries as Australia strives to grow its capability and become more self-reliant.”