Handcrafting history continues in Lunenburg as aerospace company builds parts for F-35 jet

More than 100 years after shipyard workers in Lunenburg, N.S., shaped wood and metal to build the Bluenose schooner, the tradition of local, hand-built excellence lives on.

But now, instead of fishing boats, it’s fighter jets. 

Located in the seaside town of Lunenburg, Stelia Aerospace has been part of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 supply chain for more than a decade. Stelia’s headquarters for North America can be found just across the harbour from the site where the Bluenose launched in 1921.

“The Bluenose was very innovative for its time,” said Matt Risser, the town’s mayor.

“Stelia is part of the latest phase of Lunenburg’s history in that regard.”

Entrance to the headquarters of Stelia North America in Lunenburg, about 100 km southwest of Halifax. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The company has been contracted to create panels and parts made of composite materials. The various pieces that Stelia builds for the F-35 are laid out on moulds, using paper-thin layers, each precisely placed.

“All the plies have a certain direction,” said Matthew Mossman, quality control inspector for Stelia. “So workers know exactly which direction it’s supposed to go when it’s placed on the mould.”

The company builds many different parts for the aircraft, ranging from panels used as part of the fuselage, to shims used to help open and close the weapons bay doors on the underside of the jet.

The F-35 fighter jet, built by Lockheed Martin with help from contractors around the world, including in Canada. (Lockheed Martin)

“You might think that composite manufacturing is, like, robots all over the place,” said Andre Gagnon, managing director and CEO of Stelia North America. “It’s not.”

He said the process is both high-tech and hands-on, with workers carefully shaping each part before it goes through a detailed inspection process.

Matthew Mossman, quality control inspector at Stelia in Lunenburg. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

All across Canada, there are other factories and companies that are part of the F-35 supply chain, building elements of the aircraft that have so far been sold to other countries.

But with ongoing negotiations between the Canadian government and Lockheed Martin, the parts being handcrafted at Stelia and other sites across the country could one day be built into planes flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Born in Lunenburg County, Mossman said he’s excited at the prospect of having Stelia’s F-35 parts used in Canadian-owned aircraft.

The view down one of the many colourful streets in Lunenburg. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“I mean, we’re going to be a part of, potentially, Canadian history soon,” he said. 

They are handcrafted parts, made by local residents in Lunenburg, to help build one of highest-performing vehicles of their generation.

It worked a century ago.

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