Farewell Tour: Burbage and the F-35s


Its official ... the band is breaking up. Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin's longtime F-35 front man, is leaving center stage.

Burbage, the executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin's F-35 program has "decided to retire," confirms Laura Siebert, a company spokeswoman. 

Burbage is expected to serve through March, including attendance at the Avalon air show in Australia in early March. He is currently in the United Kingdom on a charm tour of customers and press there. 

Steve O'Bryan is the company's vice president for program integration. 

In keeping with the band metaphor ... 

Despite the ups and downs of the F-35 -- including the stovl weight-reduction era, cost overruns and and such flops as the campaign for an international coalition of buyers -- Burbage was without a doubt the global F-35 front man. 

He took over the program at the company while it was still competing against Boeing. And, he was EVP when Lockheed won the contract in 2001. 

Burbage is effectively the last of the original Lockheed Martin "old guard" in leadership when the company won the contract. 

Lockheed’s new CEO, Marillyn Hewson, took over from Robert Stevens at the New Year. And, last year, Larry Lawson (a former F-22 overseer) turned over his role as the company’s program lead to Orlando Carvalho, who previously served as deputy. Finally, Lorraine Martin, formerly of the company’s mobility programs, assumed the deputy slot. 

Though many of the changes were under way, they come only months after Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan took over as the government program executive officer for the F-35. In the fall, Bogdan publicly chided Lockheed Martin and the government team for having a poor working relationship, and he said he would be willing to replace people unwilling to move forward with the program. 

There has been no one to say, however, that Burbage was asked to leave or that the stage was not big enough for both of them. He served at Lockheed Martin for 32 years, and his contribution as been "immeasurable," Siebert says. 

Burbage has been a polarizing figure for the F-35. His backers say it was his very consistent and very public position as the F-35 front man, especially with foreign F-35 partners, that kept the international coalition from crumbling. Others, however, said he did so by often promising more than the company could deliver and inflating expectations on the part of customers. 

Customers almost universally loved working with Burbage, who is widely acknowledged as the consummate gentleman. But, in retrospect, some may feel his greatest hits were covers of Naked Eyes “Promises, Promises,” or the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want.” In the end, though, it might be his skill at keeping the coalition together that is his legacy … perhaps embodied by a cover of U-2’s “One.”

Long and short, though, no one will ever be able to tell the history of the F-35 without citing Burbage’s influence. Best of luck to him!

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